Belfast Telegraph

Basque separatist wanted in Spain over murder and bombing handed £50k legal aid to fight extradition from Northern Ireland

By Adrian Rutherford

A Basque separatist wanted in Spain over a murder and bombing campaign was handed more than £50,000 in legal aid to fight his extradition.

Fermin Vila Michelena has been involved in a four-year legal battle to avoid being sent back to Spain from Northern Ireland.

The 43-year-old is wanted in his homeland for several attacks, including 2001 car bombings which killed a senior army officer and a policeman.

He is alleged to be part of Eta's Madrid cell and has appeared on a European list of suspected terrorists.

Earlier this month senior judges dismissed Vila Michelena's appeal against extradition after rejecting claims that he would be denied a fair trial in Spain.

It has now emerged Northern Ireland taxpayers footed the bill for Vila Michelena's battle to avoid extradition, with £55,612 paid out in legal aid to support his case.

The figures were released by Justice Minister David Ford in response to an Assembly question from DUP peer Lord Morrow.

Lord Morrow questioned why the case had been allowed to drag on for so long.

"I have been watching this case for a number of years and the costs have been allowed to escalate out of control," he said.

"This is someone who is wanted for very serious crimes in another country, and there has to be a quicker and more efficient way of dealing with it."

Vila Michelena was detained by the PSNI on a European Arrest Warrant in June 2010.

Spanish authorities want him to stand trial for offences linked to Eta, including the separate killings of the military general and police officer in Madrid 13 years ago.

He is also being sought in connection with a car bomb attack on a bank in the Spanish capital in 2001 which injured 18 people.

His extradition was ordered in October 2012. However, the removal was put on hold pending the outcome of an appeal to the High Court.

Earlier this month Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan, sitting with Lord Justices Higgins and Coghlin, rejected all grounds of appeal.

Vila Michelena's legal battle has been funded by the public purse.

In his response Mr Ford said legal aid totalling £17,976 had been paid to Vila Michelena's solicitor, £20,245 had been given to his junior counsel, and £17,391 had gone to his senior counsel.

Lord Morrow said he was appalled by the costs incurred in the case.

"You have to question how long it takes a case like this to be dealt with," he added.

"It shows the nonsense of the system here that it takes four years to get the matter through the courts.

"This is a man who is using public money to try and avoid justice and that is very difficult to reconcile for the people whose taxes and money are being spent on this."

Fermin Vila Michelena linked to separatist group Eta

Fermin Vila Michelena has been wanted over terror attacks in Spain for almost 13 years.

He is said to be part of the Basque separatist group Eta, and has been linked to a series of car bombings carried out by its Madrid cell.

Vila Michelena's involvement in the cause dates back to 1994, when he was a European election candidate for Herri Batasuna, a radical Basque separatist party banned in Spain in 2003 over its links to Eta.

The 43-year-old claims he left Spain in 2003 and came to Northern Ireland around 2007. Vila Michelena spent the next three years living under a false name, working as a chef in a restaurant.

In June 2010 he was arrested under terrorism legislation in a joint operation between the PSNI and Spanish police, and later held under a European arrest warrant issued by the Spanish authorities.

The warrants state Vila Michelena was a member of the Eta command group and were based on evidence from other members and the fact that his fingerprints were found in an apartment used by the group.

The charges against him relate to the separate killings of a military general and police officer in Madrid in 2001. He is also wanted over a car bomb attack on a bank in Madrid which injured 18 people and caused €1.7m (£1.37m) of damage. Further allegations include attempted murder, possession of explosives, causing terrorist havoc and forgery.

In October 2012 a court ordered his extradition, but this was put on hold pending an appeal to the High Court.

Vila Michelena's legal team alleged statements issued against him by two co-accused were obtained through the use of torture or inhuman treatment while they were in custody of Spanish police.

However, in a judgment published earlier this month, senior judges rejected all grounds of appeal.

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