ACCOUNTANT who Spanish cops 'made suspect after blowing his informant cover' wins extradition fight
AN accountant accused of laundering cash for the former henchman of late Brink's Mat gangster John Palmer has won a battle against extradition to Spain.
Paul Blanchard, 76, (above) faced up to 15 years in prison if convicted of being the financial architect of a Tenerife-based timeshare fraud.
He denies the allegations, claiming, and produced recordings and documents in the extradition hearing that showed he was a Spanish police informant codenamed Isabella.
His evidence to Spanish Police intelligence led to the arrest on suspicion of fraud of Lebanese businessman Mohamed Derbah, who worked for Palmer (pictured below), before setting up a rival timeshare empire.
Palmer, once Britain's richest criminal, was shot dead in his garden in Brentwood, Essex, in 2015.
In 2020, Judge Tan Ikram at Westminster Magistrates Court said Blanchard should be extradited to Spain to face prosecution and these issues about his status as an informant could be dealt with at the criminal trial.
However, last Wednesday Lord Justice Singh and Lady Justice Steyn at the Court of Appeal reversed the ruling, saying the 2018 European Arrest Warrant was “fundamentally incoherent and defective.”
They said the nature of Blanchard’s alleged criminality, and the punishment sought by Spain, was not made clear.
The appeal judgement said Blanchard, from York, was an accountant working on offshore accounts for Mr Derbah, but in 2001 he gave Spanish police evidence his employer was allegedly running a timeshare fraud, leading to his arrest.
Mr Derbah, who denies the allegations, has never been charged and remains a high-profile businessman on Tenerife.
Judge Singh wrote there was evidence Blanchard co-operated with Spanish investigators for the next three years, as an undercover informant, but accidentally blew his own cover in 2004.
The extradition hearing heard claims Blanchard had provided information on major frauds, including some linked to terrorist funding, as the Spanish police allowed him to continue working.
But, after he blew his cover, they washed their hands of him and refused to confirm his status as a "protected witness" to the British security services.
Judge Singh rejected an appeal ground there had been an abuse of process by the Spanish authorities by changing his status from protected witness to suspect.
However, he wrote: "The incoherent and fundamentally defective arrest warrant purported to refer to only one offence but in fact set out five and possibly six separate offences, namely fraud, money-laundering, forgery and fraudulent use of credit cards, threats and coercion, perverting the course of justice and participation in a criminal organisation.
“It is impossible for the reasonable reader to know for what offence or offences the applicant is to be extradited.“
Blanchard’s court documents revealed he was an informant to a Spanish police-intelligence unit tasked with
investigating Mr Derbah (pictured below) and others.
He claimed he was also granted protected witness status.
Separately, Blanchard claims he was asked to monitor individuals suspected of laundering terror finance
through offshore centres, including businessmen allegedly linked to two London 7/7 bombers.
Blanchard claims he sent a lengthy list of names, including Mohammad Sidique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer,
to MI5 a year before the devastating attacks on London. In an earlier UK court statement, York Special
Branch officer Andrew Blain confirmed he passed information from Blanchard to MI5 in July 2004.
But the Crown Prosecution Service later said MI5 could not confirm the content of Blanchard’s report.
In 2007, Spain added Blanchard to an indictment against Mohamed Derbah and others.
Contrary to court testimony provided by his police-appointed lawyer, authorities in Madrid denied that Blanchard had been granted ‘protected witness’ status or immunity from prosecution.
In 2008, Blanchard was jailed in the UK for two frauds worth £4.7m which, he said, he monitored for
Blanchard claims he had no choice but to plead guilty in the UK because Spain refused to confirm his status as an intelligence asset. Blanchard’s defence material included covert recordings of his discussions with Spanish agents.
Blanchard now intends to appeal his 2008 convictions and could recover £1m he was forced to pay under
the Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA) following his UK sentence.
Blanchard said: “I am delighted to have defeated this deeply flawed extradition request, in which Spain again failed to acknowledge my role as a whistle-blower on alleged frauds committed on Tenerife.
“For several years I acted as Spain’s 'offshore asset’ providing police-intelligence agents with
insight into suspected criminals, and terror financiers, using complex offshore structures.
"I was given armed protection, handlers, a codename and protected witness status. I am a whistle-blower, not a criminal.
"In my opinion, Spanish officials submitted their flawed extradition request because they cannot prosecute alleged members of the Tenerife ‘mafia’ without my evidence.
"But I will not assist a state which betrayed me, and effectively sent me to jail, in 2008. I now intend to appeal my 2008 convictions."