FACT CHECK: Does Russia’s Constitution Forbid Extradition?

Emily Larsen | Fact Check Reporter

White House National Security Advisor John Bolton said Sunday that Russia’s constitution forbids it from handing indicted Russian citizens over to the U.S. for prosecution.

Verdict: True

Russia’s constitution shields its citizens from extradition and deportation.

Fact Check:

The office of special counsel Robert Mueller obtained indictments Friday against 12 Russian intelligence operatives accused of stealing Democrats’ emails and releasing them to the public during the 2016 presidential campaign. The announcement came three days before President Donald Trump’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki Monday.

CBS News asked Trump in an interview that aired Sunday whether he would ask Putin to hand over the indicted Russians to the U.S. “Well I might,” Trump said. “I hadn’t thought of that.”

Bolton dismissed questions about the possibility of extradition on ABC’s “This Week.” “I think it’s pretty silly for the president to demand something that he can’t get legally,” he said Sunday. “And this is a very serious matter, you know the Russians take the position, you can – you can like it or not like it, that their constitution forbids them to extradite Russian citizens.”

Many democratic countries have extradition treaties with each other. One country agrees to hand over individuals charged with crimes by the other country so they can be tried and punished in the jurisdiction of the accuser.

The U.S. does not have an extradition treaty with Russia. Article 61 of the Russian constitution forbids extradition. “A citizen of the Russian Federation may not be deported from Russia or extradited to another State,” it says.

Russia has refused extradition in a number of high-profile cases in the past. “They have an agreement with the Europeans that looks a lot like an extradition treaty, Europeans have frequently tried to use that to get the Russians to extradite their nationals. And they flat out refuse to do it,” Bolton said.

British police have tried for years to extradite two Russian men suspected of murdering former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006, but Russia has resisted the requests. A lawyer told The Guardian in 2006 that it would take an act of parliament to overrule the constitutional ban on extradition. Otherwise, the suspects would have to be tried in Russia.

Despite being wanted by the U.S., Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov is regularly seen in public in Moscow. He was indicted in both 2002 and 2013 for his alleged involvement in an illegal international gambling organization and for allegedly rigging Olympic ice skating events.

The U.S. has managed to extradite some Russian citizens who were in other countries, though. If those indicted in the Mueller probe traveled to a country where the U.S. has an extradition treaty, the U.S. could attempt to ask that country for extradition.

Russia has also attempted to obstruct U.S. extradition requests of Russians in other countries.

When the U.S. tried to extradite Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout from Thailand in 2008, Russia argued that the charges were political in nature and that he should not be extradited. A Thai court initially agreed with Russia, but a higher court later reversed the decision. Bout was tried in Manhattan and convicted in 2011 of conspiracy to kill Americans and U.S. officials, among other charges.

After the U.S. requested the extradition of accused Russian hacker Pyotr Y. Levashov from Spain in 2017, Russia filed a competing extradition request. Levashov was extradited to the U.S. in February.

The Mueller probe obtained indictments for an additional 13 Russians suspected of election meddling in February. Assuming that those named in the Mueller indictments remain in Russia, “the United States is essentially powerless to extradite them and bring them to justice,” Daniel S. Goldman, former Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, wrote in an American Constitution Society blog post.

Putin said in March that he will “never” extradite Russian citizens accused of election meddling.

At a joint press conference Monday following the meeting between Putin and Trump, Putin denied that those named in the indictment were working on behalf of his government. He said that the Russian government could question those accused of election meddling if the U.S. and Mueller utilize the 1999 Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters treaty.

“He can use this treaty as a solid foundation and send a formal and official request to us so that we would interrogate, we would hold the questioning of these individuals who he believes are privy to some crimes and our law enforcement are perfectly able to do this questioning and send the appropriate materials to the United States,” Putin said through a translator.

Putin offered to go a step further and allow U.S. officials and members of Mueller’s team to be present at the questioning if the U.S. would “reciprocate” and allow Russian officials to be present at the questioning of certain U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials.

Several other countries, like China, Portugal and Switzerland, also forbid extradition of their own citizens. Mexico, Canada and many European nations do not allow extradition if the death penalty may be imposed on the suspect.

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Emily Larsen

Fact Check Reporter