Extradition hearing postponed for former Centerra Gold CEO detained in Bulgaria

A hearing to determine whether to extradite former Centerra Gold CEO Leonard Homeniuk to Kyrgyzstan has been postponed to give that country more time to submit evidence, his wife said Thursday.

TORONTO — A hearing to determine whether to extradite former Centerra Gold CEO Leonard Homeniuk to Kyrgyzstan has been postponed to give that country more time to submit evidence, his wife said Thursday.

Marina Stephens said her husband was ordered by a judge to return to house arrest in Sofia, Bulgaria, where he has been held for much of the last month after being arrested on an Interpol warrant on July 27 during a family vacation.

An extract of an Interpol red notice posted online says Homeniuk is wanted by Kyrgyzstan on charges of involvement in corruption.

Homeniuk plans to appeal his house arrest, she said, because the Kyrgyz government has yet to show any evidence of the alleged corruption.

“It’s not his fault that the Kyrgyz didn’t provide any substance for their allegations,” she said Thursday after the extradition hearing.

Homeniuk has spent most of his time living with her in a rented apartment in Sofia, she said, though he has also spent time in prison.

Both have suffered health problems because of the stress, she said, and Homeniuk isn’t allowed to leave to see a doctor.

“Every day that he’s confined is a form of torture,” she said. “Not physical torture, but mental one for sure.”

Stephens said Homeniuk has travelled to many different countries around the world without problems since the warrant was issued.

The Embassy of the Kyrgyz Republic to the United States and Canada, based in Washington, did not return a message Thursday seeking comment.

Homeniuk was Centerra Gold’s first CEO in 2004 after the company was spun off from Saskatchewan-based uranium miner Cameco Corp. to manage the Kumtor gold mine project in Kyrgyzstan.

“If you take what the Kyrgyz are arguing, then any company that enters into any government contract with an emerging country stands a chance to be accused of conspiring to do a bad deal by the next government,” Stephens said.

Kyrgyzstan and Centerra Gold have sparred over the ownership and revenue of the Kumtor project for years as the mine is a key piece of the Kyrgyz economy.

The country has seen two violent regime changes — in 2005 and 2010 — since the original deal for the project was signed, and successive governments have tried to renegotiate the terms of the agreement to get a bigger share of revenues from the Kumtor project.

Stephens said the case could serve as a warning for other private companies looking to invest in emerging economies.

“I look at it sort of like Len is a prisoner not of war but of an economic war,” she said.

Centerra Gold spokesman John Pearson has said the allegations relate to Homeniuk’s dealings with Kyrgyz officials in 2003 and 2004. But Pearson said there were no illegal transactions and Kyrgyzstan has not provided the company with evidence to support the accusations.

Homeniuk is a dual citizen of Canada and the U.S., and Stephens said the consulates from both countries have been supportive and helpful.

Stephens said the next hearing in the extradition case is scheduled for Sept. 16.

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