The appeals court in Serbia’s capital city of Belgrade has ruled to overturn a first-instance court’s decision to extradite Tsvetan Vassilev, the majority shareholder in Bulgaria’s Corporate Commercial Bank (CCB), to authorities in Sofia, public broadcaster Bulgarian National Radio (BNR) reported on March 11.
Last week, a court in Belgrade ruled that there were sufficient grounds for the extradition of Vassilev, whom Bulgaria put on the Interpol wanted list and has issued a European arrest warrant in his name. The appellate court’s decision means that the lower court will have to review the case anew, BNR said.
Vassilev is wanted in connection to an investigation into the withdrawal of 206 million leva (about 105.3 million euro) in cash from the CCB between December 2011 and June 19 2014. He has not been formally charged and denies wrongdoing.
CCB, Bulgaria’s fourth largest lender before it was put under special supervision by the central bank in June 2014, had its banking licence repealed by the Bulgarian National Bank in November, with payouts of depositor claims starting a month later.
A lawsuit brought by the bank’s shareholders – including Vassilev and an investment vehicle for an Omani sovereign fund, which had a stake of 30 per cent in the lender – was dismissed by Bulgaria’s Supreme Administrative Court in January but is being appealed.
Administration and investigation
Following the central bank’s decision to strip CCB of its licence, Sofia City Court opened insolvency proceedings against the bank, but had to suspend the case for the duration of the appeal in the high court. This means that the bank continues to be run by the administrators appointed by the Bulgarian National Bank, rather than a bankruptcy receiver, sparking criticism from Prime Minister Boiko Borissov.
Addressing Parliament on March 11, Borissov said that the lack of a court-appointed receiver could lead to the “plundering of the bank”, hinting that CCB’s current administrators could be tempted by the situation. “When we are talking about hundreds of millions, some bank administrators could be tempted and who knows when and whether they would be found guilty,” Borissov said.
Borissov said that he hoped Parliament would pass amendments to the bank insolvency legislation that would make possible to safeguard CCB’s remaining assets, which were reported earlier this month to have shrunk to 1.8 billion leva. (The lender had to write down 4.22 billion leva in impaired assets following an audit carried out last year).
Perplexingly, Borissov said he hoped that Parliament would “backdate” the amendments, even though Bulgarian constitutional practice does not allow for retroactive laws. He also said that the government would nominate an interim bankruptcy receiver – though it remains unclear how that would be possible given that receivers are appointed by courts.
Also on March 11, Parliament elected the members of the ad hoc committee of inquiry into the conduct of state bodies and institutions during the CCB affair.
The committee will be headed by Dessislava Atanassova, from Borissov’s party GERB. Other notable names on the committee will include socialist MP Roumen Gechev, Reformist Bloc parliamentary group co-chairperson Radan Kanev, as well as Yordan Tsonev and Petar Chobanov (who was finance minister when the CCB saga began last year) from the Movement for Rights and Freedoms.
(For full coverage of the CCB situation from The Sofia Globe, click here. Photo of Vassilev from his personal website, vassilev.bg)