Drama at Vaclav Havel Airport as Czech top officials try to hold extradition of Russian businessman

Illustrative photo: Anna Královcová

The dramatic circumstances surrounding the extradition of Russian businessman Alexej Torubarov from the Czech Republic earlier this month are making headlines amid fears for the man’s fate in Russia. Since the daily Lidové noviny broke the story on Monday it has emerged that several cabinet ministers made a desperate though vain attempt to get Torubarov off the Aeroflot plane just before take-off.

Alexej Torubarov,  photo: Czech Television
A run-of-the-mill extradition in line with international law or a bureaucratic mistake that may cost a man’s life? As more facts on the case emerge, everything points to the latter case.

The Czech authorities had received an extradition request for Alexej Torubarov from Russia where he was charged with fraud and blackmailing a member of the country’s intelligence services. For his part Torubarov claimed that he was persecuted by the Russian police and mafia and filed for asylum in the Czech Republic. The extradition request went through three Czech courts and, on the grounds of evidence provided by the Russian side, all three justices approved it.

However, when Justice Minister Pavel Blažek signed the extradition papers the asylum proceedings on Torubarov’s case had not been properly concluded. This set in motion a series of dramatic events at Prague’s Vaclav Havel Airport on May 2nd. As Torubarov was handed over to the Russian authorities a message reached Foreign Minister Schwarzenberg alerting him to the fact that the man’s asylum request had not been decided. According to Lidové noviny the minister launched a desperate attempt to stop the extradition, getting the interior, justice, transport and finance ministers involved in the process. Finance Minister Kalousek, whose ministry is directly responsible for Vaclav Havel Airport, reportedly called control tower as the Aeroflot plane was preparing for take-off and ordered them to stop the plane at any cost – by putting a tanker in its way if necessary. Control tower complied, but getting Torubarov off the plane proved impossible. The pilot allegedly asked for a written order and the police officers sent on the mission only had verbal orders. The plane eventually took off with Torubarov on board.

Illustrative photo: Anna Královcová
His family is said to be devastated by the news and they have filed charges against Justice Minister Pavel Blazek for violating international asylum laws. Minister Blazek insists that he only confirmed the decision of three courts, the asylum proceedings were a separate matter. While the justice and interior ministries are rejecting any responsibility for the development, Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg has openly admitted that Torubarov’s extradition was a regrettable mistake caused by a bureaucratic mix-up. Since Torubarov left the country three weeks ago his Czech lawyer Milan Hulík has been unable to reach him. Any efforts by the Czech Foreign Ministry on his behalf would naturally remain confidential.