Bulgaria refuses extradition of Russian opponent to Moscow

Bulgaria refuses extradition of Russian opponent to Moscow

A Bulgarian appeals court shocked Thursday (25 August) by quashing an earlier judgment and refusing to extradite a Russian citizen to Moscow, following strong protests against the extradition.

This decision is rather surprising given Bulgaria’s tendency to easily extradite opponents of authoritarian regimes.

Russian national Alexey Alchin, who has lived in Varna for eight years and runs a stable business in Bulgaria, burned his Russian passport in public on February 24 in protest against Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine, two days after the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The Russian authorities immediately initiated proceedings against him for large-scale tax evasion. Moscow requested the man’s extradition, and the Bulgarian prosecutor’s office quickly took the case to court.

Mr Alchin and his wife, Olga Gyurova, say the Russian request is politically motivated.

The Varna District Court ruled in early August that Mr. Alchin should be handed over to Vladimir Putin’s regime. Mr. Alchin was kept in detention, and the final decision of the court of appeal was expected to confirm the judgment at first instance.

However, on Thursday, the court overturned the judgment. The move follows large public protests against Mr Alchin’s extradition in Sofia, Varna and other Bulgarian cities, as well as media coverage in the Western press. The reasons of the Court of Appeal have not yet been communicated.

A Bulgarian judge told EURACTIV following the court’s initial ruling that she was not surprised by the decision of the Varna District Court. Indeed, according to her, “Bulgarian courts work on the basis of documents, not on assumptions”.

She believes that the documents provided by the Russian Embassy, ​​which accuses Mr. Alchin of tax evasion, are sufficient to justify the extradition.

Asked whether Russia’s motives for Mr. Alchin’s arrest were political, she reiterated that Bulgarian courts do not work on the basis of guesswork.

Bulgarian extraditions

Bulgaria has a tradition of extraditing critics to authoritarian regimes, including to neighboring Turkey.

Bulgarian MEP Radan Kanev (EPP/DB) launched an initiative in August for the European Commission to issue a clear recommendation to EU member states to end all extradition proceedings against Russian citizens from EU countries to Russia.

“All human rights guarantees provided by the Russian Federation are nothing but empty statements, and any Russian citizen participating in open anti-war and oppositional activities risks not only to be tortured, humiliated and treated inhumanely, but is even threatened with an actual death sentence, although not officially pronounced”said Mr. Kanev, at the launch of the initiative.

The lawmaker called on the Commission to issue a recommendation to all member states to suspend all ongoing and future extradition proceedings for citizens of Russia, especially in cases where such citizens oppose the Kremlin regime .

The initiative can garner support from MEPs until 1 September.

Asked by EURACTIV to comment on the appeal court’s decision, Kanev said on Thursday:

“It’s a good thing that a person was saved. The extradition of Mr. Alchin would have created a huge image problem for our country, but the fundamental risk remains. There are similar problems in other Member States. »

Reference: www.euractiv.fr

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