Canada

Canadian released from Bulgarian jail still needs to pay 'ransom': lawyer

A Canadian businessman who has spent more than 12 years in a Bulgarian prison was released from custody Thursday but is not being allowed to leave the country until he pays what his Toronto lawyer calls "ransom money."

A Canadian businessman who has spent more than 12 years in a Bulgarian prison was released from custody Thursday but is not being allowed to leave the country until he pays what his Toronto lawyer calls "ransom money."

Michael Kapoustin, whose wife and child live in Penticton, B.C., had been serving a 17-year prison sentence in Sofia for fraud and embezzlement involving investments in pharmaceuticals and oil refineries in the country. Kapoustin has said he's not guilty.

His Toronto-based lawyer, Dean Peroff, said Kapoustin was set free Thursday but the Bulgarian government won't let him leave the country until he pays what was described as a "civil debt" of between $17,000 and $30,000.

"We are in negotiations for his ultimate freedom," Peroff told CBCNews.ca. "He has to pay what he calls a 'bogus payment.' We fear for his freedom and his life as we did before [he was freed] today.

"He is completely feeling under duress, because he can't get home to his family unless he negotiates this ransom money," Peroff said.

But Peroff remained uncertain whether his client would soon be out of the country.

"This is a totally illogical and irrational government that we're dealing with," he said. "This is an arbitrary country that has no rule of law and you are always subject to the whims of the authorities."

A Canadian government source told CBCNews.ca that the government is "working closely with Kapoustin's Bulgarian-based attorney to bring him home this weekend to be reunited with his family and we will be providing him with an emergency passport."

Kapoustin was born in Yugoslavia but grew up in Toronto and Vancouver after his family immigrated to Canada in the 1950s.

In an interview last year with CBC News, Kapoustin's wife, Tracy, said the family moved to Bulgaria in the early 1990s after decades of Communist rule ended, and Kapoustin set up several businesses. They eventually ran into trouble with local officials and organized criminals, and the family started to receive death threats, she said.

Family believed he'd receive short sentence

Kapoustin was eventually arrested in 1996 in Germany and extradited to Bulgaria. After lengthy court proceedings, he was convicted in 2002 of embezzlement and sentenced to 17 years in prison.

While awaiting trial, he was held for two years in solitary confinement, where he was beaten with rubber hoses by guards in black masks, his wife has alleged.

His wife said she persuaded Kapoustin to plead guilty to embezzlement, because Canadian officials were under the belief he would receive a short sentence and could be transferred to a prison in Canada under an extradition treaty, but he was sentenced to 17 years behind bars.

The Conservative government took a hand in the case in 2006 and has repeatedly asked the Bulgarians to transfer Kapoustin to a Canadian prison for the balance of his sentence.

Late last year, Prime Minister Stephen Harper appointed Secretary of State for Multiculturalism Jason Kenney to oversee the file. Kenney has had a number of high-level meetings with Bulgarian officials since then. Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day, who is the MP for Okanagan Coquihalla, which includes Penticton, has also taken an interest in the case.

Kapoustin's lawyers and family have also alleged he was arrested in Bulgaria after the RCMP passed false information about him to authorities in Sofia.