Bulgaria’s Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) ruled on May 15 to suspend two senior judges indicted in an EU funds embezzlement investigation – the head of the Sofia Court of Appeals Vesselin Pengezov and Petko Petkov, head of the Military Court of Appeals.
The vote was preceded by some debate in the SJC, during which several members of the council argued that a suspension was not mandatory, because the allegations against the two judges were not linked to their judicial practice.
Pengezov was indicted last month on charges of malfeasance in office (for allegedly bypassing public procurement regulations), embezzlement and document fraud. He is alleged to have assisted Petkov in embezzling the funds from a project to develop an integrated IT system for the Bulgarian military courts, funded under European Union’s operational programme for administrative capacity.
The prosecutor’s office did not specify the exact amounts, but media reports put the figure at an estimated 181 000 leva.
The project was awarded funding in 2008, when Pengezov was head of the Military Court of Appeals. He was elected chairperson of the Sofia Court of Appeals in 2009 and was succeeded at the military court by Petkov, who oversaw the final stages of the project’s implementation.
Last week, prosecutors also pressed charges against Maria Divizieva, now chief of staff to Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski, who was deputy public administration minister at the time and ex officio in charge of the EU operational programme for administrative capacity in 2008/09.
She is accused of assisting Pengezov and Petkov with advice how to perpetrate document fraud and, allegedly, promised to render additional assistance and remove any further obstacles.
(Vesselin Pengezov. Screengrab via Bulgarian National Television.)