x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Family's anger as suspect in daughter's murder flees to Yemen

The prime suspect in the murder of a 23-year-old Norwegian student in London, two years ago flew to Yemen which has no extradition treaty with the UK.

Odd Petter Magnussen, the father of Martine Vik Magnussen, who was murdered in London on March 14, 2008. The prime suspect, Farouk Abdulhak, the son of a Yemeni billionaire, fled to Yemen, which does not have an extradition agreement with the UK.
Odd Petter Magnussen, the father of Martine Vik Magnussen, who was murdered in London on March 14, 2008. The prime suspect, Farouk Abdulhak, the son of a Yemeni billionaire, fled to Yemen, which does not have an extradition agreement with the UK.

During a family trip to London in 2008, Odd Petter Magnussen was struck by a moment of emotional intensity when he saw his two daughters walking arm in arm, smiling and joking with each other. "I saw these two sisters holding each other so naturally, having a good time together. I stopped them and said, 'This is probably the most happy [moment] in my life as a father to see how close and balanced and in harmony you two are'," he said. "Just three months later it was all over."

The Norwegian's joy of fatherhood was shattered two years ago today when the older of his daughters, Martine Vik Magnussen, a vivacious 23-year-old studying in London, was raped and murdered. Farouk Abdulhak, the Yemeni man accused by British police of the killing, fled to the country of his birth where it is alleged he is living under the protective umbrella of his father, a powerful and wealthy businessman.

While today will be a time for quiet reflection for Martine Magnussen's family, it also marks two years of a fight for justice that looks no closer to a conclusion. The lack of an extradition treaty between the UK and Yemen means Mr Abdulhak has managed to avoid facing trial. A senior diplomat in London told The National that Britain was involved in "a delicate, diplomatic balancing act" in discussions with the Yemeni government over the issue.

Magnussen's partially clothed body was found inside the basement of a block of flats at Great Portland Street two days after she went missing. The flats were home to Mr Abdulhak, her friend and fellow student at Regent's Business School. The pair had left the exclusive Maddox nightclub in the early hours of the morning on March 14, 2008. According to reports, Abdulhak flew out of the UK the same day and friends later noticed he had deleted his Facebook profile.

London's Metropolitan Police has a "wanted" posting for the 23-year-old on its website and in July last year the Crown Prosecution Service decided there was sufficient evidence to prosecute Mr Abdulhak. A European arrest warrant has also been issued. But after Yemen turned down an extradition request in 2009 on legal grounds, the prospect of getting Mr Abdulhak in front of a British court now appears to rest in the hands of politicians.

For Mr Magnussen and his family the current impasse has been a source of "tremendous frustration", but he is determined his daughter's death will help forge a change in the extradition system. "There is no doubt in anyone's mind that criminal conduct of this nature should be punished," said Mr Magnussen, a 58-year-old civil economist, speaking at his home near Oslo. "The fact you have these lack of extradition treaties is no longer viable when you have a mobile, secular world where migration is a political desire.

"Today it's just a question of an air ticket and you can get away with murder. Just to commit the most serious crime and go home is a hopeless situation." Mr Magnussen said he believes bringing Mr Abdulhak to trial in the UK "would send a strong message that this sort of hopeless legal vacuum cannot be used as a secure way of avoiding law enforcement". He believes there should be a change in the international regulations that would supersede the lack of extradition treaties including some sort of agreement on entering a country that a person would be prepared to return to stand trial there. The recent increase in international focus on Yemen after it emerged that the alleged failed bomber on a Detroit-bound airliner had received training in the state has raised hope for Magnussen's family that there would be more pressure to extradite Mr Abdulhak.

"It is now a question of exerting what influence can be brought on the Yemeni authorities," said the London-based diplomat, who requested anonymity. "It is a fact that, since the Detroit incident, there has been a much greater international effort to pour aid into Yemen. "But this does not necessarily give the UK any more leverage than before. Indeed, it could even be counterproductive in the search for Martine's killer.

"The harsh reality is that the immediate priority of the UK and the rest of the international community is to provide the developmental and security assistance that will stop Yemen's further decline into a base for terrorism. The stakes are very high for all concerned and nobody in the West wants this fragile process to falter because of a row over one individual, albeit one who is a suspect in a murder investigation."

He said this does not mean that the United Kingdom is giving up on the Abdulhak case. "Far from it. But it does mean that everyone is having to tread carefully." Mr Magnussen admitted that the hope of a diplomatic outcome remains slim but said the pressure is growing both externally and, recently, internally after an opposition group took on his daughter's case to attack the embattled Yemeni government.

The greatest hope for justice, he said, lies with Mr Abdulhak's father, Shaher. The billionaire, who according to recent report in The Guardian, has a business empire extending into petroleum, sugar, soft drinks, tourism and property, is also close to senior figures in Yemen's government. A Norwegian television documentary filmed the Abdulhak family lawyer last year admitting that Farouk Abdulhak, who has spent most of his life living abroad, now resides at home with his family and studies Arabic at the local university.

Attempts to contact the lawyer were unsuccessful, but David Wilson, the managing director of the public relations firm Bell Pottinger, appointed by Shaher Abdulhak to act as his spokesman in the UK, insisted that the father has little contact with his son, who is not staying in any of his father's properties. "He's been absolutely consistent throughout that if his son can help the investigation in any way, then he should do so," Mr Wilson said.

Abu Bakr al Qirbi, the Yemeni foreign minister, said his country's constitution does not allow a citizen to be handed to a foreign country. He said Yemen is prepared to prosecute Farouk Abdulhak in Yemen if the British police provide it with evidence. "We can guarantee a just prosecution here in Yemen," he said. This is an option unacceptable to Mr Magnussen and the British. "I would wish so much for him and his family and my family that we can end up in a mutual understanding of the need to let justice prevail," Mr Magnussen said. "Martine was extremely lovable as a person. Her tolerance, her mildness, probably was the one thing that killed her."

@Email:jlessware@thenational.ae * With additional reporting by David Sapsted in London