When I read that Russia issued an Interpol warrant for Bill Browder for the fifth time, I was deeply disturbed. Author of Red Notice, Bill Browder campaigns actively against authoritarianism. He lobbied the US Congress to enact the Global Magnitsky Act, which allows the US Government to sanction foreign government officials implicated in human rights abuses. The Magnitsky Act made Russian officials quite upset: they have been trying to trap Mr. Browder via Interpol for a while.
This time, nonetheless, Russia relied on a loophole in Interpol’s rules. Instead of issuing the standard Red Notice, they disseminated a Diffusion. Interpol’s system of issuing Red Notices itself is really easy to manipulate and has become a dangerous tool in the hands of failed states, as amply illustrated in Professor Däubler-Gmelin’s article “How Rogue Regimes Have Weaponized Interpol.” Diffusions, nonetheless, are even more dangerous: while a Red Notice is issued by Interpol’s Headquarters at the request of a country, a Diffusion is directly circulated through Interpol’s channels by the country itself. Moreover, they can be issued and transmitted “within a matter of minutes.” As Mr. Browder clarified, “The diffusion notice is a loophole that allows them [Russian officials] to bypass Interpol scrutiny. This is a loophole which is clearly being abused and needs to be closed.”
Yet, Russian prosecutors are not the only ones bypassing Interpol’s rules. Bulgarian prosecutors do that too. I already posted an article about Bulgaria’s violent abuse of Red Notices for political vendettas in which I told the frightening story of how my family was put on Interpol’s list based on fake charges and brutal abuse of process because my father exposed corruption on a massive scale. As explained in the same article, my father Tzvetan Vassilev submitted an application under the Global Magnitsky Act against Bulgaria’s General Prosecutor Tsatsarov and the Member of Bulgaria’s Parliament Peevski on 11 August 2017. In retaliation, on 14 August 2017 Bulgaria’s prosecution raised fabricated charges against me, issued a national arrest warrant, a European Arrest Warrant and, as I found out later the hard way – an Interpol notice. All on the same day! Of course, as clarified in my article, all this abuse was possible because of forgery and an array of procedural violations. Moreover, Bulgaria is the only country in the EU in which accusations are not subjected to judicial oversight, so it is really easy for the prosecution to misuse its powers. In that light, Bulgaria’s prosecution has been criticized for having a Soviet model and currently benefits from just 6% public confidence.
What I did not discuss in my previous article, however, is the type of Interpol warrant Bulgaria issued for me as well as their motivation to do that.
Abusing Interpol’s Diffusions to Attack Scholars
In fact, Bulgaria relied on the same loophole Russia used to try to get Mr. Browder. Bulgaria’s vengeful prosecution issued a Diffusion for me because:
(a) they were in a desperate rush for revenge against my father’s Magnitsky application;
(b) they wanted to avoid scrutiny by Interpol’s Headquarters;
(c) they wanted to humiliate me at any price. Diffusion notices are not public and there is no way to find out about them before you encounter the foreign authorities, which have received the alert, and get arrested.
The Diffusion notice seems to have been circulated to three countries: Serbia, Ireland, and Cyprus.
If you do not know much about my biography, you may be startled by the odd choice of countries.
Well, because my parents are refugees in Serbia and it is easy to guess that I visit them from time to time. My father’s birthday is on August 12th, so there was a good chance I would be in Serbia for the occasion. With a Diffusion submitted to the Serbian authorities, I could have been arrested at the airport by border control when flying back to London.
Normally you issue Interpol notices for dangerous criminals hiding from justice. But this is not what Bulgaria’s prosecution does: it uses Interpol’s notices as a lynching tool. If you Google my name (Radosveta Vassileva), for instance, you will see I am legal scholar based in London: you will find my CV, my publications, my blogs as well as the events I am invited to speak at. Clearly, this is what Bulgaria’s prosecution did.
I was supposed to speak at the Annual Conference of the Society of Legal Scholars in Dublin in September 2017. The conference program was publicly available on the Internet. So, Bulgaria’s prosecution had a “great” idea: let’s submit a Diffusion to Ireland, so that she is arrested at the airport when she arrives for the conference. Just like a scene from a psycho-thriller!
I was very confused about this choice because I have visited Cyprus only once as a teenager. But then I thought: if they found out I was going to Dublin from the Internet, they must have found out something about Cyprus from the Internet too. Then I stumbled upon the program of another conference I was supposed to speak at this October: The Future of Commercial Law Conference at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies. I also saw that my name appeared next to the name of a speaker from the University of Cyprus, as visible from the print screen below. In other words, as they have no clue what the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies is, they must have thought the conference was in Cyprus. Yes, they are as “bright” as they are vengeful.
In other words, my Diffusion notice evidences a dirty plan to arrest me at an airport when visiting my family or flying to present my research.
It is also rather astonishing how they managed to prepare all documents for the European Arrest Warrant and the Interpol Diffusion so quickly: after all, they had to translate a lot of documents from Bulgarian. Maybe they worked all weekend (12-13 August 2017) and stayed until late at night on 14 August 2017? It may not be surprising if the alert is hence dated 15 August 2017 because they hit the “submit” button after 12 o’clock in the evening. It is obvious, however, that the arrest warrants were drafted way before the charges were raised. I am rather skeptical. I suspect they drafted them as soon as they learned of my father’s intent to file an application under the Global Magnitsky Act: for instance, June 2017. In other words, given my absurd charges and the obvious procedural violations, it is easy to discern deliberate abuse of law.
So, Let’s Recap!
Bulgaria has a sad history of purging scholars. When I was writing my PhD in law, I decided to include a chapter on the history of Bulgarian law in which I also discussed how Bulgaria’s communist regime “cleansed” Sofia University of people who were “dangerous” for the regime. Sadly, Bulgaria has started to return to the repressive practices of communist times.
My mom Antoaneta Vassileva (who is also a scholar) and I were put on Interpol’s list by the Republic of Bulgaria in an attempt to put pressure on my father, lynch us publicly, and silence us. This is how “brave” Bulgarian prosecutors are: they are afraid of two scholars.
Clearly, Bulgaria’s prosecution fabricated absurd charges and issued an arrest warrant through procedural abuse (I was not even summoned properly) with the sole purpose of retaliating for my father’s application under the Magnitsky Act, humiliating me, and, possibly, giving my parents a heart attack. You usually issue arrest warrants for people who hide from justice and whose whereabouts are not known. Moreover, you issue Diffusions for highly dangerous criminals in order to catch them before committing another crime–usually for terrorism. I guess I was “hiding” in the very center of London and at the most important conferences attended by hundreds of accomplished scholars. Presenting my research is also a highly “dangerous” and “suspicious” activity comparable to terrorism.
As the Venice Commission advised in 2016, Bulgaria’s Soviet prosecution model should be decisively taken down: “[This model] turns [the institution] into a source of corruption and blackmail and creates opportunities for its use for political aims.” I would add that Bulgarian prosecutors implicated in human rights violations should face consequences for their abuse of office too!
In conclusion, it is worth emphasizing that the Bulgarian prosecution persistently speculates with Interpol and lies that Interpol is investigating my family. Interpol is primarily an information system. It just alerts Member States of Interpol that a country has issued a warrant for someone. Sadly, arrest warrants from countries like Bulgaria are often issued for political reasons. As many experts say, Interpol has been weaponized by dictatorial regimes and needs major reforms!
UPDATE: This article was originally published on 8 November 2017. Subsequently, Interpol’s Headquarters established that Bulgaria has violated Interpol’s Rules on the Processing of Data because it issued Interpol notices without evidence of crime. The notices against me and my mom have been cancelled. Interpol’s Headquarters is currently examining the grounds for my dad’s notice. Overall, Interpol’s Headquarters are now aware that Bulgaria abuses their system similarly to autocratic states like Russia and Kazakhstan.
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