STOCKHOLM — American officials are trying to convince a man who claims to be a wanted U.S. Air Force deserter to turn himself in after 28 years on the run, his Swedish lawyer said Friday.
Last month, a man alleging to be 49-year-old David Hemler from Cleona, Pennsylvania, contacted Stockholm-based lawyer Emma Persson, saying he missed his family and wanted to reveal his true identity after living in Sweden under a false name for nearly three decades.
For years, the former airman has been listed as "a security issue" on the Air Force most wanted list of fugitives.
The man, who went public with his story two weeks ago, said he had deserted his post at an American base in Augsburg in southwestern Germany in 1984 for ideological reasons. He hitchhiked to Sweden where he has worked and raised a family – all under an alias. Not even his wife or three children had been aware of his real identity, he claimed, but said he had chosen to come forward because he missed his American family and wanted to see his aging parents again.
Persson, who won't disclose her client's Swedish identity for confidentiality reasons, said three American officials – two from the U.S. Air Force European headquarters in Germany and a member of the American Embassy in Stockholm – met her on Thursday in Stockholm to discuss the case and verify his identity.
"They want to perform DNA tests and check his fingerprints," she said, adding that they had also requested he voluntarily return to his homeland to stand trial if he proves to be the missing airman. "He won't be able to avoid punishment in that case."
However, Persson said that under Swedish law, people cannot be extradited to the United States if they are suspected of political or military crimes and that her client was under no obligation to undergo identity tests unless he agrees to do so.
Persson said the American officials had been in contact with her client by email but had not yet met him.
In an interview published by Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter on Friday, the man said he has no objections to participating in the requested identity tests but that he has no plans to return to America soon.
"I won't return until I have guarantees of what a maximum sentence could be. For the sake of my wife, my children and my parents I can't risk going to prison for a long time," he was quoted as saying.
He did not immediately reply to interview requests made by The Associated Press.
When he came forward with his story, the man said he hoped American authorities would understand the hardship he had suffered by having to conceal his true identity for such a long time and that they would consider it as sufficient punishment.