April 12, 2018 / 5:40 PM / 2 years ago

U.S. seeking extradition of five Bulgarians over Syria embargo breach: Sofia prosecutor

SOFIA (Reuters) - Washington has asked Bulgaria to extradite five of its citizens to the United States to face charges of exporting aircraft parts to Syria in violation of a U.S. embargo, officials in Sofia said on Thursday.

Bulgaria’s chief prosecutor said he would not detain the citizens and the foreign office said it was seeking urgent consultations with Washington over the matter.

Prosecutors detained Zhelyaz Andreev, 29, following the U.S. request last week, but a regional court ruled on Wednesday that he should be released and banned him from leaving Sofia for 60 days until an extradition hearing.

Andreev worked in the Bulgarian office of Miami-based AW-Tronics, which shaped and exported aircraft parts and equipment to Syrian Aran Airlines, which the United States has placed on an embargo list.

Chief prosecutor Sotir Tsatsarov said his office on Thursday received four more identical extradition requests for four other Bulgarians but he has decided not to pursue their detention, following the court’s ruling on Andreev.

Andreev told the private Nova TV channel on Thursday he held a junior position at the company, which he joined in May 2013, and his managers asked him to execute deals between September 2013 and March 2016.

He said he was unaware at the time that he may have done anything wrong.

Dozens of Bulgarians holding “Justice for Zhelyaz” banners, gathered in the capital Sofia. A protest against Andreev’s extradition was also held in the northeastern town of Dobrich.

“I would like to thank all these people for their support,” Andreev told the protesters. “The court’s decision (to release him from custody on Wednesday) is a small victory.”

Bulgarian foreign ministry said in a statement it was urgently trying to clarify the situation.

Deputy foreign minister Yuri Sterk has sought a meeting with the U.S. ambassador to Sofia, while Bulgaria’s envoy to Washington has asked for an urgent meeting with the State Department.

Bulgaria’s justice ministry has also said it had sought consultations with the U.S. Department of Justice over the requests, hoping they would lead to “timely and successful solution of the concrete cases... as well as the defense of the rights of the Bulgarian citizens.”

Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova and Angel Krasimirov; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg

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