Sofia City Court sentenced Violeta Nikolova, the former head of Bulgaria’s Registry Agency who was fired in February 2012, to five years’ imprisonment on charges of embezzling 53 000 leva between July and December 2011.
The court’s sentence on October 17 came as a surprise, as prosecutors had only asked for a suspended sentence, not an effective one, public broadcaster Bulgarian National Television reported.
Nikolova was dismissed during a public row about government officials granting themselves exorbitant bonuses at a time when the Cabinet was pushing for belt-tightening. As was reported at the time, Nikolova had taken 72 000 leva (about 36 000 euro) in bonuses last year, of which 48 000 she authorised herself.
The charges stem from that fact – in addition to the bonuses to herself, she also authorised a total 5000 leva in bonuses to three other people. Prosecutors said that Nikolova overstepped her authority in handing out the bonuses, breaching specific provisions in the regulations governing the issue of bonuses to Registry Agency employees.
Nikolova had extended the row, which had already become high-profile with the sacking of National Health Insurance Fund head Neli Nesheva a few days earlier, by refusing to provide any information on bonuses paid at the agency by citing personal data protection.
The Justice Ministry also said at the time that the agency was under-performing, a charge that Nikolova vehemently denied at the time. But, according to then-justice minister Diana Kovacheva, the Registry Agency’s failure to introduce an online system allowing companies from EU member states to be included in Bulgaria’s commercial register prompted an infringement procedure by the European Commission.
The EC ended the infringement procedure in September 2012, after the agency put new software in place allowing European companies to register in Bulgaria without having to send a representative to the agency’s office in Sofia.
(Photo: Jason Morisson/sxc.hu)