Serbia stalling about Tsvetan Vassilev again

For the umpteenth time in the last five years and six months, the court in Belgrade says it will hear the extradition case of the fugitive banker

Tsvetan Vassilev

For nearly six years now, Serbia has been dragging its feet on the extradition of fugitive banker Tsvetan Vassilev, with the latest excuse being that there is an ingoing case on the matter. Twice the court in Belgrade has refused to return to Sofia the Bulgarian Madoff, who defrauded CorpBank depositors of BGN 5-6bn. It has been exactly five years and six months since the Bulgarian state sent its first request for the extradition of the financial fraudster and four years and eight months since the second one.

A couple of days ago, Prosecutor General Ivan Geshev informed the European institutions that Belgrade has been stalling the extradition case of Vassilev for over five years. He was adamant that Russia is protecting Tsvetan Vassilev in Serbia. The Bulgarian Madoff is known to have strong ties to the Kremlin oligarch Konstantin Malofeev, his partner Dmitry Kosarev and Leonid Reshetnikov, general of the former First Main Directorate of the KGB (now Foreign Intelligence Service). Reshetnikov and Malofeev have been banned from entering Bulgaria for a period of ten years because of their involvement in the so-called Plan Bulgaria, spearheaded on the ground by Nikolay Malinov, head of National Movement “Russophiles”. The plan’s mission was to take Bulgaria away from the EU and NATO and bring it into Russia’s sphere of influence. To that end, the fugitive banker was supposed to transfer BGN 1bn in assets to his Russian friends.

On 7 February the court in Belgrade came out with its latest nebulous position – that it will consider an additional request by the Bulgarian Prosecutor’s Office for the extradition of the fugitive banker, who has been living an affluent life in Belgrade with the money he stole from the lender.

On 4 February Prosecutor General Ivan Geshev informed the European institutions that the court in Belgrade is stalling about the extradition of Tsvetan Vassilev. “The lack of a final court ruling by the competent authorities of the approached state – the Republic of Serbia – on this particular case in connection with the criminal proceedings opened by the Bulgarian authorities against citizen of Bulgaria Tsvetan Vassilev calls into question the effective application of the European Convention in terms of the obligation of the approached state to come out with a ruling within a reasonable term,” reads the prosecutor general’s letter. Geshev also sent a letter to the Supreme Court in Belgrade, expressing his amazement at the fact that the judges panel has failed to come out with a ruling five years and six months after the first extradition request and more than four years and eight months since the second one.

In response to Geshev’s letter, the Supreme Court is now clarifying that it is currently considering an additional request “by the Bulgarian Prosecutor’s Office dated 24 October 2019, and that on 3 December the Supreme Court in Belgrade, through the Ministry of Justice, acquainted itself with the additional request from the Bulgarian Prosecutor’s Office.”

Meanwhile, the head of the opposition Free Citizens Movement (PSG) Sergej Trifunovic was cited by the Tanjug newswire as saying that Tsvetan Vassilev has to be turned over to Bulgaria. He adds that the government is preventing the Serbian judicial system from extraditing Vassilev, who “even though he is presented as a savior in Serbia, ran a Serbian glass factory to the ground”. Trifunovic notes that Vassilev has donated money to the foundation of Dragica Nikolic (the wife of former President Tomislav Nikolic) and raises the question whether that bought him refuge in Serbia. Trifunovic reminds that the Bulgarian Prosecutor’s Office has sent letters to the European institutions and the Supreme Court in Belgrade in connection with the case, asking the President of the European Parliament David Maria Sassoli and the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen to assess the capacity of Serbia, as a candidate for EU membership, to observe rule of law principles.

On 6 February former Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic said that “Bulgarian businessman Tsvetan Vassilev, who is wanted by the Interpol, is funding the party of Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and the political organisation of foreign minister Ivica Dacic.” “Belgrade is refusing to hand Tsvetan Vassilev to Bulgaria because he is financing the Serbian Progressive Party of Vucic and the Socialist Party of Serbia of Dacic. Vassilev was allowed to acquire the state-owned glass factory in Paracin. That was not an ordinary corruption scheme. It was borderline illegal and would not have happened, had he not had the government’s protection,” Zivkovic told members of the Serbian parliament.

Meanwhile, Bulgaria’s Minister of Justice Danail Kirilov asked that the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) relieve Judge Andon Mitalov of his duties for damaging the reputation of the judicial system. The judge, who made headlines by allowing Nikolay Malinov, a Russophile accused of spying for Russia and affiliated with Tsvetan Vassilev, to travel to Moscow, was banned from entering the US because of his involvement in an act of “significant corruption”. Kirilov notes that one of the reasons for his request with the SJC was the statement made by the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Another one is the violation of procedure Mitalov committed by allowing Nikolay Malinov to travel to Russia despite the espionage charges against him and his related ban to leave the country. Judge Mitalov gave the permission without Malinov having addressed his request to the Prosecutor’s Office, as is required by rule.   

On 7 February the US Department of State told the Bulgarian National Television (BNT) that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has reliable information that Judge Mitalov was involved, directly or indirectly, in an act of significant corruption in his capacity as a judge of the Specialised Criminal Court. This act of corruption undermines the rule of law and democratic institutions in Bulgaria.

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