A Russian national who burned his passport in Bulgaria in protest against the war in Ukraine is likely to be extradited to his country of origin after a decision of a Bulgarian court.
Forty-six-year-old Alexey Alchin, a Russian who has lived in Bulgaria for five years, will be extradited according to a ruling of the Varna District Court. The final decision of the Appellate Court is expected by the end of the month and will most likely will confirm the ruling of the first instance. Until then, he will stay in custody.
Russia requested that Alchin be extradited to his homeland in connection with an investigation into tax fraud. The request came after Alchin demonstrated against the Russian invasion of Ukraine by burning his passport a few days after Russia invaded Ukraine.
Alchin and his wife, Olga Gyurova, are convinced the Russian request is politically motivated.
The Russian authorities, however, claim that Alchin has damaged the state budget by more than 282.5 million rubles (EUR4 .4 million). He risks a six-year sentence.
But the Bulgarian court decided that all conditions for extradition were present and that there was no risk of Alchin being punished for his political beliefs and actions.
“In the documents sent to the Bulgarian authorities, the Deputy Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation, Pyotr Gorodov, guarantees that the request for the extradition of the person is not aimed at persecuting him on political grounds, in connection with political views, race, religion or nationality”, the court reasoned.
In addition, the Russian authorities have assured them that he will be prosecuted only for the crime for which his extradition is sought and will be able to leave Russia after he is acquitted or serves his sentence. Representatives of the Bulgarian embassy would be able to visit it at any time.
Alchin’s lawyers indicated that after being detained in custody in June of this year in Bulgaria, he asked authorities for political asylum. However, the prosecution said the request would have weight if it were made before he was detained in connection with the requested extradition.
On Monday, just before the court session, many people gathered in front of the court in Varna in defence of Alchin.
Снимки от протеста във Варна против екстрадирането на руснака Алексей Алчин. Информацията се обновява в блога! pic.twitter.com/0T96mQEKY6
— Дани Иванов🇺🇦 (@Taralejblog) August 8, 2022
Human rights defenders are sceptical as to the fair outcome of the process.
“The main thing that the Bulgarian court must assess is, first of all, whether the Russian Federation can be trusted”, lawyer, ex-prosecutor, and former deputy interior minister Andrey Yankulov commented on Facebook.
Yankulov adds that “it is logical that the Russian authorities will claim that they are not looking for the person to punish him for his political beliefs and that he will be guaranteed all rights under international instruments after the extradition. However, that is also why a court in the requested country authorises extradition – so that these circumstances can be clarified in a judicial process, and not some clerk just putting the seal”.
Earlier this week, OFFNews cited a letter from the Ministry of Justice to the Prosecutor’s Office that the documents for the extradition of Alchin were brought “personally by hand” by an employee of the Russian Embassy.
In the same letter, it is recalled that during the Justice and Home Affairs Council last March in Brussels, EU member states decided that Russia’s actions are such a serious violation of international law and international agreements that they justify the choice of many member states not to consider requests from Russia and Belarus for cooperation in criminal justice matters.
Nevertheless, the prosecution initiated the extradition procedure and pleaded in support of the request of the Russian authorities.
Negative track record
The Bulgarian authorities have a very negative track record in extradition cases.
In July 2021, the European Court of Human Rights ruled against Bulgaria for the inhumane and degrading treatment of a Turkish journalist who was extradited to Turkey in 2016, despite the risks of ill-treatment.
The journalist was arrested while trying to illegally escape the persecution of the regime of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Turkey by passing through Bulgaria as an illegal immigrant. His name was not announced by the court, but it is known he worked for Zaman newspaper and Cihan News Agency.
The Bulgarian authorities ignored his request for international protection and extradited him back to Turkey, where he was imprisoned for being a “Gülenist”.
There is also a case against Bulgaria before the European Court, filed by the Turkish citizen Abdullah Büyük. He was handed over to the Turkish authorities in 2017 and accused of links to Fethullah Gülen’s organisation.
Officials in Ankara unilaterally declared Gülen’s organisation terrorists and claims they were behind the 2016 coup attempt against the Erdoğan regime.
In September 2020, the German publication Spiegel announced that there was direct pressure from Turkey on the Bulgarian authorities to hand over the Turkish businessman. The publication referred to classified documents from the Turkish embassy in Sofia. About 90 Turkish citizens have been expelled under the same procedure as Büyük.
[Edited by Alice Taylor[