US FAILS to Extradite Tech Entrepreneur from Saudi Arabia

Discovering you’re subject to an extradition request from the US is the worst thing that can happen to anyone. British citizen Chris Emms was wanted by the US government for allegedly breaking US sanctions on North Korea. He was detained for alleged conspiracy to violate something called the International Emergency Economic Powers  Act (IEEPA)

This came about because Emms gave a speech in North Korea which suggested that cryptocurrencies could be used to “transfer money around the world, regardless of sanctions”. I’m sure the North Koreans could have figured that out for themselves!

He did not disclose any information that wasn’t readily available on Google. Despite this, the US government accused him of violating US sanctions on North Korea and had an Interpol red notice issued.

Detained in Saudi Arabia

Mr Emms, who was based in the UAE, was detained under the red notice when he travelled to Saudi Arabia. He was held there pending an extradition request from the United States.

It’s worth noting that Emms, as a British citizen, is not subject to the US law on sanctions. It should be impossible to prosecute a foreign national for such allegations. This is an example of how the US governments extraterritorial overreach can embroil innocent parties and seriously affect their ability to live a normal life.

Rhada Stirling, a Criminal and Civil justice expert, representing Mr Emms said “Chris is not an American citizen and is not accountable to the US Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC)” She explained: “He cannot be reasonably prosecuted for violating American sanctions on North Korea any more than he could be prosecuted for breaking the Illinois speed limit while driving on the Autobhan.”

Emms was detained for 8 months in Saudi Arabia before being released from house arrest and allowed to leave the country when the US extradition request failed.

No Extradition Treaty

The United States does not have an extradition treaty with Saudi Arabia. They likely hoped he’d be intimidated into travelling to the US voluntarily and doing a plea deal with US prosecutors. No non-American citizen has been successfully prosecuted for violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) without being intimidated into a plea bargain.

Despite being free to leave Saudi Arabia and the American extradition request failing, the case is not over. The US still wants to extradite him and he is still on Interpol’s red list. He faces arrest whenever he travels. For this reason Emms is unable to return to the UK.

The UK Does Not Protect Citizens from International Extradition

The UK has a very unbalanced extradition agreement with the US. Despite having a strong defence and the extradition request being completely invalid, he could not be confident that the UK government would not extradite him to the US. The UK has a long history of failing to protect its citizens from US prosecutions. Even in cases where they are obviously wrong. Unlike many other European countries the UK will extradite its own citizens.

Safe Haven in Russia

Instead he has sought a safe haven in Russia. There is no extradition treaty with the US and even if there was Russia would be unlikely to cooperate with US authorities. We have seen this when whistle-blower Edward Snowden took refuge there.

Emms is now working with US lawyers to have the charges dropped. Meanwhile he remains free in Russia.


Cases like this show the extraterritorial overreach of the US government. They are able to destroy anyone’s life by having a red notice issued, making them subject to detention anywhere in the world. In this case they tried and failed to extradite a non-US citizen from a country with no extradition treaty with the US. It’s a sobering prospect that this could happen to almost anybody. It’s increasingly important for anyone with assets or conducting business internationally to have at least one second citizenship from a country that doesn’t extradite its own citizens.