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Fugitive Sea Shepherd founder pursued by Japan

October 14, 2015

From the print edition

FRANKFURT, Germany – A German court Wednesday reissued an arrest warrant for the extradition to Costa Rica of Paul Watson, founder of marine conservation group Sea Shepherd, who has skipped bail and left the country.

The higher regional court in Frankfurt said Watson’s lawyer had informed it that he had left Germany “for an unspecified destination” and that it had therefore decided to resume extradition proceedings against him.

On Thursday,  the Japanese government also asked Germany to arrest Watson, on July 19, just days before he disappeared.

Earlier this year, Costa Rica filed an extradition request on charges stemming from a high-seas confrontation between a Sea Shepherd ship and a Costa Rican vessel over alleged shark finning in 2002.

Sea Shepherd spokesman Sven Matthiessen told AP he believes there is a connection between extradition requests by Japan and Costa Rica.

Watson, 61, a Canadian national who leads the Sea Shepherd organization noted for aggressive attacks on Japanese whalers, was accused of endangering a ship’s crew.

Watson was arrested at Frankfurt airport in western Germany on May 13. He was detained for a week before being released on €250,000 ($303,500) bail. He also was to check with police twice a day.

He has not adhered to the terms of his bail, however, since July 22, the court said on Wednesday.

“Since by fleeing Watson has shown that he cannot justify the trust placed in him, the extradition process has been restarted,” the court said.

A spokeswoman for the German Federal Justice Ministry said it was not aware of Watson’s whereabouts, nor could it say whether he was still in the country.

Watson did not respond to an email and a message left on his cellphone by The Tico Times on Monday.

“This is not about me. It is about our oceans and the ever-escalating threat of diminishment of the diversity of life in our seas. It is about the sharks, the whales, the seals, the sea turtles and the fish,” Watson said in an interview with AFP after he was arrested.

On a visit to Germany in May, Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla said Watson would have a fair trial if extradited to the Central American country.

The Canadian national is well-known for his pursuit and harassment of Japanese whaling boats off Antarctica, which in recent years has significantly reduced the number of animals slaughtered.

This year the group hurled stink bombs at the boats on the high seas and used ropes to try to tangle their propellers in a series of exchanges that saw the whalers retaliate with water cannon.

He has previously suggested that Japan might be “putting pressure” on Germany to carry out the extradition order. Watson has said he believed it is unusual to issue an extradition order for “a relatively minor offense, where no one was injured and no property damaged.”

The 2002 confrontation occurred in Guatemalan waters when a Sea Shepherd vessel filming the movie “Sharkwater” encountered a Costa Rican ship that it said was illegally harvesting shark fins.

Sea Shepherd claimed that it then attempted to escort the Costa Rican ship back to port. The crew accused the activists of trying to kill them, allegations Sea Shepherd denies. Costa Rica then sought to charge Watson with endangering the crew.

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