Ex-Banker Tsvetan Vassilev Seeks US Sanctions Against Bulgaria


By Mariya Cheresheva

Exiled Bulgarian ex-banker Tsvetan Vassilev is seeking US sanctions against Bulgaria under the Global Magnitsky Act – while his family complains of increased pressure from the authorities.

Tsvetan Vassilev’s representative, Joseph Augustine, executive vice president at the Washington-based consultancy Jefferson Waterman International, JWI, has confirmed in an interview with the Bulgarian International Television that his company has notified the US State Department and Treasury about the ex-banker’s case.

Augustine explained on Tuesday that two applications have been filed to the US governmental institutions – one alleging violations of Vasilev’s human rights and another about alleged top-level corruption, in regards to which the banker – wanted in Bulgaria over a bank collapse – requests US sanctions against Bulgaria under the Global Magnitsky Act.

“We have concluded … that indeed he is a victim of Bulgaria’s corrupt system and we have taken the decision to move his case forward,” Augustine said.

The US political website The Hill was the first to report in early August that Vassilev intended to become the first case under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, a law passed by the Congress that allows the US to impose sanctions against foreign officials involved in corruption and human rights.

It is named after the Russian lawyer and whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky, who died in prison in 2009 under suspicious circumstances after alleging that Russian officials from Vladimir Putin’s government illegally acquired 230 million US dollars.

Congress adopted the law in 2012, first banning Russian officials related to the Magnitsky case from entering the US and from using US banks. In 2016, the law was extended on a global level.

Together with the JWI, the Richardson Center for Global Engagement, found by former New Mexico Governor, Congressman and US Ambassador to the UN Bill Richardson, has also engaged in pushing Vassilev’s case before the US government.

In a letter to US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson from June 6, obtained by BIRN, Richardson expressed his commitment to making Vasilev’s case the first under the expanded 2016 Act.

He says he will start intense meetings with US Senate leaders with the aim of calling on President Donald Trump to adopt the case and trigger sanctions.

“Vassilev’s tragic political scenario cries out for redress unavailable in Bulgaria due to indigenous corruption that generated the false charges in the first place. That is why I am convinced that proceeding under the Global Magnitsky Act is the correct remedy,” the letter says.

According to Augustine and Richardson, US sanctions are to be sought against two Bulgarian individuals – MP and media mogul Delyan Peevski and Prosecutor General Sotir Tsatsarov.

On July 20, Bulgaria’s special prosecution pressed charges against Vassilev and 17 other people for plundering his Corporate Commercial Bank, which collapsed in Bulgaria’s largest ever bank collapse in 2014.

Since the bank failed, the controversial businessman has lived in exile in Serbia where he has other business interests. He is wanted by the Bulgarian authorities.

On Wednesday, the Sofia prosecution announced it had issued a European arrest warrant against Vassilev’s daughter, Radosveta Vassileva, who has been accused of laundering over 2.6 million leva, equal to around 1.3 million euros.

In an open letter to Bulgarian President Rumen Radev, published on Tuesday, Vassilev’s wife, Antoaneta, who is also wanted by the Bulgarian authorities, called the actions against her daughter a “personal vendetta” of the Prosecutor General – and linked them to the ex-bankers attempts to seek US help under the Magnitsky Act.

Balkan Insight

The Balkan Insight (formerly the Balkin Investigative Reporting Network, BIRN) is a close group of editors and trainers that enables journalists in the region to produce in-depth analytical and investigative journalism on complex political, economic and social themes. BIRN emerged from the Balkan programme of the Institute for War & Peace Reporting, IWPR, in 2005. The original IWPR Balkans team was mandated to localise that programme and make it sustainable, in light of changing realities in the region and the maturity of the IWPR intervention. Since then, its work in publishing, media training and public debate activities has become synonymous with quality, reliability and impartiality. A fully-independent and local network, it is now developing as an efficient and self-sustainable regional institution to enhance the capacity for journalism that pushes for public debate on European-oriented political and economic reform.

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