Bulgarian Constitutional Court ceremony thrown into disarray as President leaves mid-way – updated

Bulgarian President Rossen Plevneliev handed legal experts a quandary on November 15, when he left the ceremony to swear in new Constitutional Court judges before controversial appointee Veneta Markovska, accused of corruption and conflict of interest, could take her oath.

After three nominees took the oath, Plevneliev interrupted proceedings to make a brief statement. Re-iterating his earlier criticism of Markovska’s appointment and his earlier calls for her to step down, Plevneliev said that new information from prosecutors only strengthened his doubts about Markovska’s ethics.

Reading his prepared remarks, Plevneliev said that he could not attend the swearing in of a judge who still had question marks about her reputation and moral qualities. Doing so would put into disrepute the Constitutional Court itself, which he would not allow, he said.

“It is my duty to prevent the Constitutional Court being held hostage of personal interests,” he said. Plevneliev wished the other three appointees good luck in their new jobs, then left without making any further statements and paying no attention to the pandemonium that erupted in the room packed to rafters by media.

A visibly taken back Markovska asked whether she could take the oath and was told she could not. She said she did not intend to withdraw, but declined to make any statements after that.

By law, Constitutional Court judges have to be sworn in with the President and Speaker of Parliament in attendance – without Plevneliev, the ceremony had to be cut short.

Some legal experts have said in recent days that there is no legal avenue for Markovska to step down after her appointment has been confirmed by Parliament, other than taking the oath and then resigning from the court. To further complicate matters, appointees have to take the oath within a week after their confirmation.

Another opinion is that Markovska could ask Parliament, in writing, to repeal her appointment. Then Parliament will have to start the nominating process anew, since the two losing nominees in the previous round did not get sufficient votes on Parliamentary floor to be appointed.

Markovska resigned her position as deputy chairperson of the Supreme Administrative Court on November 14 – by law, Constitutional Court appointees must resign all other positions before taking the oath. The Supreme Judicial Council accepted her resignation on November 15, less than an hour before she was due to be sworn in – but it is only due to take effect after she took the oath.

All signs pointed towards Markovska planning to take the oath, even though she had previously asked for a delay in order to clear her name. Plevneliev also repeatedly asked Markovska to do so before being sworn in.

Markovska has been accused of exercising pressure to have two police officers fired for arresting a business partner of her son in 2010 (the police officers were later re-instated). As a judge in the SAC, she is also alleged to have heard cases in which one of the sides was represented by a lawyer who is a close family friend and with whom she jointly owns property.

Parliament’s legal affairs committee refused to consider the matter when it was brought up during Markovska’s confirmation hearing, qualifying the allegations as anonymous mudslinging – drawing, in the process, the ire of the European Commission, which said that the affair cast doubts on the professionalism of the candidate and threatening to issue a Co-operation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) report before the one currently scheduled for the end of 2013.

(When Bulgaria and Romania joined the EU in January 2007, their inadequacies in fighting organised crime and corruption and in reforming the judiciary led to the two newcomer countries being subjected to the Co-operation and Verification Mechanism to bring them up to the bloc’s standards in this area.)

In addition to Plevneliev, Prime Minister Boiko Borissov and Justice Minister Diana Kovacheva have asked Markovska to step down.

The three appointees that were sworn in as Constitutional Court judges on November 15 are SAC judge Georgi Angelov (elected by high court judges), former chief prosecutor Boris Velchev (appointed by Plevneliev) and former Deputy Parliament Speaker Anastas Anastassov (elected by Parliament).

(Bulgarian President Rossen Plevneliev. Photo: president.bg)



Alex Bivol

Alex Bivol is the Deputy Editor-in-Chief of The Sofia Globe.