Final appeal for Brit, 78, wrongfully jailed in Florida

February 14, 2017

An elderly British citizen has filed a final appeal against his wrongful conviction in Florida 30 years ago, which saw him sentenced to death.

Krishna ‘Kris’ Maharaj, a 78-year old British businessman, was arrested in the US in 1986 and sentenced to death. He has spent three decades in prison, despite compelling evidence of his innocence, collected by his lawyer at international human rights organization Reprieve. The US courts commuted his death sentence in 2002, but have dismissed subsequent evidence suggesting he was framed.

Since Mr Maharaj’s original conviction, six people affiliated with a Colombian drug cartel have said they committed the murders for which he was sentenced to death. Mr Maharaj’s final appeal to the US federal courts was filed earlier this month, and asks for this new evidence to be heard.

Mr Maharaj and his MP, Conservative Sir Peter Bottomley, have asked the UK Government to submit a so-called ‘amicus’ briefing to the court, supporting Mr Maharaj’s request to be given the opportunity to demonstrate his innocence.

However, the Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, has declined to submit such a briefing. In a letter sent in December, the Foreign Office said: “The Minister does not think it is appropriate to do so on this occasion”, and did not give any further reasoning.

The decision appears to be at odds with previous UK actions in US legal cases. Three years ago, the Foreign Office commissioned four lawyers from an international law firm to intervene on behalf of oil giant BP, in litigation surrounding the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, because the case “implicates the rights of one of the United Kingdom’s largest companies”.

The appeal for Mr Maharaj is filed amid concerns for his wellbeing. Last month, he was hospitalised for several weeks after becoming seriously ill with a rare skin condition. Mr Maharaj is already confined to a wheelchair, after he contracted a similar illness in 2011.

Clive Stafford Smith, Reprieve’s founder and Mr Maharaj’s pro bono lawyer for 23 years, said:

“We now have no fewer than six cartel associates saying they did the murder for which Kris Maharaj was originally sentenced to death. The terrible possibility is that the US federal court will not allow us a hearing, based on the bizarre laws that govern such applications. I hope we can persuade them, but the injustice Kris has faced for three decades is why he and I are both so upset that Boris Johnson refused to intervene on his behalf. After all, what is a British passport for?”

ENDS

Notes to editors:

1.Reprieve is an international human rights organization. Reprieve’s London office can be contacted on: communications [at] reprieve [dot] org [dot] uk / +44 (0) 207 553 8140. Reprieve US, based in New York City, can be contacted on Katherine [dot] oshea [at] reprieve [dot] org / +1 917 855 8064.

2. The Foreign Office’s letter to Reprieve is available here.

3. Further detail on Kris Maharaj’s case is available at the Reprieve website, here.