universal justice

Seven more suspected drug traffickers freed as result of universal justice reform

Syrian sailors can no longer be tried in Spain despite being caught with 16,000 kilos of hashish Latest releases bring total number of suspects let go by High Court since law change to 43

The Moon Light is one of the drug-carrying ships caught by Spanish authorities near territorial waters.
The Moon Light is one of the drug-carrying ships caught by Spanish authorities near territorial waters.

Seven Syrian sailors who were arrested a month ago during a drug raid on their ship have been released by Spain’s High Court.

The move, which is opposed by the state prosecutor, abides by the government’s recent reform of the universal justice law. Under the new rules, Spanish courts can no longer try crimes that do not involve Spaniards or residents of Spain that were committed outside of Spanish jurisdiction.

This is just the latest in a series of releases of individuals caught at sea shipping tens of thousands of kilos of drugs to various destinations. High Court judges have decided that the legal reform prevents them from trying the detainees, none of whom are Spanish and whose ships were intercepted outside territorial waters.

The seven Syrians were arrested on April 19 aboard the Aseel, a ship flying a Tanzanian flag and carrying 16,000 kilos of hashish. Law enforcement officers raided the vessel 22 nautical miles off the islet of Alborán, off the coast of Almería province.

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By then, however, the legal reforms had already been fast-tracked into force by the Popular Party (PP) government.

The latest releases bring the number of alleged drug traffickers who have been let go by the High Court up to 43.

Despite these figures, the center-right government does not seem in a hurry to make any further changes to the reform.

The principle of universal justice has been used to make a number of high-profile arrests in the past. On October 10, 1998, former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet was detained in London after former High Court judge Baltasar Garzón issued an international warrant for his detention. The same judge also tried and convicted Adolfo Scilingo, a member of Argentina’s military junta, for crimes against humanity.

But the PP government curtailed this reach after the High Court issued arrest warrants against current and former members of the Chinese Communist Party, including ex-leader Jiang Zemin. Critics of the reform say it was introduced to appease China, which Spanish authorities have been courting with a view to business investments.