Sofia Court of Appeals ruled on September 21 to overturn the sentences handed to five people on charges of money-laundering connected to the defrauding of 7.5 million euro from the EU pre-accession aid Sapard programme.
Mario Nikolov – the owner of meat processing firm Palmigrup, widely reported to have close connections with the Bulgarian Socialist Party, now in opposition – was handed the longest sentence at the trial that concluded in 2010, 10 years imprisonment. His spouse Mariana was sentenced to eight years in jail and three other people were sentenced to six years in jail. Each defendant was also fined 30 000 leva.
But judge Kalin Kalpakchiev, who was last week elected to serve on the next Supreme Judicial Council, said that it was impossible to prove the existence of an organised crime group as defined by the penal code.
Defence attorneys praised the ruling, while prosecutors declined to talk to reporters, website mediapool.bg said.
The lawsuit was one of the “benchmark cases” tracked by the European Commission to gauge Bulgaria’s efforts to fight high-level corruption. It was launched following an investigation by the EU’s anti-fraud office Olaf.
The defendants were accused of shipping old equipment to Germany and then buying it back as new, using Sapard funding. German citizens involved in the scheme were later sentences to jail terms by a German court.
In Bulgaria, the fraud case also resulted in effective jail sentences, but was sent back for re-trial because the presiding judge Georgi Kolev, then head of the Sofia City Court but now head of the Supreme Administrative Court, had issued a contradictory verdict full of mistaken facts and shallow conclusions, the Sofia Court of Appeals ruled last month.
The appellate court’s decision in the money-laundering case can be appealed at the Supreme Court of Cassation, whose verdict on the case will be final.
(Photo: Jason Morisson/sxc.hu)