Bulgarian Court Orders Extradition Of Russian Protester Over Tax-Evasion Charge

By RFE/RL's Bulgarian Service

A Bulgarian court has ordered the extradition of a Russian man accused at home of large-scale tax evasion in a case complicated by the suspect's burning of his Russian passport during an antiwar protest in the Black Sea resort of Varna.

The suspect, 46-year-old Aleksei Alchin, has argued that Russian authorities are persecuting him for his political leanings and criticism of Russia's war on Ukraine.

Alchin says he has been living in Bulgaria for five years.

He was declared a fugitive by Russian prosecutors in April 2018 following an investigation into alleged tax evasion.

He took part in a protest in Bulgaria two days after the large-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine began on February 24 in which he demonstratively burned his Russian passport.

Months later, Bulgarian authorities were notified by Russian officials that Alchin was the target of an international manhunt and a formal extradition request followed.

He was detained by Bulgarian authorities last week and his extradition case was heard on August 8 by a district court in Varna, in eastern Bulgaria.

Alchin's wife, friends, and others protested outside the court for his release.

But the court ruled that the tax-evasion charges against him were of a sufficient magnitude to warrant his extradition.

Through its press service, the Bulgarian court also cited an assurance from a Russian deputy prosecutor-general, Pyotr Gorodov, that Alchin won't be tortured or otherwise abused and that he will be allowed counsel.

Russia's heavily prosecutor-friendly legal system leads to convictions in around 99 percent of all cases, and allegations are widespread of detainee and inmate abuse.

The Varna court also cited a guarantee by Russian prosecutors that Alchin will only be investigated for tax evasion and that, if he is convicted, he will be allowed to leave Russia after serving any possible sentence.

Alchin can appeal the first-instance ruling within seven days.

It is unclear what sort of leverage officials in Bulgaria -- a NATO and EU member whose relations with Moscow have markedly worsened since Russia's military invaded Ukraine -- might have if Russian authorities abandon their pledges concerning Alchin.

Alchin requested political asylum in Bulgaria only after being detained in connection with the extradition request, which prosecutors said hurt his chances of success.

Russian authorities have sought him internationally since February 2020.

Alchin has described past employment in Russia that includes work for a State Duma committee that he says he left "due to the high level of corruption in the system."

He said he fled Russia after being warned that his metals company had attracted interest from elites and he might be accused of tax crimes.

He also said he'd never received any subpoenas, as lawyers he approached before fleeing came under "pressure" and refused to represent his interests.