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Cablegate: Bulgarian Officials Call for Patience On Libyan Medic

VZCZCXRO6095
OO RUEHAG RUEHAST RUEHDA RUEHDBU RUEHDF RUEHFL RUEHIK RUEHKW RUEHLA
RUEHLN RUEHLZ RUEHPOD RUEHROV RUEHSR RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHSF #0861/01 1991444
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 181444Z JUL 07
FM AMEMBASSY SOFIA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 3992
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RUEHTRO/AMEMBASSY TRIPOLI

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 SOFIA 000861

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPT FOR EUR/NCE MNORDBERG

REF: Sofia 846 and previous

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL PHUM LY BU
SUBJECT: BULGARIAN OFFICIALS CALL FOR PATIENCE ON LIBYAN MEDIC
RELEASE; LEGAL PROCEDURES UNDERWAY TO EFFECT TRANSFER


SOFIA 00000861 001.2 OF 002


1. (SBU) SUMMARY: Bulgarian officials reacted with balanced and
measured statements to the July 17 Libyan Higher Judicial Council's
decision to commute the medics' death sentences to life
imprisonment, saying it paved the way for a final conclusion to the
medics' eight-year plight. President Georgi Parvanov, Foreign
Minister Ivailo Kalfin and Chief Prosecutor Boris Velchev all said
the Council's decision opened the way for the implementation of the
Legal Assistance Agreement between the two states, which could allow
the medics' transfer to Bulgaria. Our contacts first indicated that
the necessary documents would be submitted to the Libyan authorities
on July 18, but the Chief Prosecutor's office later stated that this
would happen July 19 or 20. Bulgarian officials are unwilling to
speculate on the timing of the medics' return, stressing that they
will consider the case closed only after the health workers land in
Bulgaria. END SUMMARY

Next steps: cautious optimism officially. . .
---------------------------------------------
2. (U) Foreign Minister Kalfin gave the first official reaction to
the ruling at a news briefing late July 17. He said that the
Libyan Higher Judicial Council (HJC) ruling was a big step towards a
final solution of the medics' case. "The ruling revokes the worst
thing -- the death sentences -- and paves the way for the
implementation of the legal agreement between the two countries,"
said Kalfin. He said that all Bulgarian institutions would
coordinate their actions and start work immediately to launch the
procedure for the medics' transfer. He said Bulgaria would consider
the case closed only after the five Bulgarian nurses and Palestinian
doctor return to Bulgaria.

3. (U) "The Libyan Higher Judicial Council's decision evokes mixed
feelings. Unquestionably, the good news is that the death sentences
have been revoked," President Parvanov said July 18. "Bulgarian
institutions are doing all that is necessary to put into force the
legal agreement between Bulgaria and Libya and bring the nurses back
home soon," he said. Neither Parvanov nor Kalfin made commitments
to any deadlines. PM Sergey Stanishev also called the HJC's
decision "an important step" towards ending the medics' drama, and
called for composure and more patience with the case.

. . . legal procedures underway . . .
-------------------------------------
4. (SBU) Chief Prosecutor Velchev said the decision on the medics
was expected. "The procedure for requesting the medics' transfer
has already been set in motion and the needed documents for the
transfer will be sent today," he told reporters after an emergency
meeting of prosecutors early July 18 to discuss the case. Velchev
said the legal assistance agreement between Bulgaria and Libya did
not specify time limits within which the convicted have to be
transferred, and added that Libya could deny the transfer. "If the
Libyan state finds any obstacles for the medics' transfer, the
Bulgarian side will work to remove them as soon as possible,"
Velchev said. A mission contact at the Supreme Cassation
Prosecutors' Service, who worked on the preparation of the transfer
request, told us this morning that the paperwork should be submitted
to Libyan authorities today. When asked about the possible
technical hurdles to which Velchev referred, the official explained
that at the time of the signing of the legal assistance agreement
between Bulgaria and Libya, the punishment of "life imprisonment"
did not exist in Bulgaria. Thus, Libya could claim that life
imprisonment cases are not covered by the agreement.

5. (SBU) The Foreign Ministry's Middle East and Africa Director
Petko Doykov also told us that the necessary documents to effect the
transfer of the nurses were "in process" with the Chief Prosecutor's
office and would be completed within the day. He said that the
transfer request would be sent to Libya in accordance with the Legal
Assistance Agreement through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on July
19. Doykov said that because the agreement had never been invoked,
he could not speculate on the timing of the release or on Libyan
actions, but he did not believe a transfer would occur today. Our
contacts at the Ministry of Justice initially did not seem to be
fully engaged in the process, although they were aware that their
Ministry would play a formal role in transmission of the Chief
Prosecutor's request. In a subsequent conversation, MOJ's
International Cooperation Department expert Krassimir Ivanov
confirmed the role of the Ministry.

6. (SBU) In an afternoon press conference at the Sofia Prosecution
Service, Professor Anton Gerginov, the prosecutor assigned
responsibility for the case, reported that the Prosecutor's office
had completed its request for the transfer of the five nurses (the
Palestinian doctor's paperwork would follow after his family's
formal request to the Bulgarian government) and passed it to the
Bulgarian Ministry of Justice. Gerginov said it is expected that
the Ministry of Justice will complete its procedures on July 19 or

SOFIA 00000861 002.2 OF 002


20, and submit to the Libyan Ministry of Justice through the
Bulgarian Embassy in Tripoli. According to Gerginov, the government
is proceeding with the request for transfer, even though it has not
received formal notification of the Judicial Council's decision from
the Libyan government. It is yet to be determined where and how the
transfer of the medics will be effected. Gerginov dismissed press
questions concerning a possible Bulgarian government pardon or the
legality of any further stipulations from the Libyan government that
there should be no Bulgarian pardon. (Note: GoB officials have told
us privately that the nurses will be pardoned before they reach
Bulgarian soil.)

. . . but latent frustration beginning to boil
--------------------------------------------- -

7. (U) The reaction of the medics' relatives was less restrained.
Mariyan Georgiev, the son of Dr. Zdravko Georgiev, said he was
frustrated and disappointed. He told local media the HJC's ruling
aimed to clear the image of the Libyan state while further
humiliating the Bulgarian medics. Asked about his expectations for
the medics' release, he said he did not have high hopes because
"everything in Libya happened slowly and painfully." Bulgarian
electronic media commented that the HJC ruling was a positive
development that opened the way to the medics' release. Media
reports emphasized the innocence of the medics and noted that the
ruling fell short of expectations for freeing the medics. Most
electronic media reported in detail about the deal with the HIV
victims' families, saying that the HJC ruling had practically
legalized a bargain aimed at saving the face of the Libyan regime.
Foreign policy observers interviewed by local media noted that HJC
ruling was hardly a surprise, given the course of the process so far
and Libya's track record.

8. (SBU) COMMENT. While the wheels appear to be turning, it seems
that Bulgarian officials were not prepared to submit an immediate
request for transfer upon news of the commutation of the sentences.
The Chief Prosecutor's office has done its work and handed off the
transfer request to the Justice Ministry, which must engage its
Libyan counterpart ministry to effect the transfer. Gerginov's
statement that the request would be completed "tomorrow or the day
after tomorrow" does not indicate a speedy resolution. Parliament
only today formally confirmed Meglena Tacheva as the new Justice
Minister; we expect her take-charge style to get an early test run
in this case. French President Sarkozy's proposed visit later this
week may offer another excuse for Libyan delay. END COMMENT.
BEYRLE

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