Tsvetan Vassilev questioned, questioning rescheduled

Belgrade continues to drag its feet for six years now

Tsvetan Vassilev

Fugitive banker Tsvetan Vassilev was questioned Tuesday by a judge of the Supreme Court in Belgrade, a press release of the court announced. The questioning was prompted by the latest request of the Bulgarian Prosecutor’s Office for his extradition. There was no prosecutor in attendance for the questioning, which technically created grounds for rescheduling the conversation with the judge for 23 March. Separately, Vassilev’s lawyers asked that they be given more time to prepare a response. It all goes to show that the court in Belgrade is continuing to drag its feet on the extradition of the fugitive banker for a sixth year in a row.

Now the Serbian magistrates have a new excuse to not honour their international obligations: the case is being heard. In reality, the Belgrade court has twice refused to return the Bulgarian Madoff, who stole BGN 5-6bn from CorpBank depositors, to Sofia for his trial. It has been five years and six months since the first extradition request and four years and eight months since the second. In early February, Prosecutor General Ivan Geshev informed the European institutions that Belgrade has been purposefully dragging out the extradition case for over five and a half years. Geshev noted that Russia is protecting the indicted Tsvetan Vassilev in Serbia. The strong Russian ties of the Bulgarian Madoff to the Kremlin oligarch Konstantin Malofeev, his partner Dmitry Kosarev and former KGB general Leonid Reshetnikov have been well-documented. Reshetnikov and Malofeev have been banned from entering the country for a period of 10 years for their involvement in the so-called Plan Bulgaria spearheaded in Bulgaria by Nikolay Malinov, chairperson of the National Movement “Russophiles”. The secret plot was designed to steer Bulgaria away from the EU and NATO and into the Russian orbit. For that purpose, the fugitive banker was supposed to transfer assets for BGN 1bn to his Russian cronies.

After Prosecutor General Geshev sent letters to the General Secretariat of the Council and the European Committee on Crime Problems, once again reporting the delay in the decision on the two extradition requests submitted to the Serbian authorities, the court in Belgrade was ostensibly spurred to action. On 7 February the Supreme Court in Belgrade came out with yet another vague position, saying it would look into the additional request of the Bulgarian Prosecutor’s Office for the extradition of the fugitive banker, who is leading a lavish lifestyle in Serbia with the money he stole from CorpBank. A month later, on 10 March, the court moved to question Vassilev but set another date due to the formality of no prosecutor in attendance. Essentially, Belgrade is continuing to stall the extradition of Tsvetan Vassilev.

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