Bulgarian prosecutor, art collector conspired to free controversial art dealer – journalist alleges
13:16 Wed 21 Jan 2009 – Petar Kostadinov
Bulgarian prosecutor Kamen Mihov and Bulgarian millionaire and art collector Vassil Bozhkov were alleged to have been involved in an elaborate scheme to let international art dealer Ali Abou’Taam escape extradition to Egypt.
The allegations came from Dutch national Arthur Brand, who presented himself as an investigative journalist and on January 5 2009 posted an email with the allegations to the Museum Security Network mailinglist.
According to Brand, in September 2008 Abou’Taam was allowed to enter Bulgaria and later leave the country even though he was “on Interpol’s red wanted list because of a request from the Egyptian authorities, since the art dealer had been sentenced to 15 years imprisonment for trading in stolen art (Interpol File number: 25913/2007 Issued:25/5/07).”
According to Brand, Abou’Taam came to Bulgaria at the invitation of Bozhkov. Bulgarian-language daily Dnevnik said it had been unable to contact Bozhkov for comment.
Abou’Taam, who holds a Canadian passport, was arrested upon his arrival from France at Sofia airport because he was on Interpol’s wanted list.
“Though the Interpol Headquarters are located in Lyon, France, French authorities didn’t do anything to arrest Abou’Taam. Au contraire, the authorities made special arrangements for the fugitive to enter and leave French territory unhindered,” Brand said in his email.
Brand acccused Bozhkov of helping Abou’Taam by calling Mihov for his assistance, something which Mihov has denied before Dnevnik by saying that he had never met Bozhkov in any capacity.
“To cover his tracks, head prosecutor Kamen Mihov arranged a fake and secret trial – long after Abou’Taam illegally had left the country – in which it was decided that Bulgaria will not extradite Abou’Taam.” Brand said.
When Dnevnik asked for more details on the story, authorities said that Abou’Taam was indeed arrested in Sofia. The Sofia City Court (SCC), however, said that because Bulgaria and Egypt did not have an extradition agreement, Abou’Taam could not be sent to Egypt. The court’s ruling has been appealed but was denied and Abou’Taam was released.
The Interior Ministry told Dnevnik that Abou’Taam left Bulgaria for Switzerland on January 7 2009 after his name was taken off the wanted list based on the SCC ruling.
Meanwhile, in another case involving a foreign national residing in Bulgaria, the Varna Regional Court ruled that 48-year-old British citizen Barry Spearing could be extradited to the UK. Spearing was arrested on January 6 2009 in the Black Sea city of Varna based on a European arrest warrant issued against him and signed by a judge from London’s City of Westminster Magistrates Court.
Spearing had been issued with a sentence by a regional court in Ipswich in 2006 for frauds involving antiques committed in the period between August and November 2002. For his crime, Spearing was ordered to pay almost 1.9 million pounds sterling or face a seven year imprisonment.
He was arrested by Varna police officers in the village of Botevo in the Varna area, where he has lived with his girlfriend for the past two years. Varna Regional Court decided that there was no reason why Spearing should not be extradited. The court said that its ruling did not deal with Spearing’s guilt but with the European arrest warrant only.