Russia still feels that in Sofia it is much easier to do what it wants, Free Russia organisation founder Nikolai Koblyakov told Bulgarian media a few hours after a court released him from custody after he was arrested at Sofia Airport on a European Arrest Warrant issued at the request of Moscow.
Koblyakov, who has dual Russian and French citizenship and is a well-known campaigner against the Vladimir Putin regime and in support of Russian opposition groups and political prisoners, told local television station bTV that Bulgarian police who arrested him had said, “Why are you against Putin? Putin is the only one who can save we Bulgarians from America. We lost everything when the Soviet Union collapsed”.
The arrest of Koblyakov took place in the closing days of the current Bulgarian Socialist Party government, pressed out of power by popular protests and a decisive defeat in the country’s European Parliament elections.
Russia placed Koblyakov on the Interpol wanted list on January 17 2013 for having allegedly committed fraud between December 2004 and September 2005, Bulgarian news agency BTA said. Moscow wants Koblyakov extradited from Bulgaria to Russia to face court.
On August 1, Sofia City Court released Koblyakov from custody, saying that his alleged offences were not crimes under Bulgaria’s Penal Code and this could be a reason for a court to refuse Russia’s request for his extradition.
Koblyakov had told the court that he did not intend to evade court proceedings, was self-employed with his own company, and pointed out that he is a citizen of France.
The court said that Koblyakov, who had provided proof of accommodation in Sofia, was not a flight risk. He was ordered not to leave Bulgaria until the completion of court proceedings.
Koblyakov told bTV that he was at a loss as to why he was arrested in Sofia, not Paris – where he is usually resident – after the arrest request was filed with Interpol.
“This is a most interesting question. It is much easier to find me in Paris – I live there, work there, people know me…but I think that the Russians still feel that in Sofia, it is much easier to do as they please.”
He said that he had not known that he was facing criminal charges. “The Russians say that they have been looking for me since 2012, but during that time I even renewed my Russian passport, repeatedly gave interviews to various media, everyone knew where I was. It is obvious that the Russian authorities were just waiting for me to leave Paris, to visit a country in which they could circumvent the law.”
Media reports quoted Koblyakov as saying that, “this case is a test for the independence of Bulgaria”.
The Sofia City Court decision on August 1 is subject to appeal by prosecutors in the Sofia Appeal Court.
(Screenshot from bTV)