Tuesday, December 06, 2005

'I will kill myself before they kill me' Manfred Zachel has been on remand in Brixton prison for seven years, to the outrage of civil rights campaigners. He is 68 and frail. After launching legal action, the Guardian has been allowed to hear his story

Eric Allison,
prisons correspondent

Thursday October 14, 2004

The Guardian

His face has the grey, pasty pallor associated with long-term incarceration. His eyes are dull and glazed and his breath comes in rasps.
This is Manfred Zachel, a 68-year-old man of German origin, who this week began his eighth year on remand in Brixton prison in south London.
Mr Zachel, who is fighting his extradition to South Africa, where he is wanted on fraud and sexual charges, is the longest-serving prisoner being held without trial in the UK.
During his time in Brixton he has had dozens of cellmates, some of them heavy drug users, and says he has been robbed three times. He says he was also attacked when allegations of sexual offences were made in front of other prisoners.
Mr Zachel's health has declined and he now uses a wheelchair. He has dizzy spells and fits. A consultant from Guy's Hospital in London who has examined him has said his health would deteriorate further if had to take a long-haul flight; but the Home Office continues to insist he should be removed.
It is unusual for a prisoner to spend such a long time in a jail like Brixton, which is designed to hold prisoners for a short period before their trial or as they await allocation to another prison after sentence.
Human rights campaigners have criticised Mr Zachel's continued imprisonment; if he had been convicted in South Africa he would probably already be free.
Sabine Zanker, a lawyer for Fair Trials Abroad, said Mr Zachel's condition was worsening by the day. "I very much doubt he is in a fit state to be imprisoned, let alone stand trial, instruct a lawyer or survive a long-haul flight."
Mr Zachel asked to see the Guardian last year. At first the Home Office refused but reversed its decision after the newspaper began judicial review proceedings.
During an interview in the Victorian prison's medical centre, Mr Zachel said he would rather stay in Brixton than be returned to South Africa, where he believes his life would be in danger and he would not receive a fair trial. He claims trumped-up charges were brought against him because he refused to take part in a money-laundering scam involving powerful, shady figures.
He said: "Even if my life was not in danger from my enemies, I would die from mistreatment in prison there."
Speaking with the help of a German interpreter, Mr Zachel tells an extraordinary story. He says he was born in Germany in 1936.

After his mother, Marie, was killed by the SS in 1939 he went to live with an aunt in Holland.

As a boy, Mr Zachel says he carried messages for the Dutch resistance movement, claims which are supported by two former resistance fighters, 80-year-old Wim Loysen and Thijs Spronk, 90, whom the Guardian tracked down.

As a young adult, Mr Zachel turned to crime. Between 1954 and 1990 he served a total of nine years in prison in Germany and Belgium for offences including fraud, deception and receiving stolen goods.
But he claims he learned his lesson and built up legitimate financial businesses. In 1994 he set up home in Torquay.
Mr Zachel alleges that in 1995 while he was on an extended business trip to South Africa he was approached by a senior financial figure who, Mr Zachel claims, tried to persuade him to take part in a money-laundering scam.
He refused and was arrested on September 19 1996 at gunpoint and accused of mortgage fraud and sexually abusing a 13-year-old boy who was staying at his rented home.
Mr Zachel strongly denies both allegations. He says he was helping educate the boy with the consent of his parents. The Guardian spoke to Mr Zachel's alleged victim, who has moved to Germany. He said he "willingly and resolutely denied" that anything improper had occurred and added: "Manfred always treated me as I guess he would treat his own son."
Lawyers who have examined the allegation of mortgage fraud do not believe it would stand up in court.
In January 1997 Mr Zachel suffered a heart attack and was taken from New lock prison to Wilgers hospital in Pretoria. There two friends, both former military officers, who raised concerns, saw him. Pieter Willem de Jager, a former colonel in the South African Defence Force, made a statement to Mr Zachel's lawyers in which he said it looked as if he had been drugged.
Ronald Laubscher, who had been a senior medical officer in the defence force, examined Mr Zachel and in an affidavit claimed his friend had not suffered an ordinary heart attack. Both de Jager and Laubscher have claimed Mr Zachel's life would be in danger if he was forced to return to South Africa.
Mr Zachel spent several weeks in intensive care before being taken to a secure clinic in Pretoria. On June 28 1997 Mr Zachel was reported missing from the clinic. At first, his disappearance was treated as abduction - high walls surround the clinic and Mr Zachel could not walk unaided at the time - but later it was investigated as a jailbreak.
He claims he woke up tied to a plank and was tortured by having electrodes placed on his head. He claims his captors interrogated him about financial matters, apparently believing he had valuable information about the banking world. Several days later he says he was found in a park. Friends hid him and he travelled back to his home in Torquay, where he was arrested on October 12 1997.
Mr Zachel claims "forces" in South Africa would not allow him to receive a fair trial. "If they return me to South Africa, I will kill myself before they kill me," he said.
In July 2000 the then home secretary, Jack Straw, decided Mr Zachel should be returned to South Africa on the grounds that a prima facie case had been established against him and he would get a fair trial.
His case has already been subject to one judicial review but Mr Zachel is awaiting a second. His grounds include the fact that though he has served seven years in prison, this would not count towards any sentence he receives in South Africa.
His solicitor, Mike Schwarz, said: "It is a travesty he has been in custody this length of time and the Home Office is still adamant he should be removed. Mr Zachel should be released on both legal and humanitarian grounds."
Julian Knight, a South African lawyer specialising in public interest law, called the case against Mr Zachel "capricious" but said even if he was convicted he would serve a maximum of five years.
Ludwig Linden, a spokesman for the German embassy, said: "I have to set aside my emotions. We are monitoring Mr Zachel's position closely."
A Home Office spokesman said yesterday: "Extradition cases heard under the Extradition Act 1989 did not contain any time limits on appeals which could be brought by the subject.
Therefore if a subject chooses to appeal against extradition on a number of occasions, this process can take time to be properly considered.
It is precisely for this reason that we have introduced the Extradition Act 2003, which will deliver swifter justice by removing the unnecessary delays and duplication that afflicted procedures under the earlier act.
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Last Updated: Thursday, 27 January, 2005, 18:11 GMT
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Prisoner loses extradition fight
The High Court was told Mr Zachel was too unwell to be extradited
A 68-year-old German man who has been in British prisons since 1998 fighting a South Africa arrest warrant has lost his latest bid to avoid extradition.
Manfred Zachel, 68, is accused of fraud, forgery and sex with a 13-year-old boy - charges he denies.
His lawyer told London's High Court his "very sick" client might not survive a return to a South Africa jail.
Mr Justice Moses said South Africa had pledged to provide proper treatment and rejected Mr Zachel's application.
Wheelchair-bound Mr Zachel, who is held in Brixton Prison, south London, suffers from chronic bronchitis, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, depression, chronic arthritis and back problems, the court heard.
His counsel, Steven Powles, said his client's life would be endangered by a return to South Africa, where Aids and HIV, tuberculosis and other infectious diseases are widespread in prisons.
But Mr Justice Moses rejected the application to be allowed to challenge the extradition proceedings.
He said: "There is no material whatever to suggest the specific assurances given by the Republic of South Africa in relation to the treatment this particular prisoner will receive will not be honoured."
The court also rejected submissions that it would be wrong to extradite Mr Zachel because his alleged victim, who denied any assault, was out of the country and refused to give evidence because he feared for his own safety.
The father of the alleged victim also believes the accusation to be false.

'Poisoning attempts'

Mr Zachel has alleged that in the nine months he spent in custody in South Africa, before he escaped and fled to England, there were attempts on his life to "silence" him after he tried to reveal high-level fraud.

Sabine Zanker, of Fair Trials Abroad, said after today's ruling:
"I don't believe Mr Zachel would survive going to South Africa because of the way he was treated in prison last time.

"During the nine months he was held, there were two attempts to poison him and silence him.

"We believe he was accused of crimes for political reasons and because he had discovered illegal business dealings in fraudulent money involving a well-known bank."

Mrs Zanker said that a final bid to halt his extradition might now be made to the European Court of Human Rights.
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