Bulgaria warns Serbia over refusal to extradite banker

Ivan Geshev in the corridors of the European Parliament, on 5 February 2020. [Georgi Gotev]

Bulgaria’s chief prosecutor Ivan Geshev has written letters to the European institutions to complain about Serbia’s refusal to extradite a banker held responsible for what is considered Bulgaria’s theft of the century, hinting it might affect Serbia’s EU membership bid.

Tzvetan Vassilev, the infamous owner of Corporate Commercial Bank (CCB, also known as Corpbank), has lived in Serbia since the bank went bankrupt in 2014. CCB was the fourth largest bank in the country and its collapse also triggered the collapse of the Bulgarian government.

Various sources point to huge amounts of money that have disappeared, often in truckloads of sacs.

Vassilev is accused in the “massive embezzlement” of 2.6 billion leva (€1.3 billion) from CCB between 2008 and 2014.

Seventeen other defendants including bank executives, accountants, auditors — even top central bank officials — were also charged over the affair.

Geshev said the bank’s collapse had had “a huge impact on the economy and financial stability of our country”.

The indictment ran to 11,000 pages and the trial is still dragging on.

The extradition case against Vasilev is currently blocked after being passed back and forth between Belgrade’s Higher and Appeal Courts.

On Wednesday (5 February) the prosecutor’s office said Geshev has written to various European institutions, recalling that five-and-a-half years have passed since the first request for Vassilev’s extradition to Bulgaria was made to the Serbian authorities. From the subsequent extradition request, four years and eight months have passed.

“Ivan Geshev’s letter was sent to the President of the European Parliament, David Sassoli, and to the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, for future assessment of the readiness of the Republic of Serbia as a candidate for EU membership and the functioning of the rule of law”, the Bulgarian prosecution added.

Geshev arrived the same day in Brussels, where he met with Bulgarian MEPs. Asked by journalists to comment, the prosecutor general said: “Tzvetan Vasilev is guarded by the Russian state with the help of the Serbian state.”

He did not explain the alleged Russian link to the affair.

Asked by EURACTIV how the prosecution would interfere in Serbia’s EU membership talks, he said:

“I’m not a politician, I’m not a diplomat, I’m a lawyer. I have provided some legal information to the European Commission and the European Parliament. Political conclusions will be drawn by relevant politicians and diplomats. ”

Geshev was elected as prosecutor-general last December. Since then, he has been hyperactive, notably charging a powerful tycoon in the gaming business, Vassil Bozhkov, who managed to escape to the United Arab Emirates.

Geshev also leaked a wiretap in which the country’s President Rumen Radev allegedly tries to cover up an old story – the recruitment of the woman who later became his wife, as public relations expert in the air forces, of which Radev was then the commander.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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