Interpol should review arrest warrant decision involving Antoaneta and Radosveta Vassileva

Following the scrapping of the two women’s red notices, Sofia insists that the organsation should not overreach its authority

The Bulgarian Prosecutor’s Office has sent Interpol a request, insisting that the organisation rethinks its decision to scrap the red notices issued for locating and provisionally arresting Antoaneta and Radosveta Vassileva. The unprecedented move came after it transpired that, at a closed session, the Commission for the Control of Interpol's Files (CCF) had made a decision to delete the personal data of the wife and daughter of the fugitive banker Tsvetan Vassilev, who is hiding in Serbia, from the organisation’s database.

And yet, the European Arrest Warrants issued at the request of Bulgaria for all members of that family are still in place. This means that if the presence of anyone of the Vassilev family is detected in any of the EU Member States, they will be immediately arrested by the local authorities.

The initial report about the puzzling CCF decision was made by the fugitive banker himself on his website. Naturally, Vassilev did not miss the opportunity to embellish the case. According to the person responsible for the embezzlement of over BGN 4bn from CorpBank, the decision was made following an investigation by the “governing body of Interpol”, which “established that the international arrest warrants were issued in violation of the organisation’s rules as there is no evidence of wrongdoing”.

A press release by the Prosecutor’s Office, however, shows that Vassilev and his family used their favourite trick before the CCF – that they are victims of political repression in Bulgaria. Even though these clams are absolutely baseless, for years the family has been exploiting all sorts of international procedures to make themselves out to be victims of repression and thus try to escape justice for the crimes they have committed.

“The Prosecutor’s Office is categorically objecting to the claim that there are political motifs behind the prosecution of these individuals. Any attempt by the CCF (its members) to judge the grounds for the indictments and make decisions on legal matters contravenes the scope of its authority and the status of the international organisation in general,” reads the press release of the Prosecutor’s Office.

According to the legal institution, the CCF made its decision “in contravention of the status and function of the Interpol because the decision is based on arguments that consider the merits of the indictments, which is solely within the authority of the criminal court”. Furthermore, the Prosecutor’s Office notes that the decision is entirely based on the individuals in question and the complaints they lodged, without even considering the Prosecutor’s Office’s position. The Bulgarian prosecutors are also categorically opposing the arguments connecting the procedure to the “charges against Tsvetan Vassilev (…) because they do not take into account the fact that the criminal proceedings against him are already at their court stage, of which the General Secretariat of Interpol has been informed”.

The statement of the Prosecutor’s Office also reveals that the Interpol cases involving Antoaneta Vassileva, Radosveta Vassileva and Tsvetan Vassilev are unprecedented for another reason as well – so far they have been subject to all-encompassing exchange of information between the CCF and the Bulgarian Ministry of Interior’s Directorate of International Operational Cooperation, which goes beyond the normal practice.

For these reasons, the Prosecutor’s Office insists that the CCF decision be reviewed. The Bulgarian prosecutors are also acting in coordination with the Ministry of Interior “in order for the case in question, which creates a dangerous precedent, to be tabled for discussion at the General Secretariat”.

Under Interpol’s rules of procedure, complaints against red notices are filed with the CCF, which is an independent body empowered to review decisions for the issue of notices and annul them. According to the CCF reports, the majority of times this is done when it is established that the procedure for the notices’ issue has been violated, that there were no legitimate grounds for their issue in the first place or that a situation of political persecution exists.

The CCF, which is a lesser known part of the Interpol structure became subject of media scrutiny last year because of the Russian authorities’ attempts to exploit the Interpol’s assistance in arresting financier Bill Browder, who first pushed for the Magnitsky Act. In November 2018 Financial Times ran a scathing article entitled “Is Interpol being manipulated by authoritarian regimes?”, in which the publication, among other things, points out that one of the five members of the current CCF, which rules on arrest requests, is a representative of Russia.

Tsvetan Vassilev himself has Russian ties, as he has serious financial dealings with the so-called Orthodox oligarch Konstantin Malofeev, who is close with the Kremlin, and other prominent Russian figures. These individuals sporadically appeared in Vassilev’s plans for secondary plundering of CorpBank, participating personally or through figureheads in deals aimed at taking control of the lucrative assets acquired with the bank’s money. The latest such example was with the military plant Dunarit, in which Malofeev’s pawn Pierre Louvrier (a Belgian citizen with Russian passport - editor’s note) was briefly registered as a proxy of the company, even though his benefactor is on the list of sanctions against Russian citizens benefiting from the Putin regime imposed by the EU and the US.

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