CHICAGO: A US judge declined Thursday to prevent the extradition of a former Lithuanian judge and political party founder, who accuses her home country's government of corruption in the alleged cover-up of a paedophilia case.
Neringa Venckiene left the Baltic state in 2013 and has been living in the Chicago area while seeking asylum in the US.
She is at the centre of a sensational case that inspired political opposition in Lithuania and led her to create the anti-corruption “Way of Courage” party.
Venckiene, a former judge, claims her brother was killed while trying to expose officials who covered up a paedophile ring abusing his then four-year-old daughter with the connivance of his estranged wife.
A court order returning the child to her mother sparked public anger in 2012, with hundreds of people forming a human wall at Venckiene's home, delaying officials' attempts to remove the girl.
Lithuania is seeking Venckiene's extradition on charges she hindered authorities' efforts to return the child to her mother. The US State Department approved the extradition.
Venckiene filed a motion in US federal court in Chicago asking for a stay while her political asylum case proceeds.
Judge Virginia Kendall declined to issue one, saying that while case raised “serious issues concerning the United States' extradition process and propriety of her native country's political and judicial systems”, Venckiene had not satisfied her burden of proof for a stay.
“This Court must respect the right of sovereign nations to enact and enforce their own criminal laws,” the judge said.
Venckiene's attorneys indicated they would appeal the decision, according to the Chicago Tribune newspaper.
The case became a cause celebre in Lithuania and empowered the Way of Courage party, which gained a handful of seats in the European Union nation's parliament in 2012.
Venckiene has also won the support of two US lawmakers, who have introduced bills in Congress to prevent her extradition while her asylum case is being processed.
Allison Parker, general counsel with the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe – a US agency promoting human rights – told AFP that attempts to help Venckiene will continue.
“As long as she's in the country, there's still hope,” Parker said.
In a commission report critical of Lithuania's actions, US Congressman Christopher Smith noted that 10 of the 14 charges Lithuania presented for Venckiene's extradition were rejected by the US.
The charges “have a chilling effect on those who would take the risk of seeking justice against those who sexually exploit children,” he said. — AFP