By Richard Edwards and Jackie Williams
An antiques dealer has attacked “scandalous” European extradition laws which led to his attempted deportation over claims that he broke a Greek bylaw at his home in London 11 years ago.
Malcolm Hay, who runs a business from his Kensington town house, sold hundreds of broken pottery pieces to a visiting dealer from Athens in 1999.
Eight years later, he was arrested by armed police at City airport in London. He was detained for two days after a European Arrest Warrant was issued claiming the items he sold had been stolen from the Greek state.
Under the warrant, endorsed by the Labour government six years ago as a fast-track process for terrorists, foreign prosecutors do not have to show evidence to the British courts, but simply demand that the person be “surrendered”. In Mr Hay’s case, court papers in Athens show the alleged offence should not come under Greek jurisdiction because it took place in London. Mr Hay, 60, calls the entire affair “a false stitch-up”.
The apparent crime, “illicit appropriation of an antique object”, is not even an offence under British law.
Mr Hay said the British authorities who tried to deport him to face four years in a Greek jail acted like “the Gestapo”. No prima facie evidence of wrongdoing was presented and Mr Hay said: “The English involvement is what I find more upsetting and disgusting. Having been brought up and lived in this country, with all its values, I find it really hard to understand.
It was disclosed this week that the number of people in Britain seized under the “no evidence needed” warrant rose by more than 50 per cent last year.
Mr Hay showed The Daily Telegraph the invoice of the transaction at the centre of the claims by Greek authorities.
It shows that on July 15, 1999, he sold a female trader from Athens 582 potsherds and other small items for £1,800. He said he bought them at fairs and described the artefacts as “junk”.
But at the same time, Greek police were investigating the female trader, who ran a shop in Athens. She was found to have more than £100,000 worth of unbroken pots and figurines from around 4-6BC, which by national law belonged to the Greek state. She then claimed she bought them from Mr Hay.
After his arrest in 2007 at passport control on the way home from a trip to Zurich, Mr Hay successfully fought extradition after a magistrate ruled that Greek authorities abused the correct processes to accuse him of the crime.
But a trial went ahead in Athens, with the Greek dealer and Mr Hay, represented by a local lawyer, both accused.
The female dealer was cleared. To Mr Hay’s “complete shock”, he was found guilty and jailed for four years. He has appealed against the verdict and is awaiting a hearing later this year. If he loses the appeal, the extradition process will begin again.