Canadian in Bulgarian prison ignored by Grits
It might not be death row drudgery in Montana or the leg-ironed lifestyle of an Afghanistan incarceration, but a dozen years in a Bulgarian prison is a cruel life sentence, especially for a former Canadian millionaire jailed on a questionable conviction. While the House of Commons erupts into daily howls of indignation at the plight of Taliban warriors claiming their shackles constitute torture or Ronald Smith’s plea to live out his death sentence in Canada, Michael Kapoustin has been rotting away in a 100-year-old prison in Sofia serving a 17-year sentence for defrauding his own company.
It’s a jaw-dropping story of a B.C. businessman who was arrested and extradited from Germany in 1996 to spend the next six years enduring torture and solitary confinement before he was convicted of stealing his own money (that was never found).
There are even hints that the RCMP may have helped secure his conviction in Bulgaria, where fair trials and humane imprisonment were in serious doubt in the mid-1990s, which gives the story an obvious Maher Arar aura.
All this went down without Canada noticing, at least until this week when, as my colleague Richard Foot has discovered, the Conservatives will ramp up the pressure on Bulgaria to send Kapoustin home.
The respected and effective Council of Europe will force a mediation process on Thursday that could pressure Bulgaria into finally sending Kapoustin back to a family he has only seen twice. Given the length of time he has served in prison for a relatively minor white-collar crime, it is expected he would immediately be freed.
Kapoustin’s fall from high flying capitalist to ruined man is a story so captivatingly bizarre that a Dallas sports columnist familiar with the family through Kapoustin’s father, NFL sports figure Bob Kap, wrote a book on his plight.
Author Gene Wilson tells of Kapoustin’s suffering in a cell shared with four other inmates where he was beaten, denied running water, fed tainted food and forced to endure horrific sanitation.
“It was an absolute horror story from start to finish. It’s incredibly frustrating to me and everyone I talk to that Canadian officials have not been able to free him,” Wilson says. “And yet Michael remains so upbeat and optimistic it amazes everyone.”
The more you study this silent saga, the more incredulous it becomes that Kapoustin’s story has never echoed in a Commons alive to the sound of politicians defending Afghan prisoners and convicted murderers.
But if the Liberals don’t raise a ruckus now, even while rising to fret over the global plight of others, there’s an explanation.
It turns out they consistently rejected opportunities to pressure the Bulgarians on Kapoustin’s behalf while they were in power. The only time it was raised by an MP was in the late 1990s by then-Reform MP Bob Mills, who had his concern shrugged off without an answer.
Toronto lawyer Dean Paroff, who took the case 18 months ago for nothing because he was so convinced an injustice had taken place, says the Liberals have shown “chronic ineptitude and indifference” to the plight of Canadians abroad.
“They washed their hands of this case at the worst possible time and it inflicted a tremendous devastation on the family. It was an abdication of their responsibility,” he says.
Only when Prime Minister Stephen Harper was contacted and a disgusted Secretary of State Jason Kenney flew over to check on Kapoustin personally in September 2006 was sufficient pressure applied to send it before European authorities.
How could this be allowed to happen? The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee describes that country’s prison system as one of severe overcrowding, lousy food and poor sanitation.
Now in a more modern prison, Kapoustin helps inmates learn computer skills and has been declared a model prisoner by the warden.
But he clearly spent far too long denied contact and concern from his home country.
“This is not a convicted double murderer,” says Kenney. “We’d simply like our transfer request to be taken seriously.”
If there’s any justice left in the sad case of Michael Kapoustin, it will manifest itself through his speedy transfer to the Canadian prison system, where he will hopefully spend mere minutes in a cell before he secures his freedom. After all, a dozen years in a Bulgarian prison is a life sentence to Canadians.