Court Releases from Remand Bulgarian Man Wanted by US for Violation of Syria Embargo

Sofia, April 11 (BTA) - A court in the northeastern town of Dobrich released from remand Wednesday a Bulgarian man who was arrested on a US request for a violation of the Syria embargo. The prosecution wanted the court to order a 60-day remand of Zhelyaz Andreev awaiting a court decision on the extradition request of the Miami prosecution service.

Zhelyaz Andreev, 29, was arrested in Dobrich in connection to a Miami investigation against 11 people, including five Bulgarians, suspected of violating the trade embargo against Syria. Andreev is the only one charged with defrauding the US government, smuggling goods from the US, submitting false or misleading export information, conspiracy to commit money laundering and false statements.

Andreev and several others of the accused worked for a Bulgarian office of AW-Tronics which took care of the sales and delivery of airplane parts and equipment to Syrian Arab Airlines. Between May 2013 and April 2016 Andreev worked in the sales department of AW-Tronics and his job was to offer aircraft parts to air companies and aircraft repair shops in various countries, including to Syrian Air.

The US Department of Justice says the equipment has civilian and military uses and the airline has "assisted the Syrian government's violent crackdown on its people", the Miami Herald reported in March 2017.

The Dobrich court decided on Wednesday that Andreev is unlikely to abscond, has a full-time job, has no previous convictions and personally showed up when he was summonsed as a witness - and released him from remand on his own recognizance.

Emerging from the court, Andreev said he was satisfied with the court decision and declined further comment.

Andreev's family and friends are planning a protest in Sofia for his release.

The National Front for the Salvation of Bulgaria, which is part of the United Patriots power-sharing coalition of nationalist parties, issued a declaration Wednesday insisting that the Bulgarian authorities, including the court, "must protect the Bulgarian citizen Zhelyaz Andreev and not give in to external pressure".

Bulgaria and the US have an extradition agreement signed in 2008.

The National Front for the Salvation of Bulgaria argue, however, that the Bulgarian law allows extradition of Bulgarian citizens only in connection with offences which are prosecutable both in Bulgaria and in the country requesting the extradition. "At the time the said sales took place [September 2013 - February 2014] neither Bulgaria nor the EU had such an embargo on Syria. It means that the action for which Zhelyaz Andreev is charged in Florida, is not considered an offence by the Bulgarian or the EU legislation, which makes the extradition inadmissible," the National Front says.

In a story on Andreev's remand, "Capital Daily" writes that the 2008 agreement between Bulgaria and the US has a broad scope of offences for which extradition may not be denied based on citizenship, and contraband or documentary fraud is not among them.

The story further says that Bulgaria has denied to extradite to the US its citizens on several occasions.

In 2012, Gergana Chervenkova was detained on a US request for illegal online trade in medicines and money laundering. Under strong public pressure, the US retracted its extradition request and the case was dismissed.

In 2014, a court in the southern town of Blagoevgrad refused to order the extradition of Tsvetanka Zaharinova who was sentenced to two years imprisonment for bank card fraud in 2003. She escaped from the US to return to Bulgaria where her extradition case dragged on for eight years before being closed due to the expiration of the prescription period.

In 2016, Sofia City Court closed the extradition case of Nedko Nedev who was wanted in the US for financial fraud. The decision was based on medical assessment saying that Nedev had scezophrenia and could not be handed over to the US, "Capital Daily" writes.

The US Embassy has declined comment on Andreev's case for this paper.

Source: Sofia