Tzvetan Vassilev uses the Global Magnitsky Act as a last-ditch
- His case is for the Bulgarian court, it’s a criminal thing
- There is zero chance for his claim to be successful
- Bill Richardson does not have a great reputation here, no one takes him seriously
Susan Katz Keating is a journalist specializing in investigative work. She writes for People Magazine, Time Magazine and US News & World Report. She is a popular blogger and a writer. In an article for US News & World Report about Tzvetan Vassilev’s claim under the Global Magnitsky Act a month ago she wrote that the fugitive banker “hopes to leverage the American human rights law to beat back the criminal charges he faces overseas even though human rights activists say they find no merit in his claims”. We contacted Mrs. Keating with a request to tell us more about her research on the case.
Mrs. Keating, I read with the utmost interest your article about the “Tzvetan Vassilev” case and his claim under the Magnitsky Act. How did you come across the story? I really don’t think that the case is that popular in the United States. Am I not right?
“Well, you are right. I just saw an article in a small publication. First of all, I am interested in the Global Magnitsky Act which is a new version of the Magnitsky Act. So far there has not been an official case under the Global Magnitsky Act. So, I was trying to seek what’s going to be the first one. And then I saw this article in an online publication here called The Hill. The article said that this Bulgarian banker wanted to be exonerated under the Global Magnitsky Act. So, I thought – OK, I can do this, I can see what’s the story here. And I just wanted to know why did he want to be a case under the Global Magnitsky Act. And the more I looked into it, the more I realized that nobody, none of the officials here who are involved with making the Magnitsky Act cases thought that he was a Magnitsky Act case. They actually were very dismissive about it and they were saying: “This is ridiculous. He is not a Magnitsky Act case”. That’s how I heard about the story.
Can you tell us what kind of people you spoke with? You cite human rights experts in your article. Did you speak with politicians as well? What did they say? Was there anyone who said that this is a Magnitsky Act case?
Nobody said that this was a Magnitsky Act case. The people I spoke to asked me to keep their names off the record because they did not want to go on record talking about this. But, I can tell you that I spoke to people from the Congress, congressional people who would handle these cases. I also spoke to people in the State Department and the Treasury Department and they also would say the same. And, I also spoke to a human rights group that has put together a list of names that they thought would make good cases. I asked them if Vassilev is on the list and they actually laughed.
What about Mr. Bill Richardson who is being represented here in Bulgaria by some media outlets as a politician, lobbying in favor of Tzvetan Vassilev?
Well, Bill Richardson is not in office anymore. He is no longer a politician. And he has been involved in a lot of scandals. He has been investigated for corruption. He has been associated with what we kind of think of as “shady operations”. So, Bill Richardson does not have a great reputation here. No one takes him seriously when he talks about Vassilev and the Magnitsky Act. So when Richardson gets involved with someone who is accused of embezzling large sums of money, people draw their own conclusions. A couple people on Capitol Hill commented to that effect. (това е от готовото интервю и го нямаме на запис)
Did you try to speak with him or you couldn’t contact him?
Well, he personally would not speak to me but he had me speak to the head of his foundation – Mickey Bergman. He is his spokesman. I asked Mickey Bergman, how have Mr. Vassilev’s human rights been abused? And he said: “Well, he cannot leave Serbia”. That’s how his human rights were abused. And for Mr. Vassilev Serbia is a safe-haven. It’s a shelter to avoid arrest and prosecution. (бел.р. – следващите въпрос и отговор също са от готовото интервю)
How did Richardson get involved in the case?
Before the bank (Corporate Commercial Bank) collapse, Vassilev got involved with the Atlantic Council -a big Washington think tank. He visited Washington and started going to Atlantic Council events. In November 2012, the Atlantic Council held a two-day conference in Turkey. They called it the Energy and Economic Summit. Vassilev was a panelist. A month later, Vassilev and two entities he controlled – CCB and Bromak ‘ a financial intermediary – pledged $3.5 million to the Atlantic Council. Vassilev was named to the Atlantic Council’s International Advisory Board. While serving on that board, Vassilev met Richardson. They became friends. Richardson’s spokesman, Mickey Bergman, told me “The governor liked him. He thought he is a good guy.” Vassilev appeared at a number of Atlantic Council functions in Washington and was listed on the website as being a member of the advisory board. When the bank collapsed, though, Vassilev stopped paying his pledges. Once the money dried up, Vassilev’s relationship with the Atlantic Council soured. The group took his name off their website. On Vassilev’s own website, he still says that he is part of the Atlantic Council. But the group says he is not. I think they are embarrassed by all this. The spokesman, Andrew Marshall, wrote: “Tzvetan Vassilev is no longer involved with the Atlantic Council since his resignation from our International Advisory Board in September 2014.”The personal relationship with Richardson remained in place.
What do you think is the aim of his claim under the Magnitsky Act? What is its reason?
As a journalist it looks to me – well, I cannot prove this of course – but it looks to me that this is a last-ditch. It looks to me that there is a man who has a lot to answer for. He’s got this warrant against him; this Interpol red notice and he faces criminal charges and I think that it was a matter of grabbing anything that he thinks could get him off the hook. So out of desperation, he is trying this. But at the same time, it is also giving him the opportunity to get in a dig at someone who thinks is his enemy.
Do you think that Mr. Vassilev can be successful in this procedure?
No, no, there is no chance. Everybody said that there is absolutely zero chance that he would be successful with the Magnitsky Act cases. It’s just not going to happen because if you think about it it’s a very involved process. Such case – under the Global Magnitsky Act – has to be signed by the president Trump. So when the State Department and the Treasury Department finally give him their cases they are going to give him their best cases. They are not going to give him a case like this – it is a criminal thing. It’s not about human rights abuses. This is a case for the court. That’s what everybody told me. This is something that the Bulgarian court should decide. It’s not a Magnitsky Act human rights case.
Can you describe us a real Magnitsky Act case? How does a human rights case under the Global Magnitsky Act look like? Can you give us an example?
Well, it looks like the original person it was named after – Sergei Magnitsky. He was investigating corruption in Russia and he was arrested, brutally beaten, tortured and held in prison. He died in prison. He was a political prisoner because the Russian authorities did not like what he was investigating. His human rights were grossly abused. And some of the other cases that the human rights groups look forward – well they told me that they could not give me the details because they did not want to endanger the people who they were trying to protect – these are people who could be kidnapped, tortured, brutalized. That level of abuse.
Speaking of this Interpol warrant – do you think that one of the aims of Mr. Vassilev’s claim is to suspend the Red notice?
One of the men from this lobbying group Mr. Vassilev hired told me that if the case gets to court it will make the Red Notice disappear.