Tuesday 17 September 2019

Extradition of Irish steroid smuggling suspect is blocked

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Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

The High Court has refused to extradite an Irish woman to the US over allegations she was at the centre of a major international steroid smuggling ring.

The request was refused on health grounds after the court found the mother of one was mentally ill and likely to deteriorate significantly if extradited.

Ms Justice Aileen Donnelly heard the woman had been on suicide watch while in custody over the past three-and-a-half years.

US officials alleged the suspect, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was central to the smuggling operation with almost €1m in wire-transfers being sent to two Austrian bank accounts in her name.

Assistant US Attorney Brent Hannafan alleged the woman and her former husband, who is currently subject to extradition proceedings in South Africa, operated an international internet-based drug-trafficking business from 2004 to 2009.

He alleged the smuggling ring imported a variety of anabolic steroids, human growth hormone and misbranded prescription pills into the US from China and Moldova. These were repackaged, to give the impression they came from a legitimate laboratory, and sold via websites used by weightlifters and bodybuilders.

Authorities began investigating the ring after a package containing 100 vials of human growth hormone was seized by customs officials at John F Kennedy Airport in New York in March 2008. This ultimately led to the further seizures of large quantities of drugs in a variety of locations.

Most of the drugs found were anabolic steroids or drugs associated with the taking of anabolic steroids.

However, other misbranded drugs were also found, including two used to treat breast cancer. It was claimed these were used by bodybuilders to counteract the build-up of oestrogen in the body.

Seven members of the criminal organisation subsequently co-operated with the inquiry, but the woman and her former husband remained at large.

She was arrested in the UK in September 2012 and had been due to be extradited from there to the US.

However, she failed to surrender herself and skipped the country while out on bail of £250,000 (€282,000), put up by her brother and sister-in-law.

She was arrested in Ireland in July 2015 and has remained in custody since then.

Fresh extradition proceedings initiated after her arrest were delayed on a number of occasions for health and procedural reasons.

In a judgment delivered this week, Ms Justice Donnelly said the woman's daughter had stopped visiting her in prison, although she was maintaining telephone contact.

Since then, the woman had restricted her food intake and was diagnosed with an eating disorder.

The judge said the woman's daughter was damaged by events and would undoubtedly suffer should her mother be extradited.

She said there were powerful, persuasive family and personal factors which had to be weighed against the public interest in extraditing the woman.

Extradition would have particularly injurious circumstances for the mentally ill mother and her young daughter, the judge concluded.

Irish Independent

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