Protests over Russia’s bid to extradite national from Bulgaria

Bulgarians, Russians and Ukrainians have held a series of protests against an application by Russia for the extradition from Bulgaria of one of its nationals, charged with tax offences but who his supporters say is being targeted after burning his passport during a protest in Bulgaria’s Black Sea city of Varna against his country’s war on Ukraine.

Russia alleges that Alexey Alchin, 46, falsified documentation to evade tax while he was a director of a company in 2015. A guilty verdict in a Russian court would mean six years in prison.

Russia had Alchin, who has lived in Bulgaria for the past five years, put on an international wanted list through Interpol.

Legal counsel for Alchin says that the reason behind the extradition application is his political stance and if extradited to Russia, he would face political repression.

The Varna District Court, in a ruling on August 8, approved Alchin’s extradition. His lawyers are appealing against the ruling.

On August 9, the Varna Court of Appeal upheld an order remanding Alchin in custody. The court said that nowhere in the documents was it said that the current political situation in Russia is the reason for his detention, since he has been wanted since 2015.

Alchin, who has a business in Bulgaria, has returned to Russia several times with no problem.

His camp argues that his problems in Bulgaria began after the February 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine. Alchin, who burnt his personal documents at a protest in Varna, also had been helping Ukrainians fleeing Russia’s war on their country.

Arrested at his home in mid-June, he spent more than a month in house arrest, and on August 2 was taken into custody.

Russia’s deputy prosecutor-general, Pyotr Gorodov, has sent written assurances to the Bulgarian authorities that the extradition application is not aimed at political persecution of Alchin, that he will have access to lawyers and will not be subjected to torture or degrading treatment.

Reportedly, a letter from Bulgaria’s Ministry of Justice to the Supreme Cassation Prosecution on July 26 – signed by the then-Justice Minister Nadezhda Yordanova – said that the documentation regarding the application for extradition had been delivered to the ministry personally by a staff member of the Russian embassy.

The Bulgarian Justice Ministry’s letter also refers to a statement after a meeting on March 3 and 4 2022 of European Union justice ministers.

According to a statement at the time on the official website of the Council of the EU, at that meeting “it was agreed that Russia’s actions constitute such a violation of international law and international agreements that they justify the choice broadly made by several member states, without prejudice to an examination on a case-by-case basis, not to process the requests for cooperation in criminal matters submitted by Russia and Belarus”.

Notwithstanding the ministry pointing that out, the Varna District Prosecutor’s Office proceeded with the application for Alchin’s extradition.

(Archive photo of the Varna court building: Clive Leviev-Sawyer)

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