Former Sydney schoolboy John Zahariev, 21, and his lawyer in Bulgaria.
Former Sydney schoolboy John Zahariev, 21, and his lawyer in Bulgaria.

Accused Aussie terrorist in Bulgaria asks for Govt help

A FORMER Sydney schoolboy on trial in Bulgaria has called on Australia to help him, after indications he will be sentenced next month on terrorism charges.

Dual Australian-Bulgarian citizen John Zahariev, 21, appeared in the Special Criminal Court in the capital Sofia to face allegations he trained as a terrorist with the intention of fighting for jihadist group Islamic State.

Mr Zahariev sought to introduce evidence from his social media accounts including emails, Facebook Messenger posts and files showing he did not support Islam, and had in fact engaged in anti-Islamic conversations.

But judge Bilyana Vrancheva declined to accept the evidence.

Australian-Bulgarian John Zakhariev, left, and Australian Jock Palfreeman appear in court in the Bulgarian city of Sofia.
Australian-Bulgarian John Zakhariev, left, and Australian Jock Palfreeman appear in court in the Bulgarian city of Sofia.

A disappointed Mr Zahariev lashed out afterwards, saying he now believed he was destined to spend the next eight years in jail.

He accused ASIO of "selling'' him to Bulgarian authorities, and said that unlike the support offered to another Australian, convicted murderer Jock Palfreeman, he had not received significant consular support.

"I would ask our government to aid me, perhaps when I am sentenced, to send me back there so even if I am in prison there I can actually do things to pass the time,'' he said.

"I would make this appeal to the Australian Government to actually do something to aid me and I think they have a moral obligation to do so considering it was ASIO that actually sold me to Bulgaria in the first place.''

FORMER Sydney schoolboy John Zahariev, 21, has appeared in a court in Bulgaria on terrorism charges.
FORMER Sydney schoolboy John Zahariev, 21, has appeared in a court in Bulgaria on terrorism charges.

Judge Vrancheva told the prosecution and defence to prepare their final speeches before June 5.

"I think it shows what kind of a justice system there is in this country,'' Mr Zahariev said in a courtroom interview.

"The prosecutor last year denied I had any anti-Islamic (material) ... the experts actually found it today but the court is refusing to have another expert examine it and draw his conclusion.''

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said Mr Zahariev was receiving consular assistance, but there's a limit to what the government can do to help.

"We can provide some consular assistance but the law is the law and it is up to the legal system of the country you are visiting," Mr Turnbull said.

Mr Zahariev converted to Islam after leaving Waverley College in Sydney, but says he later converted back to Christianity, and made anti-Islamic social media posts on August and September last year which prove he was not supportive of jihad.

"We also asked the court to get access to some Facebook accounts which I believe will prove my innocence but the court has said it is not necessary because everything that has been covered, has been covered, and we don't need to look at anything else.

"Once again I think it shows what sort of justice system it is in this country and what sort of trial I am facing.

"I think I'll definitely be facing a guilty verdict, now how many years I'm going to get I don't know.''

Asked if he was a terrorist, Mr Zahariev replied: "Absolutely not.''

"What kind of a terrorist am I? When they raided my apartment they found absolutely nothing, just religious material which even a previous expert said was normal religious material.

"The prosecution claimed it was jihadist material, the court-appointed expert also refuted that.

"You know the way the Bulgarian prison system is designed, it's not designed to rehabilitate people.

"They lock us up for 22 hours a day without giving us much to pass the time and this is in stark contrast to the prison system in Australia where everything's focused on rehabilitation so you don't reoffend when you're released.

Mr Zahariev said he occasionally saw fellow Australian Palfreeman in prison but there cases were very different.

"I have consular visits once every three months or four months just to check I am alive and doing well but as happened in the case of Jock Palfreeman the consulate actually came to all his court appearances,'' he said, adding that by contrast, the Australian consulate hadn't been to any of his cases.

Said he was "absolutely'' very angry.

"No one from ASIO or AFP has come to see me, I think probably they're just embarrassed it's them that actually put me in this predicament in the first place.

Mr Zahariev, also known an Ivan Zakhariev, has been in custody in Sofia Central Prison since September 20 when Bulgarian authorities swooped on him following a tip-off from Australian authorities.

Despite the sentence hearing being listed, no formal finding of guilt has been made against him.

There is no jury in the matter, which turns heavily on the use of surveillance tapes recorded by authorities.

The formal charges have not been published but authorities have alleged Mr Zahariev visited several shooting ranges in Bulgaria to teach himself how to shoot on instructions from jihadists.

The fact he once visited Syria has also been raised in evidence, as has his support for fundamentalist Islamist teachings - which he has since renounced - on social media.

Mr Zahariev's Bulgarian lawyer Hristo Botev said he expected a sentence to be handed down on June 5 and he was "not very hopeful.''

Mr Botev has previously said Mr Zahariev returned to Bulgaria last year to help his father, Svetlomir Zahariev, who was aged in his 80s, settle into retirement.

Mr Zahariev had been supporting his son through the court appearances, but died earlier this year while his mother, who is based in Australia, is undergoing treatment for cancer.

Mr Zahariev attended Waverley College in Sydney's eastern suburbs, converted to Islam in his teens, and came to the attention of authorities through his involvement with the Street Dawah Islamic preaching group in western Sydney.

Mr Botev said his client went to Syria on humanitarian work in 2013 but left after a week after discovering it was "cruel'' on both sides, and the propaganda was wrong.

He has also said his client has converted back to Christianity in August last year.

News Corp Australia

Police Association welcomes court's not guilty ruling

Premium Content Police Association welcomes court's not guilty ruling

Union said “flawed prosecution” should bring watchdog into question

‘Desperate situation’ facing aged care workers

Premium Content ‘Desperate situation’ facing aged care workers

Northern Rivers aged care supporters protest against low staffing ratios and a lack...

Magnificent 7: Warriors reveal new signings to play

Premium Content Magnificent 7: Warriors reveal new signings to play

New Zealand Warriors coach Nathan Brown confirmed all seven new signings will play...