Serving judges and prosecutors from five European Union states are coming to Bulgaria to look into the reasons for delays and failures to secure convictions in some of the country’s most high-profile organised crime and corruption cases, Justice Minister Diana Kovacheva said.
Bulgaria joined the EU in January 2007, along with Romania, but both countries remain the subjects of a European Commission Co-operation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) to bring their judicial systems up to the bloc’s standards.
Bulgaria has managed to initiate a number of high-profile corruption and organised crime cases, but many of these have been subject to prolonged delays, have ended without convictions or sentences have been reduced at the final appeal stage.
The European Commission has issued regular reports on the performances of Bulgaria and Romania under the CVM and is due to issue an overall report on the two countries’ track records over the past five years.
Speaking on July 9 after a special meeting of the Supreme Judicial Council, Kovacheva – who became Minister of Justice in autumn 2011 after her predecessor in Bulgaria’s centre-right government was elected the country’s Vice President – said that experts from Germany, France, the Netherlands, Spain and Italy would inspect the work done on cases that were high-profile and of high public interest.
These included the cases involving the “Galevi Brothers” – Angel Hristov and Plamen Galev, who are not actually related – who are the subject of local and international arrest warrants after disappearing in May 2012 on the day they were sentenced to jail by the supreme appellate court on organised crime, racketeering and extortion charges.
Another case that the EU countries’ magistrates will check involves the former head of the State Fund Agriculture, Assen Droumev, who in February 2011 was acquitted on all charges related to abuse of EU funds and of embezzling 48 million leva (about 24 million euro). The acquittal by the Supreme Court of Cassation overturned his conviction the previous year and the four-year jail sentence that Droumev had been given.
Also being investigated are the cases of the Margin brothers – Krassimir and Nikolai Marinov (who unlike the Galevi actually are brothers), whose court saga has been going on for more than seven years, the Mario Nikolov trial – involving alleged defrauding of about seven million euro Sapard funds, a trial also frequently postponed – and the “Sofiiski Imoti” case.
The European experts will analyse the reasons for the delays in these cases. Kovacheva said that the investigation would continue until September, and at that point those conducting the reviews would make recommendations as to how to deal with such cases more expeditiously. She said that this was a matter of organisational and legislative measures.
Apart from the group of foreign judges, experts from the Council of Europe will come to Bulgaria to advise on the development of the new Penal Code. It is expected that, together with the European experts, a methodology will be devised to assess the caseload of the judiciary.
The work of the experts and the conclusions in the five-year report by the European Commission on the progress made by Bulgaria – to be released in the middle of next week – will open the way to conduct a thorough analysis in the autumn of the monitoring mechanism, Kovacheva said.
She said that at this stage, the mechanism had a positive effect, because in recent years Bulgaria had changed considerably. However, consideration had to be given whether the mechanism should continue, given that next year, there would be overall monitoring of the EU’s fight against corruption.
As of 2013, a monitoring proposed by EU Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmström on countering corruption in all EU member states is to be introduced.
(Photo: Jason Morrison/sxc.hu)