Sofia court dismisses lawsuit against controversial former judge
Sofia City Court ruled on February 3 to dismiss the lawsuit brought against former judge Roumyana Chenalova, whom the prosecutor’s office had indicted 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. The prosecutor’s office alleged that 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 claim should not have been allowed to stand because the plaintiff failed to pay the requisite state litigation fee, the prosecutors said in December 2016. The prosecutors also claimed that Chenalova engaged in document fraud by stating in a court protocol that she was presented with proof of payment of the state litigation fees.
But the court ruled that prosecutors failed to present proof that Chenalova’s actions fell outside her immunity from prosecution. Under Bulgarian law, magistrates cannot be prosecuted for their actions in office, only for crimes of a general nature, specialist judiciary news website Legalworld.bg reported.
Even without her immunity, Chenalova would likely have been acquitted on those charges because prosecutors did not present proof of malicious intent for her actions, presiding judge Vera Chochkova said in her ruling, as quoted by Legalworld.bg.
The ruling to dismiss the case can be appealed in the Sofia Court of Appeals.
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)