Sweden bows to Turkish demands and agrees to extradite fraud suspect after Ankara threatened to freeze Stockholm’s bid to join NATO
- Sweden and Finland applied to join NATO in May after Russia invaded Ukraine
- It was a major shift of security arrangements for the two Nordic countries
- However, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened to block the two nations from NATO membership unless they meet several demands
- These demands include the extradition of people Ankara considers ‘terrorists’
The move is the first known extradition since Turkey threatened to block the applications of Sweden and neighbouring Finland earlier this year.
Sweden and Finland applied to join NATO in May, setting aside their longstanding stance of military nonalignment.
It was a major shift of security arrangements for the two countries after neighbouring Russia launched its war on Ukraine in late February – which caused public opinion in the two Nordic countries to swing in favour of joining the alliance.
However, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened to block the two nations from NATO membership unless they meet several demands, including the extradition of people Ankara considers ‘terrorists’.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (pictured during a NATO summit in Spain in June) has threatened to block Sweden and Finland from NATO membership unless they meet several demands, including the extradition of people Ankara considers ‘terrorists’
Erdogan accuses the two countries of being havens for Kurdish militants, specifically highlighting the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
The man facing extradition was identified in Swedish court documents as Okan Kale, and was convicted in Turkey of credit card fraud in 2013 and 2016.
He sought asylum in Sweden in 2011 but his request was denied. He was granted refugee status in Italy in 2014.
Kale’s name features on a list published in Turkish media of people that Ankara wants extradited from Sweden.
The justice ministry would however not comment on whether the man was on a list drawn up by Turkey.
It noted that Ankara had sought his extradition in 2021 – long before the Stockholm’s application to join the North Atlantic alliance in May.
‘This is a regular, routine matter,’ justice ministry spokeswoman Angelica Vallgren told AFP. ‘The extradition request was received last year.’
Kale has been held in Swedish custody since December 2021.
He maintains he has been wrongfully sentenced because he is a convert to Christianity, refused to do military service and has Kurdish roots, SVT said.
In an agreement signed by Sweden and Finland at a NATO summit in Madrid in late June, the two countries agreed to examine Turkish extradition requests ‘expeditiously and thoroughly’.
Erdogan said Sweden had made a ‘promise’ to extradite ’73 terrorists’.
‘This is a normal routine matter. The person in question is a Turkish citizen and convicted of fraud offences in Turkey in 2013 and 2016,’ Swedish Minister of Justice Morgan Johansson told Reuters in a text message.
‘The Supreme Court has examined the issue as usual and concluded that there are no obstacles to extradition,’ he said.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice declined to confirm whether the man was on the list of people Turkey has demanded to have extradited.
The countries sought out NATO membership earlier this year to guarantee their security in the wake of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s offensive in Ukraine.
Sweden and Finland (shown in green) applied to join NATO in May, setting aside their longstanding stance of military nonalignment after Russia invaded Ukraine in February
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s rules require the consent of all of its 30 existing members before Finland and Sweden can officially accede into the alliance, which is expected in the coming months.
The candidacies of the two prosperous Northern European nations have won ratification from more than half of the NATO member nations in the roughly three months since the two applied.
It marks one of the speediest expansions of the pact of mutual defence among the United States and democratic allies in Europe in its 73-year history.
The agreement from Sweden comes after US President Joe Biden formally welcomed Finland and Sweden joining the NATO alliance on Tuesday.
He signed the instruments of ratification that delivered the U.S.’s formal backing of the Nordic nations entering the mutual defence pact.
‘In seeking to join NATO, Finland and Sweden are making a sacred commitment that an attack against one is an attack against all,’ Biden said at the signing as he called the partnership the ‘indispensable alliance.’
On Thursday, US President Joe Biden formally welcomed Finland and Sweden joining the NATO alliance. Pictured: Biden signs the Instruments of Ratification for the Accession Protocols to the North Atlantic Treaty for the Republic of Finland and Kingdom of Sweden
The U.S. became the 23rd ally to approve NATO membership for the two countries. Biden said he spoke with the heads of both nations before signing the ratification and urged the remaining NATO members to finish their own ratification process ‘as quickly as possible.’
The Senate last week approved the two, once-non-aligned nations joining the alliance in a rare 95-1 vote that Biden said shows the world that ‘the United States of America can still do big things’ with a sense of political unity.
U.S. State and Defence officials consider the two countries net ‘security providers,’ strengthening NATO’s defence posture in the Baltics in particular.
Finland is expected to exceed NATO’s 2% gross domestic product defence spending target in 2022, and Sweden has committed to meet the 2% goal.
Biden encouraged their joining and welcomed the two countries’ government heads to the White House in May, standing side by side with them in a display of U.S. backing.
The U.S. and its European allies have rallied with newfound partnership in the face of Putin’s military invasion, as well as the Russian leader’s sweeping statements this year condemning NATO, issuing veiled reminders of Russia’s nuclear arsenal and asserting Russia’s historical claims to territory of many of its neighbours.