The judges in the trial of Bulgaria’s former interior minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov, who stands accused of irregularities in regulating the use of covert surveillance, recused themselves on October 10 2013 because of allegations made in unconfirmed media reports earlier in the day.
In two Bulgarian-language publications, it was alleged that the chairperson of the panel of judges, Dimitrina Angelova, was in a close relationship with one of Tsvetanov’s counsel, Menko Menkov.
Tsvetanov, who denies wrongdoing, is being represented by Menkov and a German lawyer, Hans-Peter Uhl.
Prosecutors have pressed charges against Tsvetanov, interior minister and deputy prime minister in the centre-right GERB government from 2009 to 2013, of alleged failure to exercise oversight over the use of electronic surveillance by the Interior Ministry and also for allegedly refusing to authorise wire-tapping as part of a police investigation.
Tsvetanov is charged under article 285 of the Penal Code, which says that any official that deliberately allows a subordinate to commit a crime is equally culpable for that crime. In Tsvetanov’s case, that is failure to ensure that the officials in charge of wiretapping carried out their duties – namely creating the necessary guidelines for the use of surveillance equipment.
He is also charged under article 288 of Bulgaria’s Penal code, which says that any official “who fails to fulfil in due time the functions required by the office regarding the criminal proceedings, or in any other way frustrates such proceedings with the purpose of releasing another from a punishment due for him by a law shall be punished by imprisonment of one to six years.”
As the hearing on October 10 was to start, prosecutors pointed to the media reports and asked the bench to recuse itself.
Angelova rejected the reports in the newspapers as frivolous and unsubstantiated, but said that she would recuse herself because of the high public expectations around the case.
Speaking to reporters, Menkov alleged that there was a “symbiosis” between the prosecutors and the newspapers whose reports they had cited.
“This makes the judicial system a hostage of these interests and gives an opportunity to the Prosecutor’s Office to select a judge, something the law does not allow, because nobody can be certain that the same newspapers, that have no artistic and cultural value, will not publish something about the next judge.
“The goal of the Prosecutor’s Office is evident – not to proceed with the case against Mr. Tsvetanov, because the Prosecutor’s Office is certain it will fail,” Menkov said.
Tsvetanov told reporters, “for me and my lawyers, it does not matter who is on the bench, but we need a quick, fair and transparent trial. That is why we do not want the trial to be open the faintest shadow of doubt”.
(Photo of Tsvetanov: gerb.bg)