January 20, 2009 / 7:12 AM / 12 years ago

Bulgaria rejects Egyptian extradition bid: lawyers

ZURICH (Reuters) - A Bulgarian court has rejected an Egyptian request for the extradition of a Lebanese man sentenced to 15 years imprisonment on charges of helping an antiquities thief smuggle artefacts, the man’s lawyers said on Monday.

The Egyptian government said last week that the Lebanese man, Ali Aboutaam, had been arrested in Bulgaria in connection with the charges, which led to his conviction in absentia by an Egyptian court in 2004.

But Aboutaam’s Swiss-based lawyers, in a statement sent to Reuters on Monday, said that Aboutaam was free in Switzerland.

“Mr Ali Aboutaam is now in Switzerland and is completely free in his movements,” said the statement from Geneva law firm Woodtli Levy Pardo and Brutsch.

“Bulgaria purely and simply refused to take up the extradition request, considering in substance that the Egyptian conviction targeting my client was illegitimate,” it added.

The law firm also sent translations into English of Bulgarian court papers which appeared to show that a court in Sofia lifted a travel ban on Aboutaam on January 5.

One of the papers said the Sofia City Court’s decision to deny Egypt’s extradition request was “final and conclusive”.

Egyptian authorities were not immediately available to comment.

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