Canadian sea activist facing charges flees Germany: court

BERLIN Wed Jul 25, 2012 3:29pm EDT

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BERLIN (Reuters) - A Canadian marine conservationist has fled Germany after being freed on bail while awaiting possible extradition to Costa Rica over charges stemming from his campaign against shark finning, a court official said on Wednesday.

Paul Watson, founder of the Sea Shepherd marine conservation group, had been banned from leaving Germany and ordered to report twice a day to police in Frankfurt after his arrest there in May.

"Watson has not reported to the police since July 22," a spokesman for the court in Frankfurt said. "His attorney informed us that his client had called him saying he left Germany for an unknown destination."

Watson is known for disrupting whale hunts and for his campaigns against shark finning, a practice that involves catching sharks, slicing off their fins and throwing them back into the sea, sometimes barely alive.

He was facing possible extradition to Costa Rica to answer accusations that he had endangered a Costa Rican vessel involved in illegal shark finning during a confrontation on the high seas in 2002. Watson denies the charge.

"We do not know where Watson is at the moment. His arrest warrant is only valid in Germany, where we keep searching for him, and his exemption from arrest had been lifted," said a spokesman for the public prosecutor's office in Frankfurt.

After being freed on a 250,000 euro ($319,200) bail, Watson made a brief appearance in Berlin at a protest coinciding with a visit by Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla in late May.

Chinchilla has promised him a fair trial if he is extradited to her country.

(Editing by Alessandra Rizzo)

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