Sofia City Court ruled on April 15 to find Rossen Zhelyazkov, the former Council of Ministers chief secretary, not guilty on charges of criminal misconduct in connection with a large consignment of ballot papers found at a printing house in Kostinbrod just ahead of Bulgaria’s May 2013 parliamentary elections.
On May 12 2013, two days before Bulgaria was due to hold early elections, prosecutors raided the printing house in the town of Kostinbrod, which printed the ballot papers for the election, and found 350 000 allegedly illegal ballot papers.
The raid led to a media and political storm the day before the national parliamentary elections, with the focus on the printing house owner’s ties to Boiko Borissov’s GERB party, while GERB’s political opponents claimed that the extra ballots were meant to be used in an attempt to defraud the elections.
The episode became known as the “Kostinbrod affair” and polarised public opinion, with some observers going as far as to claim that it was engineered to boost the electoral odds of the parties in opposition to GERB. (The election produced a hung Parliament with a narrow ruling majority for the socialists and Movement for Rights and Freedoms, which unravelled 14 months later, leading to snap polls in October 2014).
Prosecutors alleged that Zhelyazkov failed to fulfil his professional duties when he allegedly failed to exercise proper control over the implementation of a contract between the Cabinet office and the Multiprint company for the printing and supply of 8 343 000 ballot papers. It was alleged that he failed to ensure strict control over the printed ballot papers, the disposal of waste and strict accountability regarding valid ballot papers.
The lawsuit against Zhelyazkov began in June 2014, following a delay after the court returned the bill of indictment to prosecutors, asking them to clarify some of the accusations.
Prosecutors asked that Zhelyazkov was handed a two-year suspended sentence. The ruling can be appealed within a 14-day period, the court said.
(Update: On May 7, Bulgarian National Radio reported, quoting the prosecutor’s office, that Zhelyazkov’s acquittal would not be appealed.)
(Photo: Jason Morisson/sxc.hu)