A Cyprus court Friday launched official extradition proceedings of a Chinese mother and son linked to US-lobby groups despite defence objections over lack of documentation.
The extradition hearing at Paphos district court starts on 2 March, when the prosecution will present its first witnesses.
Defence lawyer Efstathios Efstathiou had called on the court to dismiss the extradition request at a pre-hearing because the original documentation was not attached to the authorisation given by Cypriot authorities.
“The court, in an interim decision, disagreed with our suggestion to reject China’s request,” Efstathiou said.
The two Chinese nationals are free on 25,000 euro bail each until their next court appearance.
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.
Cyprus police said the mother, 61, and her son, 39, were arrested on 8 December under a warrant issued by Chinese authorities for alleged investment fraud in China between 1 March 2013 and 31 March 2014.
The charges carry up to 10 years in prison.
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.
Their lawyer said that the Chinese suspects acquired Cypriot residency through investment seven years ago and have since applied for political asylum.
“They have requested international protection from the Republic of Cyprus due to well-founded fears of being treated unfairly due to their political beliefs,” 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.
Extradition proceedings are expected to take around 18 months because of their complexity.