An Albanian man whose arrest in Northampton revealed a fingerprint match with a notorious gangster, will not be extradited after he argued it was a case of mistaken identity.
Aleks Kola, 34, was picked up by police in Northampton two years ago on a common assault charge.
Officers then found that his fingerprints matched those attached to an Albanian police case file for convicted murderer, Leke Prendi who was on the run.
The Albanian authorities thought the hunt for the killer was finally over and promptly requested extradition of the man they thought was Prendi.
However, in a ground-breaking decision, senior judges have now ruled that there is no proof that Prendi and Mr Kola are the same man.
Despite the fingerprint match, the killer was recorded on the red notice as being 168cm tall - whereas Mr Kola stands at 179cm.
Lord Justice Aikens told the High Court that it was “improbable that he should have grown a further 11cm” after reaching adulthood.
Prendi was one of a gang of masked robbers armed with automatic weapons who held up a bus in Albania in April 2000. The bus was carrying clerics returning from a pilgrimage and it was Prendi’s weapon which went off, killing Gjovalin Prendi.
Leke Prendi was convicted in his absence of murder, armed robbery and illegal possession of military-grade weapons by an Albanian court in December 2000.
The High Court ruling now means Prendi is still at large and Interpol now face re-opening their search.
It is a double blow to the Interpol team as the judge also ruled the contents of the ‘red notice’, issued in order to make a case for an international arrest, were in any event inadmissible hearsay.
Even if the Interpol office in Albanian capital, Tirana, could be viewed as a “reliable source”, the facts stated in the notice had not been authenticated.
The original source of a photo of a teenaged Prendi and the fingerprints was unclear and the judge ruled: “Their provenance is not demonstrated”.
Had the UK Government “bothered” to obtain an authenticated statement in line with the Extradition Act 2003, the position might have been different, but it had not done so, the judge said.
He concluded: “The Government has not proved, on the balance of probabilities, that Mr Kola is Leke Prendi”.
Mr Justice Kenneth Parker agreed that Mr Kola’s appeal against an earlier decision to extradite him should be allowed.