Stara Zagora District Court has sentenced Yordan Lechkov, the former mayor of Sliven and one-time football hero, to two years imprisonment on charges of overstepping his authority and influence peddling.
Lechkov was accused of signing an unfavourable deal for the upgrade of Sliven’s sewerage network that cost the town hall 1.24 million leva, as well as attempting to intimidate a local official of the National Revenue Agency into halting tax reviews at two Sliven companies. He was also banned from holding mayoral office for a period of three years.
After the verdict was read on January 14, Lechkov told broadcaster Nova Televiziya: “I will appeal the ruling. I deny all charges, this is a political hit.”
This is the first effective sentence handed to Lechkov, the target of several lawsuits on various corruption charges.
Last year, he was handed three year and two-and-a-half year suspended sentences in two cases that charged him with overstepping his authority and abuse of power. In a separate case, the Sliven District Court found him not guilty on charges of abuse of authority for terminating a public procurement contract and handing it to another company.
In yet another case, last year the Supreme Court of Cassation ruled that it found no evidence that Lechkov solicited a bribe – made as a donation to the local football club where Lechkov is the president – in exchange for promising to authorise a land swop and issue a infrastructure construction permit.
Lechkov, who became a national hero in football-mad Bulgaria after scoring the winning goal that knocked out defending world champions Germany at the 1994 World Cup, returned to his native Sliven after ending his football career, taking over the local football club where he served – briefly, in 2002 and 2003 – as player, coach and president (he remains president of FC Sliven to this day and was elected vice-president of the Bulgarian Football Union in 2005).
He also went into property development and was elected mayor of Sliven in 2003, winning re-election in 2007. His public approval began to wane during the second term as allegations began to surface that he used the position to hand out public contracts to firms indirectly owned by himself or close associates.
As more lawsuits against Lechkov were filed – most of them heard in neighbouring districts because Sliven judges would routinely recuse themselves – his re-election odds appeared low and he decided not to stand for a third term in 2011, although he was still elected to the town council on the ticket of Bulgaria’s ruling party, GERB.
(Photo: Biser Todorov/Wikimedia)