Updated Saturday, February 23, 2013 at 12:34 PM
A French court ruled this week that former Seattle real-estate magnate Michael R. Mastro and his wife, Linda, can’t be extradited to the U.S. unless American authorities agree they won’t be imprisoned, the Mastros’ French lawyer said Friday.
The court cited concerns about the Mastros’ health in its ruling, Thomas Terrier said in a statement.
The Mastros have been
indicted by a federal grand jury in Seattle on 43 counts of bankruptcy fraud and money laundering. They were arrested in France last October, 16 months after fleeing the U.S.
The three judges of the Court of Appeal in Chambery, France, ruled that the Mastros can’t be extradited unless “the U.S. legal authorities first provide the court with guarantees that neither of the Mastros will have to face any other sanction than electronic surveillance at a shared location in the U.S.,” Terrier’s statement said.
The court set a three-month deadline for receiving such assurances.
In their 19-page ruling, the judges concluded that the offenses with which the Mastros have been charged are subject to extradition under French law.
But the extradition treaty between France and the U.S. allows one country to deny extradition to the other “when surrender of the person might entail exceptionally serious consequences related to age or health.”
Lengthy incarceration of the Mastros likely would have such consequences, the French court said.
The ruling mentions Michael Mastro’s age — 87 — and a serious head injury he suffered in a fall in Palm Desert, Calif., two years ago.
It also contains several references to the “psychological fragility” of Linda Mastro, 63, and reveals she attempted suicide shortly after the couple’s arrest last fall.
Emily Langlie, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Seattle, said prosecutors still are translating and studying the ruling, and would have no comment for now.
James Frush, Michael Mastro’s Seattle attorney, said the French ruling means that before extradition, both prosecutors and U.S. District Judge John Coughenour, who has been assigned the case, would need to agree that the Mastros will not be jailed.
Frush said he’s been talking to prosecutors for months about a plea agreement that would bring the Mastros back but preclude imprisonment, and is gratified the French judges apparently agreed.
Douglas McNabb, a Washington, D.C., lawyer and extradition specialist, said he doubts federal officials would agree to not incarcerate the Mastros.
If the Department of Justice can appeal the French court’s ruling, it most likely will, he said.
If appeal isn’t an option, McNabb said, U.S. officials will ask Interpol, the international police organization, to issue a new “red notice” for the Mastros — the equivalent of an international arrest warrant.
“Then the U.S. will hope that at some stage these people decide the United States doesn’t care about them any more and travel to another country” where extradition might be easier, the attorney said.
McNabb said he isn’t surprised by the French court’s ruling.
Courts in European Union nations are much more likely than U.S. courts to deny extradition if there are concerns about its impact on the subject’s physical or mental health, he said.
They consider it a human-rights issue, McNabb said.
Michael Mastro was a prolific real-estate developer and lender for 40 years until the financial crisis undermined his empire and pushed him into bankruptcy in 2009.
His debts to unsecured creditors have been estimated at $250 million.
He and his wife disappeared in June 2011 after failing to comply with a bankruptcy judge’s order that they turn over two giant diamond rings valued at $1.4 million.
The rings were recovered when the Mastros were apprehended last fall in a village near Lake Annecy in the French Alps, and now are in the custody of the FBI in Seattle.
The Mastros spent seven weeks in a French jail before a court released them under electronic surveillance pending extradition proceedings.
The indictment charges the Mastros executed a series of illegal maneuvers designed to put assets, including the rings, out of reach of creditors.
James Rigby, the court-appointed trustee in Michael Mastro’s long-running bankruptcy proceeding, said he hadn’t seen the French court’s ruling and couldn’t confirm Terrier’s account of it.