Marina Stephens: Homeniuk’s Extradition Will Be ‘Incredible Political Coup’ for Kyrgyzstan
Novinite.com has approached Marina Stephens, wife of Leonard Homeniuk, for an interview focused on his legal battle against a potential extradition to Kyrgyzstan.
Homeniuk, a dual Canadian and United States citizen, has been detained in Bulgaria since late July on an Interpol Red Notice placed by the Kyrgyz authorities. He is is facing a Bulgarian court hearing on the extradition request on September 16.
Leonard Homeniuk is a former CEO of Centerra Gold, one of the world's leading gold mining companies. He held the post between 2004 and 2008. Between 2003 and 2004 he also led a project for the restructuring of Kumtor, the largest gold mine in Kyrgyzstan.
Toronto-based Centerra said last month that “the detention appears to be related to claims by the Kyrgyz Republic authorities of alleged improper transactions with Kyrgyz officials in connection with the restructuring of the Kumtor project”.
Q: Why has your husband been entangled in a legal row between the Kyrgyz government and Centerra Gold at this point in time?
A: Kyrgyzstan went through two revolutions since 2003. Each time, the new government accused the previous governments of corruption. Each time, the government attempted to undo the agreements entered into by previous governments.
Len has been involved with the project for 16 years and he is the person most associated with Kumtor. He even had the nick-name the "Father of Kumtor." Len oversaw the mine's construction and beginning of its commercial production.
Today, Kumtor is one of the main political topics in Kyrgyzstan. It is on the menu of every political figure - just look at the mass media. And Kyrgyzstan is about to go into parliamentary elections in October. Painting Len as a foreign villain presents huge opportunity for some political figures.
You can see that a local court dismissed all the charges against Kyrgyz citizens in the case because the statute of limitations has expired. But not against Len - he is now the only person facing these charges.
Also, accusing Len of illegal actions - without any legitimate grounds - casts a shadow on the very formation of Centerra and, thus, its rightful ownership of Kumtor.
Q: What are the Kyrgyz authorities aiming to achieve by taking your husband to court in Kyrgyzstan over charges which he says are unfounded?
A: It is well-known that the Kyrgyz government is looking for various ways to attack past agreements regarding Kumtor in an attempt to get a larger share of the project. We have some serious evidence that suggests that the Kyrgyz government was advised that if it pleads corruption and engages in criminal prosecution, this may give them an upper hand in negotiations with Centerra.
Also, if you think logically, Len's persecution may be a simple matter of intimidation of the current Centerra management. Len was only involved in 2003 restructuring. As I will explain below, according to the Kyrgyz Supreme Court's decision, the statute of limitation regarding this transaction has run out. However, the current Centerra management and its board of directors participated in subsequent 2009 restructuring that is also subject to Kyrgyz criminal investigation on the grounds of corruption (as per the materials submitted with the extradition request).
So, by going after Len, the Kyrgyz authorities may be simply sending a message: "Look what we can do to him, and he has the statute of limitation on his side, but you will have no such defense, so you better make a good deal."
Q: Please, elaborate on the statute of limitation part.
A: According to the Kyrgyz Supreme Court decisions, the Kyrgyz authorities applied the statute of limitation to all the Kyrgyz nationals involved in 2003 - 2004 restructuring. However, when Len's Kyrgyz lawyers requested the same treatment, the Prosecutor General's office replied that such request will be considered only when Len is present in Kyrgyzstan.
Q: What legal options does your husband have if a Bulgarian court grants the Kyrgyz request for his extradition?
A: First, we hope that this would not happen, because Len is totally innocent and the Kyrgyz authorities have not provided any support for their claims of illegal actions. Second, Kyrgyzstan tried to extradite many people to Kyrgyzstan, all unsuccessfully. Not just from EU countries and the United States, but even from Russia and Belarus, with whom they have extradition treaties. So, for Kyrgyzstan to score an extradition of an American/Canadian citizen from EU member Bulgaria would be an incredible political coup.
The only legal option then would be to appeal to European Court of Human Rights, which consistently prohibited extradition to Kyrgyzstan on the basis of violation of human rights, including torture, as they call it, or other ill-treatment. Failing that, Len would have to participate in Kyrgyz legal proceedings which, considering all the circumstances, have no way of being impartial or not-biased. It would be a horrible injustice to Len and a terrible blow to any international investment in any developing country, including Bulgaria.
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