Enes Kanter: Oklahoma City Thunder center and international fugitive?
According to AFP, a Turkish judge on Friday issued an arrest warrant for Kanter. The 25-year-old is accused of having “membership” in “an armed terrorist organization.” Kanter, who was born in Switzerland to Turkish parents and spent much of his childhood in Turkey, saw his Turkish passport cancelled last week as he attempted to travel through Romania to the U.S.
Kanter is no stranger to controversy in Turkey. He is both a critic of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and supporter of Erdogan opponent Fethullah Gulen. Turkish officials contend that Gulen, who lives in exile in the U.S., helped to plot an unsuccessful coup attempt of Erdogan’s government last year. Turkish authorities insist that Kanter and other Gulen supporters have conspired through Bylock, an encrypted messaging app.
While Kanter resides in the U.S., his family remains in Turkey. Geography isn’t the only factor that separates them. Kanter and his family have estranged due to their conflicting positions on Turkish politics. Those differences reportedly center on Erdogan, who has received significant attention in recent month for human rights issues. It is in within this context that Kanter’s immigration and legal troubles have arisen.
No immediate worry for Kanter, but Turkey could seek extradition
The Turkish arrest warrant poses no immediate threat to Kanter, who is currently in the U.S.
Turkish law enforcement officers lack the authority to serve an arrest warrant on Kanter while he is in the U.S. The same goes when Kanter and his Thunder teammates are in Canada to play the Toronto Raptors. This dynamic is consistent with the concept of jurisdiction. Among other things, jurisdiction generally limits a country’s enforcement of laws to matters that occur in its own territories. Jurisdiction mostly prevents extraterritorial applications of a country’s legal authority.
The fact that Turkish police can’t arrest Kanter while he is in Oklahoma doesn’t mean Turkey can’t cause Kanter problems. Most significantly, Turkey could petition the U.S. to extradite Kanter.
Since 1981, Turkey and the U.S. have agreed to extradition terms that are expressed in their extradition treaty. In order to comply with the treaty, Turkey would need to explain the details of the charge, offer some evidence that Kanter is guilty and establish that Kanter’s alleged misconduct would constitute a crime in either country.
As the U.S.-Turkey extradition treaty makes clear, extradition shall not be granted when its purpose is “of a political character” or when the accompanying arrest has been made “on account of his political opinions.” It stands to reason that Kanter, an outspoken critic of the Turkish government, could offer a compelling argument that the arrest warrant is of a political character.
Further, any attempt to extradite Kanter would take months and possibly years. The request and accompanying materials would undergo a lengthy and thorough review by the U.S. State Department, the U.S. Justice Department and potentially a federal magistrate judge. Kanter and his attorneys would be able to offer defenses along the way.
Interpol likely not a worry for Kanter
Although Turkey’s capacity to compel Kanter to face charges in Turkey is greatly limited, it appears Turkey will petition for assistance from the International Criminal Police Organization, better known as Interpol. Interpol is the world’s largest international police organization, with 190 member nations. Turkey and the U.S. are two of those member nations.
Interpol is sometimes thought of as an international police force. Such a description is incorrect. Interpol is not a standalone law enforcement entity. There are no “Interpol police officers” and Interpol lacks the capacity to issue or execute an international arrest warrant.
Instead, Interpol helps law enforcement in member countries share information about fugitives. Along those lines, Interpol can issue what are called “red notices.” Such notices alert law enforcement in member countries of a fugitive’s alleged crimes and whereabouts, and request that member nations share information about the fugitive.
According to AFP, Turkey intends to seek a red notice for Kanter. Importantly, a red notice would not compel U.S. law enforcement to arrest or detain Kanter. The U.S. only authorizes arrests that comply with the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and its requirement of probable cause. In all likelihood, the red notice would have no impact on Kanter while he is in the U.S. or, for that matter, in Canada.
For his part, Kanter does not seem overly worried about the arrest warrant or Interpol. As translated, Kanter tweeted, "You cannot catch me. Hahaha. Don't waste your energy.”
Immigration problems and solutions for Kanter
Although Kanter might dismiss the Turkish arrest warrant as toothless, he faces the more impactful problem of being a man without a country.
Kanter is a Turkish citizen whose Turkish passport has been cancelled. He would also face arrest upon entering Turkey. Even worse, Kanter says he has received death threats from those who are opposed to his political views. It is not surprising, then, that Kanter appears interested in becoming a U.S. citizen. He has told media, “I feel like this is my home now.”
The good news for Kanter is that can remain in the U.S. indefinitely and continue his NBA career. Kanter has a U.S. green card, which makes him a permanent resident of the U.S. A green card is superior to a visa, which would only allow Kanter to remain in the U.S. for a specific time and purpose.
A green card is also beneficial to Kanter when he needs to travel to Toronto. Canada does not require a passport in order for U.S. citizens or permanent residents to enter, at least by land. Kanter could instead enter Canada with his green card and other identifying documents. Thunder attorneys will no doubt contact Canadian immigration authorities long before the Thunder play in Toronto to ensure that Kanter has the proper paperwork.
The bad news for Kanter is that to travel outside of the North America would necessitate he obtain a valid passport. Unless Turkey officials reinstate his passport, Kanter would need to obtain citizenship in another country in order to obtain a valid passport.
Kanter, who reportedly was issued a green card in 2016, would become a candidate for U.S. citizenship after being a permanent resident in the U.S. for five years or three years if he marries a U.S. citizen. Becoming a naturalized citizen would require other steps as well. Those steps include satisfying a background check, successfully interviewing with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services and passing an English and civics test.
The Crossover will keep you updated on the latest developments on Kanter.
Michael McCann, SI's legal analyst, provides legal and business analysis for The Crossover. He is also an attorney and a tenured law professor at the University of New Hampshire School of Law.