A retired Canadian mining executive held in legal limbo in Bulgaria since July will soon be headed home to Santa Barbara, Calif., after a Bulgarian court refused to extradite him to the post-Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan where he faces what he says are trumped-up corruption charges.
Len Homeniuk, 68, is the former chief executive officer of Toronto-based Centerra Gold Inc., which operates a massive mine in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan and is locked in tense talks with the government of that country over its stake in the facility.
Kyrgyzstani officials accuse Mr. Homeniuk of corruption connected to transactions that date back to 2003 – allegations he dismisses as baseless and an attempt to pressure his former company.
In July, he was detained in Bulgaria while on a cruise down the Danube with his wife and teenaged son, after Interpol agreed to a request from Kyrgyzstan to issue a "red notice" calling for his arrest around the world. He spent more than week in Bulgarian jails before spending a month under house arrest in Sofia. He was granted bail in mid-September, but had to remain in Bulgaria for his extradition hearing, held on Wednesday.
"I wouldn't wish this on my worst enemy," Mr. Homeniuk said of what has now been a 75-day ordeal. "It's really too bad, but I guess at the end of the day the Bulgarian legal system pulled through."
At the hearing, held in the border town of Vidin where he was first detained in July, prosecutors told the court they did not want to pursue the extradition after Kyrgyzstan failed to produce documents requested by Bulgarian authorities, Mr. Homeniuk said in an interview.
He also said prosecutors cited his lawyer's arguments that the transactions in question, which included payments to Centerra's state-owned partner in the mine, were legal and transparent, that Kyrgyzstan had not prosecuted any of the Kyrgyzstanis alleged to be involved, and that the country's statute of limitations meant the case was out of time.
The judges hearing the case agreed, Mr. Homeniuk said. He expects that after the expiration of a seven-day appeal period, and some paperwork, he and his wife, who has been staying with him, could be on his way home within 10 to 12 days.
Mr. Homeniuk has also had lawyers challenge Interpol's decision to issue a red notice against him on the say-so of Kyrgyzstan, a government well known for corruption and human rights abuses. He said his complaint was supposed to have been the subject of a closed-door hearing last month, but that he had not heard whether Interpol had made any decision.
Mr. Homeniuk's case has drawn the attention of activists demanding changes at Interpol, the France-based international policing organization, which critics say is too trusting when issuing red notices, pointing to numerous cases where undemocratic governments have used trumped-up charges to harass political dissidents, journalists and business people outside their borders.
Activists also say it is difficult to challenge a red notice, as Interpol is immune from court scrutiny and they charge that the agency's own process for reviewing challenges is not transparent. Interpol has said it is reviewing its procedures.
With his red notice still in place, Mr. Homeniuk said that once he returns to his California home, he plans not to travel anywhere internationally, in order to avoid risking arrest again.