Bulgaria’s detention and extradition of EU citizens to Russia and other non-EU states
Nikolay Koblyakov (Nikolai Kobliakov – Николай Кобляков) is a Russian ex-pat activist with residency in France. He travelled to Bulgaria for holidays and was subsequently arrested by the boarder police due to an extradition request issued by Russia. Articles were published in English, French and Bulgarian, and it is about time too.
Possibly people haven’t taken notice previously, however many people have been arrested at Bulgaria’s boarders due to flimsy and obviously politically motivated Interpol arrest warrants. The countries of sway over Bulgaria seem to be the former Soviet states with Russia being a major user of Bulgaria’s Interpol extradition requests.
Nikolay Koblyakov is a Russian ex-pat activist living in France arrested in Bulgaria 2014
In 2008 Sergey, an ethnically Russian Latvian man entered Bulgaria for holidays. He entered Bulgaria with no commotion, no boarder guards told him that there was any legal issue with his entering Bulgaria or subsequent departure. However after a week or two when Sergey tried to leave Bulgaria the bells and whistles went off at the airport and Sergey was arrested due to an extradition request from Azerbaijan.
This has happened more then once, when a person has entered Bulgaria without a problem but upon attempted departure they are then arrested for an Interpol request that presumably had been issued long before said person entered the country. Sergey travelled all over Europe and as his passport was scanned and checked never once was he stopped or arrested due to the Azerbaijan arrest warrant. Alternatively the Azerbaijani authorities were informed that he had entered Bulgaria and knowing that Bulgaria was a friendly state towards them only then issued the extradition request. Both explanations are worrying and an obvious misuse of the Interpol system.
He was immediately arrested in Bulgaria and placed in remand detention, Bulgaria having some of if not the most horrible remand prisons in Europe. Sergey was told that there was a 40 day limit where the whole problem would be reviewed and resolved, either he’d be extradited to Azerbaijan or he’d be freed. The judge ordered that Azerbaijan fax the relevant court material. Sergey was wanted in Azerbaijan as he was accused of being in a group of defrauders who had defrauded a company, actually the other men in the alleged group claimed that Sergey was the boss of the entire group. The rest of the group of about 3 or 4 men had been arrested and convicted in Azerbaijan where they were serving their sentences when Sergey was arrested in Bulgaria. Azerbaijan did not send the relevant documents relating to Sergey’s accusation and extradition.
Sergey then presented evidence to the Bulgarian court that Azerbaijan was notorious for torturing their accused and convicted. The Bulgarian judge questioned the prosecutor as to the accusation of the accused that Azerbaijan was torturing accused, the subsequent decision of the judge was that as Azerbaijan had signed an international convention against the torture and mistreatment of accused and prisoners there was no way that Azerbaijan could do such a thing the Sergey. Obviously despotic and wayward states never admit that they abuse human rights and normally to the contrary they often claim to champion human rights through signed treaties and conventions that are very rarely implemented or enforced.
One day Sergey was in a panic, his face was red and he was sweating profusely. His lawyer had told him that indeed all his co-accused in Azerbaijan had been tortured, including beatings and starvation and this was how his co-accused were forced to confess which lead to their convictions. It was also why the co-accused in Azerbaijan had all claimed that Sergey was the leader of their “gang” as he had left the country several days before their arrests and they thought to stop the torture they could all blame Sergey as he was out of the reach of the Azerbaijani torturers.
Then came an amazing blow to the Bulgarian judge’s claim that “Azerbaijan had singed a convention prohibiting torture and therefore would not and could not torture people”. The original conviction of the group of men in Azerbaijan was overturned on appeal. The reason being as cited by the Azerbaijani appeal court themselves was that the confessions had been extracted due to torture and therefore the original conviction was fraudulent. And still Azerbaijan did not send the needed files that Bulgaria requested for Sergey’s extradition.
If Sergey thought the 40day time limit was to be respected by the Bulgarian authorities he was going to be sadly mistaken. Every court hearing the prosecutor announced that Azerbaijan had still not sent the case files needed to make a ruling on extradition and despite the Sergey’s lawyer pointing out that Azerbaijan had a 40 day time limit, the judge made blasé declarations “oh we’ll wait a little longer” and the next scheduled court hearing would be after 2 or 3 months. This happened on more then one occasion.
Eventually Sergey stayed over a year in Bulgarian remand prison before the Bulgarian judge finally gave up on the prospect of Azerbaijan ever sending the appropriate documents for extradition. However the nightmare didn’t stop with Sergey’s release from prison. He spent a few weeks in Bulgaria regularly visiting the Latvian embassy to get all his travel documents in order when he again tried to take a direct flight from Bulgaria-Varna to Latvia-Riga he was arrested due to an outstanding arrest warrant issued by…… Azerbaijan! Sergey tried to explain to the boarder police that he had already jumped though all the hoops and he had been cleared of the Interpol extradition request and was free to go, he showed them the court decision that stated as much. But the boarder police simply put their hands in the air and said “the computer says we have to arrest you, so it’s not our decision, the investigator will decide” the police investigator came and Sergey explained the situation again, and again showed the court decision, the police investigator said “because it is on the computer it’s not my decision, the prosecutor will decide” where was the prosecutor? It was a Friday and the relevant prosecutor wasn’t going to be coming until Monday! So Sergey waited the 3 days in the Varna airport jail, which is obviously not equipped for long term stay but as it has a toilet and running water it was remarkably better then where he had spent him time in the remand prison. Monday came and the prosecutor did too, he again explained his situation, the prosecutor said “even if you are telling the truth we need an official copy of the decision sent to us by the Sofia Court, you can not supply us with a copy of the court decision yourself, it could be a fake” needless to say the copy from Sofia Court took almost 2 weeks, another 2 weeks spent in prison simply due to the ineptness of the Bulgarian Justice workers, it should have taken 5 minutes to confirm if Sergey was telling the truth or not.
Even after his second release he was again not compensated for his missed flights, hotel bills or wasted life in Bulgarian prisons, especially as Bulgaria had already deemed him a free man. It took another 6 months of the Latvian Embassy harassing the Bulgarian Prosecutors Department to confirm officially that the Azerbaijani extradition request had been erased from the Bulgarian boarder computers that he was finally able to return home to his family in Riga.
The nightmares continue, and this time it is specifically Russia. In the last 4 years I personally know of 3 men arrested by Bulgarian authorities to be extradited to Russia, the motivations for which are at best suspicious. The real problem (more then the question of the innocence of the accused) is the Bulgarian mentality towards fulfilling all of Russia’s demands to the point of blind bigotry. Around July 2009 Aslan, a Chechen man with refugee status protection in Germany came to Bulgaria for holidays with his family. He was quickly arrested at the border and held for extradition to Russia, he was accused of helping Chechen rebels in the early 90’s logistically. In the context Aslan’s story is one of the best out of all the Bulgaro-Russo extradition nightmare stories. The first court approved his extradition to Russia, despite the fact that he had refugee status given to him by Germany, where he had lived for the past 20 odd years. eventually on appeal the extradition request by Russia was rejected under the grounds that Aslan WAS a refugee from Russia, but the German Consul had to personally intercede on Aslan’s behalf pointing out to the appeal judge that Aslan’s German refugee status in his Russian passport declared in large letters to the effect “not to be allowed to travel to Russia”. Aslan was kept in Bulgarian prison the entire time of his court hearings which laster over 6 months before he was freed, the Germany embassy came quickly with travel documents so that he could literally flee Bulgaria and return to Germany.
In 2010 as Georgia still smouldered from the Russian incursion a Georgian man (somewhat aptly named) Georgi travelled to Bulgaria for holidays with his wife when he was arrested due to a Russian Interpol extradition request. Russia had accused him of embezzling a fairly small amount of money. However Georgi claimed that the accusation was trumped up due to his membership in the ‘Veterans of Afghanistan’ political party, a party that had posed a threat to Putin’s hegemony over Russian political life and was subsequently outlawed. One of Georgi’s Russian colleagues from the same party was taken from his home in Russia by the local police and died in their custody, the police claimed it was due to a heart attack, but the body had been badly beaten and even if it had been a heart attack that killed him there can be no doubt that the beatings and mistreatment from the police was a direct cause of the heart attack. After the death of this Afghanistan Veteran Georgi packed up their entire house together with his Russian wife and they fled to Georgia, where Georgi had family. While Russia had soldiers on the ground in Georgia and bombs falling from the air, Georgi kept a well known blog detailing Russian atrocities against the civilian population and specifically the bombing of civilian homes. Georgi and his wife left Georgia to travel to Bulgaria via car for holidays on the Black Sea. Upon leaving Georgia, Georgi asked the Georgian police if there was any threat from Russia if he travelled outside of Georgia, the Russian incursion into Georgia was still recent. The Georgian police checked and confirmed that there was no outstanding warrants or inquiries from Russia. what is interesting is that he drove by car through Turkey to get to the Bulgarian border. At the Bulgarian border he was arrested due to a Russian Interpol arrest warrant (extradition request). Now why wasn’t Georgi arrested in Turkey? Also why was the extradition request not known to either Georgi or the Georgian authorities? There are two explanations, the first is that Russia gives an Interpol request to all states and most if not all states ignore the requests, but more likely is he second option and that is that Russia gives Interpol extradition requests ONLY to Bulgaria where they know they have a pro-Russian judicial system. In this way, people who would otherwise obviously be protected by asylum in most states are not in Bulgaria. A perfect example of this is the case of Mohmad Gadamauri.
Mohmad Gadamauri, Chechen national – Russian citizen, residing in Germany with both German and Polish refugee status. Mohmad travelled from Germany with a car to the Black Sea for holidays with his family in 2012. Upon reaching the Bulgarian border he was arrested due to a Russian extradition request (Interpol warrant). Immediately he was held in remand prison without bail or home arrest. He was hand cuffed and paraded in court in front of the Bulgaria media. Russia claimed that he had provided logistics to the Chechen rebels in the early 90’s. But from this time Mohmad fled Russia and was granted asylum in Poland and then later in Germany. The Bulgarian courts ruled that he SHOULD be extradited to Russia, despite his asylum status in 2 European Union member states. Obviously Bulgaria must respect the legal grounds of the asylum status granted to Mohmad by both Poland and Germany. However it became extremely apparent in the Mohmad case just how much pressure there is over the Bulgarian judicial system to appease Russian requests. In total contradiction to all known conventions and laws the Bulgarian courts ruled that he should be extradited to Russia, it wasn’t until a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights that the extradition was subsequently quashed. However the entire process took over 2 years and Mohmad was kept in prison for the entirety of that time. Mohmad was and is obviously a refugee with the status given in both Poland and Germany, why should a refugee in Europe be treated as a common criminal in Bulgaria and paraded in court by the Bulgarian authorities like a fisherman displaying his catch? If the infamously bad conditions of Bulgarian prisons wasn’t enough to suffer unnecessarily for over 2 years during his time in prison he was also assaulted by a guard. To rub salt into the wound the Bulgarian prosecutors office even refused to release Mohmad after the European Court of Human Rights ruled that he cant be extradited, claiming that the ruling didn’t come into effect for 3 months, this is technically true but this time limit is designed to give the state (Bulgaria) time to appeal, however even knowing they weren’t going to appeal they still refused to release Mohmad, to keep him in prison just the little bit more. Presumably this was to appease Russia who would report favourably on Bulgaria incarcerating those who have fled persecution from Russia. Possibly the mentality is ‘well we can’t put him in a Russia prison, so we’ll keep him as long as possible for you in our prison’. Needless to say that when Mohmad was finally released he literally ran from Bulgaria with the German consular service having his travel documents prepared in a hurry. Not only did Mohmad flee Russia but he is now effectively a refugee from Bulgaria! Fleeing from persecution instigated by Russia, over 2 years of imprisonment separated from his home, family and freedom. He finally returned to safety in Germany in mid 2014. Bulgaria has still refused to apologise for incarcerating the refugee Gadamauri as a criminal.
Bulgaria the Trojan
Bulgarian Interpol is being used as an auxiliary of the Russian state and intelligence agencies, its use as a Trojan in the European Union is well known. However there is a more dangerous function that the Bulgarian state has played and could play again in the future. A Greek man Nikos (not his real name) was wanted in Bulgaria, he was arrested in Greece and extradited to Bulgaria to serve a small sentence, however then Russia requested his extradition to Russia for alleged crimes there. Bulgaria didn’t hesitate to extradite this European Citizen out of the EU to Russia, a feat that would not have been possible if Nikos was in Greece or indeed if Nikos was a Bulgarian. European Union citizens if they are within their state of citizenship can not be extradited out of their country, unless however it is to another European Union member state, where however they are not afforded the same protection from extradition outside of the EU. The system is completely hypocritical, for if an EU citizen can be extradited amongst EU states as if the EU was a single entity, then why are EU citizens not afforded the same protections against extradition out of the EU to non-EU states. In this regard Bulgaria acts as a Russian Trojan, meaning that Bulgaria could extradite any EU citizen to be brought to Bulgaria where they would not be afforded the protection of extradition out of their home state and could easily be extradited to Russia or any other despotic state.
And now in 2014 we are faced by the case of Nikolai Koblyakov who was obviously not hiding in France as a wanted criminal, but rather continued his political activism within the NGO “Russie-Libertés” (“Свободна Русия”) and continued to travel around the EU prior to his arrest in Bulgaria. In an online article written by Richard Heller and Peter Oborne it was reported that;
“After his Red Notice (Interpol arrest warrant) was issued in April (2014), Mr Koblyakov lived peacefully in Paris, and travelled to Portugal, France, Latvia, Germany, the Czech Republic, Greece and the UK with no attempts made to arrest him. Yet, immediately upon arrival in Bulgaria in late July (2014), he was taken into police custody and held in detention. Russian authorities have now filed for his extradition from Bulgaria.”
The charge was “embezzlement”, a crime that allegedly took place between December 2004 and September 2005 in France concerning a company called Stankimport, now if the crime occurred within France despite the company being Russian the investigation should be of French concern and obviously France has not found Nikolai guilty of having committed any crime. Again what is amazing is that not a single European Union state acted on the Russian Interpol arrest warrant, namely because the EU knows Russian requests to be frequently false and politically motivate, but yet again Bulgaria will fulfil the role as the Russian proxy within Europe. Again, either other EU states weren’t supplied with the Interpol arrest warrant, which means that Russia knows that Bulgaria is the EU’s weak point or Bulgaria is the only EU state to fulfil the Russian arrest warrant.
It is a typical manoeuvre of the Russian state when wanting to discredit and diminish the influence activists have within Russian society to accuse them of theft, sentences for which are contextually not large, of 3 or 5 years, however close to the completion of these sentences they are again charged and again incarcerated for another 3 or 5 years and by this way the Russian state can indefinitely imprison and discredit activists. The tactic is simple enough, disarm the activists practically by imprisoning them and at the same time reduce the possibility of them becoming martyrs by discrediting them.
The online article written about Nikolay continues in regards to Bulgaria’s actions;
“ Karinna Moskalenko is Russia’s leading human rights lawyer and a member of Moscow Helsinki Group. When asked about the Koblyakov case she replied, “In a ‘normal’ country there is no way he would be extradited. But what has happened to date with Nikolay Koblyakov in Bulgaria demonstrates that it is not a normal country.”
Europeans must be warned that Bulgaria does not abide by the accepted norms of the European Union and they do this at the bidding of the Russian state. If you have any problems in Russia or any other non EU states the message is clear;
DO NOT TRAVEL TO BULGARIA
The Bulgarian Prisoners’ Association demands that the Bulgarian courts release Nikolai Koblyakov and that the Bulgarian security services cease arresting, detaining and extraditing those who have fled political persecution from Russia and other despotic states.
The Bulgarian Prisoners’ Association calls on the French authorities to demand of Bulgaria that their resident is released, the French do not consider Nikolai a criminal, on the contrary he is highly regarded by those in the activist he works with, France would not accept the extradition of a French citizen to Russia for political reasons nor should they accept the detainment and extradition of Nikolai.
The Bulgarian Prisoners’ Association demands of the EU that new laws be ruled in response to Bulgaria’s Trojan practices of extraditing EU citizens and residents outside of the EU, especially if they have been already extradited from their home state to a different EU member state.
Chairman Jock Palfreeman
Bulgarian Prisoners’ Rehabilitation Association