Bulgaria’s prosecutor’s office said on December 2 that it indicted former judge Roumyana Chenalova on charges of malfeasance in office and document fraud in a case dating to July 2013.
In that lawsuit, an electricity trading company sued state-owned electric utility NEK claiming damages worth 6.46 million leva, or about 3.3 million euro. Chenalova, who was a judge in the commercial litigation college of the Sofia City Court at the time and assigned the case, failed to exercise her duties by ensuring that the claim was admissible in court, the prosecution’s statement said.
The claim should not have been allowed to stand because the plaintiff failed to pay the requisite state litigation fee, which in this case was 258 400 leva, but Chenalova allowed the case to proceed despite that fact, also impounding NEK assets worth 6.46 million leva, the prosecutors said.
When the electricity trading company increased its damages claim several months later, by 4.39 million leva, Chenalova once again failed to ensure that the state litigation fee of 175 700 leva was paid. Furthermore, in 2014, Chenalova engaged in document fraud by stating in a court protocol that she was presented with proof of payment of the state litigation fees.
Chenalova’s actions have “seriously undermined the already insignificant public trust in the judiciary”, the prosecutors said.
In recent years, Chenalova’s name has surfaced repeatedly in media controversies, although it was another case that first brought her to public attention in December 2014, when the French ambassador in Sofia at the time, Xavier Lapeyre de Cabanes, spoke about a bankruptcy case handled by Chenalova – which involved two French-owned firms, Belvedere Bulgaria and Domaine Menada – in a TV interview.
At the time, Chenalova denied the accusations that she case was mis-handled, but recused herself to avoid doubts about the impartiality of the court. The Supreme Judiciary Council (SJC) opened further disciplinary proceedings against Chenalova, including for repeated delays in issuing the legal reasoning for her rulings (reportedly, this happened in more than 50 cases) and she was suspended in January 2015. She was later sacked as a judge by the SJC in November 2015.
Since then, Chenalova has repeatedly made headlines in another ongoing controversy, dubbed “Yaneva-gate” by Bulgarian media, in which wiretaps were leaked over a period of weeks in November and December 2015.
The conversations, allegedly between the former head of the Sofia City Court Vladimira Yaneva and Chenalova, implied a degree of collusion between key officials in the judiciary and executive branches, but there has been little push to investigate the substance of the various claims made in the recordings, with the SJC and prosecutor’s office inquests focusing instead on their source.
(Palace of Justice in Sofia. Photo: Clive Leviev-Sawyer)