The former California's State legislator Van Tran and the former FBI agent Tom Locke:
There's not a shred of evidence in Tzvetan Vassilev's accusations
How can a man with a red notice from Interpol ask for protection?
Luba Budakova, Natalia Radoslavova
7 October, 2017
Close-up: One of the most prestigious US lobbying firms, BGR Group, will argue in support of Delyan Peevski’s side. The firm has been hired in connection to an application under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act that was filed by fugitive banker Tsvetan Vassilev, who is charged with embezzling billions from CorpBank. BGR Group has a 26-year-old history and in 2001 it topped the Fortune magazine list of lobbying firms in Washington. The firm, founded by Haley Barbour, former governor of Mississippi and former chairman of the Republican National Committee (1993-1997), and Ed Rogers, a senior official in President Ronald Reagan’s administration and contributor to the George H.W. Bush’s presidential campaign, has a wide network of contacts and specialises in campaigns aimed at shaping the decision-making process in the Congress and the White House. Representatives of BGR Group recently visited Bulgaria. Tom Locke has 32 years of experience as an FBI agent and Van Tran is a former member of the California State Assembly. We contacted them with questions regarding Tsvetan Vassilev’s request for protection and his real goals.
- What is the purpose of your visit to Bulgaria, gentlemen? Would you please tell us a bit more about your occupation?
- Tom Locke: I am the managing director of BGR Group in Washington DC. It's a government affairs group and a Public Relations group. I came to the firm ten years ago. I am a retired FBI agent. I was with the FBI for 32 years. I was the first supervisor of the first joint terrorism task force group in New York in 1980. Now every field FBI office in the US has got one but we were the pioneers in that. In 1983 I was sent overseas to Beirut, Lebanon in connection with the American embassy bombing. I conducted the first extraterritorial terrorism investigation for the FBI. At that time we didn't investigate things overseas. I was the first one and I was fortunate enough to be qualified to do it. And then, later on, right before I retired, I was called upon to lead the worldwide investigation in connection with 9/11 attacks at Washington, New York and Pennsylvania. I directed the investigation from the FBI headquarters for the first couple of month before it could shift back to the field offices. About 7500 of the 11 000 agents in FBI were working for me in doing the investigation.
- You have a background in investigating money laundering as well, am I right?
- Tom Locke: Exactly. In my career I've investigated all sorts of cases. I was assigned to the drug enforcement administration for a year and a half back in the mid 80's. I also was in charge of inspecting all the field offices, headquarters and overseas offices to make sure everything was running the way it was supposed to be running. So yes – I've done money laundering and drug investigations. And I still maintain a lot of good contacts with the US treasury department, with the FBI of course, with the Financial Crimes enforcement which specializes in money laundering. And I maintain contact with Interpol as well. That's why I've been asked to come and conduct an investigation into this matter. And to find out which is true which is untrue. And I'm going to go back to Washington and prepare this report. And then I will return and release the report so that the Bulgarian people can see what the true facts are. At least from the American perspective.
- By whom were you asked to prepare this report?
- Tom Locke: I've been asked by several people to conduct this investigation. I told them that I would only conduct the investigation if whatever facts I find those would be the ones in the report. But after my visit here I feel fairly confident that there is a lot of untruth being said about one particular individual and I need to do a little bit more of research and to put this down on paper.
- Taking into account your background can you compare the so called “Tzvetan Vassilev case”, the financial pyramid that he built to any case you've investigated or you've witnessed being investigated?
- Tom Locke: Sure. When you talk about financial pyramid games you talk about Burnie Madoff in the United States. You talk about the oligarchs in Ukraine. It's all very much the same. No matter where you go, the ability to exhibit greed is common in a lot of different places. So I've seen this all over the world. But, of course, in the United States first.
- Mr. Tran, what is your role in this matter?
- Van Tran: I am a former California's state legislator. I was also vice mayor of the City of Garden Grove, directly elected by the people. Before that I was also a congressional staff aide and I have extensive relations and experience with the US administration. As a former law maker I understand how the laws operate and I have extensive relationships and contacts with law makers in Washington DC as well as with policy makers in Washington DC. Basically my role here is to provide the political contacts and I asked Tom to come with me along with our colleagues to do this investigation.
- Would you please tell us more about the procedure under the Global Magnitsky Act.
- Van Tran: The Magnitsky Act was obviously named after the Russian lawyer who was murdered by the Russian Government as alleged by many Western countries. It was aimed to specifically target Russian actors who are basically involved into corruption or human rights abuses. Last year the act was extended into the Global M?gnitsky Act and now not only the Russians are targeted but any other countries' individuals or even government representatives who are involved with murder or human rights violation. But it has to be very brutal and very clear human rights violation with sufficient and definitely overwhelming documents and also corruption to put a name in the black list. Basically there are two ways to go trough this. Number one is through relevant members of the Congress. The law says that a chairman of one of the appropriate committees that are involved in financial policies as well as foreign affairs can submit names to the Administration through the State department and the Treasury department and they would have the power to deny visa for individuals who are being placed under the Act. And secondly – for any individual who are on the list will be prohibited through the Treasury department any financial transaction related to American banks and US financial institutions.
- You are familiar with the Tzvetan Vassilev case – the indicted banker who filed a claim under the Global Magnitsky act. Do you see any sign of violation of Mr Vassilev's human rights?
- Van Tran: I had extensive research and reading over this whole drama. I call it a drama because definitely there is very little if any evidence that would show that Mr Vassilev has any documentation or supporting facts or evidence to make the accusation. So people are abusing this Magnitsky Act because it is politically sexy and from a political standpoint it's easy for someone to stand in the middle of Washington DC and wave the law and say: He is an abuser of the Magnitsky Act. Yet there is absolutely no evidence and documentation to back that up. There is a lot of misunderstanding of the essence of the Act. It's not easy to be put into the black list because there are very clear legal standards.
- When the news about Mr Vassilev's claim spread out his lawyers said that he is lookibg for protection under the Magnitsky Act. Can the Magnitsky Act provide protection to anyone?
- Van Tran: How can a man with a red notice from Interpol ask for protection?
- Bulgaria is a member country of the EU and a partner of the United States in NATO. When we applied for this membership we proved that our judicial system is stable and based on democratic principles. There is a prosecution against Mr Vassilev in Bulgaria. So if his claim is approved won't that be an interference in another country's legitimate prosecution?
- Van Tran: There are two separate issues. First of all, as far as the Magnitsky Act is concerned and based on the specific case that you've mentioned we have yet to see a shred of evidence other than empty accusations. Anybody can make accusations and get the publicity but there's absolutely no back up or collaborating evidence that I've seen or anyone else have seen to show that the accusations are true. So that is the first issue - from a legal standpoint the burden is on the accuser to show the proof. And there's absolutely no proof to show here. From a political standpoint it's easy to make the accusations but to follow through the accusations is going to be very difficult. I think that Tom's presence and his investigation report will definitely flash all these issues out very clearly. As for the the EU and NATO memberships and the legal standards and transparency of law – it's very clear that Bulgaria has no issues there.
- Tom Locke: The other thing that Mr Vassilev has to remember is that the FBI is the investigative arm of Department of Justice. And the Department of justice's lawyers will be reviewing this matter – not only will they look into the background of the allegations but they will also look back into the background of the individual making the allegations. They will be looking at the credibility of that person. So he has to be willing to withstand that scrutiny which will be pretty severe I think.