A mutually beneficial, although temporary, solution has come about from a potential incident regarding extradition between the United States and Bulgaria. The United States Department of Justice (DOJ) requested the extradition of five Bulgarian nationals on charges of violating an embargo in Syria in early April 2018. However, the Bulgarian Ministry of Justice (MOJ) has pushed back to defend its citizens using the legal framework both countries agreed to in the extradition treaty. In the end, the U.S. DOJ has opted to work with Bulgaria’s MOJ to resolve this amicably because that is how the international system is supposed to work.
The origin of this particular tale, as recounted by Reuters, begins with the hiring of a Bulgarian named Zhelyaz Andreev at the same nation’s office of Miami-based exporter AW-Tronics in May of 2013. Between that year and 2016 Andreev’s superiors asked him to make a number of deals involving the sale of aircraft parts, some of which were with Syrian Arab Airlines, the national carrier for Assad’s regime in Syria. The U.S. DOJ accuses this airline of “transporting weapons and ammunition to Syria in conjunction with Hizballah, a terrorist organization, and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps” and therefore enforces the embargo against it.
The request for extradition included more than just Zhelyaz Andreev. However, the Bulgarian authorities chose not to pursue the other four until the status of the aforementioned person was determined. In addition to the government’s interest in holding its own on the world stage, it also had to contend with the protests calling for Mr. Andreev’s release due to his professed innocence. Later Bulgarian chief prosecutor Sotir Tsatsarov stated that “Consultations between the U.S. Department of Justice and Bulgaria’s Justice Ministry started on Monday, and U.S. officials had agreed that there was no need to detain the suspects.”
After all, the U.S. DOJ already hooked the three biggest fish at AW-Tronics including a high level manager of AW-Tronics, the head of the Bulgarian office where Mr. Andreev worked, and the export compliance officer/auditor who submitted false and misleading information to federal agencies. With this in mind both the U.S. DOJ and Bulgarian MOJ agreed that it would be better to follow the spirit of the law rather than the letter of it.
In the coming months the U.S. prosecutors will return to their offices to see if they have stronger charges against the alleged conspirators and the Bulgarians, who defended their own, will gain increased approval among their constituents and pro-Russian political partisans. This situation has been handled very well by both sides, showing that with a little effort and cooperation the international system can work.