Extradition proceedings of a Chinese mother and son linked to US-lobby groups took a twist on Friday when released on bail after a Cyprus court did not receive the required documents.
They were released from custody on 25,000 euro bail each, effective from Monday until the paperwork is completed.
The hearing at Paphos district court was adjourned until 3 February, when the court said it expected the correct documentation for extradition proceedings to begin.
Their fight against extradition to face fraud charges has attracted criticism by US-based right-wing lobby groups who claim the case is politically motivated.
Defence lawyer Efstathios Efstathiou told AFP that because Chinese authorities sent the extradition request to the Cyprus embassy in Beijing, the Cypriot foreign minister had no time to authorise the request needed by the court.
“Extradition can only begin after authorisation from the minister of the extradition request which the court did not receive,” said Efstathiou.
“Without authorisation, there can be no extradition,” he added.
Cyprus police said the mother, 61, and her son, 39, were arrested on 8 December in Peyia under a warrant issued by Chinese authorities for alleged investment fraud in China between 1 March 2013 and 31 March 2014.
A US pro-democracy organisation supported by former US President Donald Trump’s former adviser Steve Bannon had contacted Cypriot authorities to demand that the extradition request be rejected.
The lawyer confirmed the mother and son are members of the New Federal State of China, a US-based political movement lobbying against the Chinese government.
The group is tied to exiled Chinese tycoon Guo Wengui and Bannon, a China hawk.
The two also had links to another US group that lobbied against China, the Rule of Law Foundation.
The justice and interior ministries received a letter from the Rule of Law Foundation, an organisation aiming to “protect individuals speaking out against corruption and illegal activities in China,” Politis daily said.
“China has a proven record of falsely accusing people outside the country in hopes they would end actions against the Chinese Communist Party,” Politis quoted the letter as saying.
Their lawyer said that the Chinese suspects acquired Cypriot residency through investment seven years ago and have since applied for political asylum.
“My clients say their case is related to discrimination because of their political opinions,” said Efstathiou.
He said discrimination related to gender, religion or political beliefs are grounds for extradition not to be executed.
Cyprus would prefer to keep the case low-profile as it has an extradition treaty with China and good diplomatic ties with Washington.
“In my estimation, due to the case’s complexity, not just political character, and procedure court has to follow it will take more than a year.
“I would say 18 months,” said Efstathiou.
The US embassy in Nicosia is also monitoring the situation.