Bulgarian court holds CCB embezzlement trial first hearing at fourth attempt

Bulgaria’s special criminal court was finally able to start proceedings in the trial related to the collapse of the Corporate Commercial Bank (CCB) at the fourth attempt on February 27, despite the absence of the main defendant, former CCB majority shareholder and chief executive Tsvetan Vassilev.

Presiding judge Virginia Petrova ruled that Vassilev had been properly notified of the charges against him and of the prospect of being tried in absentia. Vassilev’s lawyers argued that the trial should not proceed as long as their client continues to fight extradition from Serbia, but the judge ruled that the former banker had the option to turn himself in and be present at the proceedings.

Vassilev’s absence and questions about whether he had been properly subpoenaed to appear in court was one of the reasons three earlier attempts to begin the trial had failed. Previously, Vassilev refused to accept the bill of indictment, but last month he was presented with the charges against him by Serbian authorities, whom Bulgarian prosecutors had asked for assistance.

CCB, Bulgaria’s fourth-largest lender by assets at the time, asked to be put under special supervision of the Bulgarian National Bank (BNB) on June 20 2014, following a bank run. An audit several month later found that the bank held mainly impaired assets, requiring a write-down of 4.22 billion leva (about 2.16 billion euro), which led to CCB losing its banking licence in November 2014 and triggered the payout of 3.7 billion leva in depositor claims, which required a government loan of more than two billion leva for the state deposit guarantee fund to meet all claims.

In July 2017, the country’s prosecutor’s office said that it concluded its investigation into the events preceding the bank’s collapse and indicted 18 individuals as part of the investigation, starting with Vassilev.

Vassilev claims that the investigation against him is politically motivated and blamed the events that led to CCB’s insolvency on his former business associate Delyan Peevski, the controversial MP for the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF).

Beyond Vassilev, a number of former senior officials at the lender have been accused of being part of the organised crime group that Vassilev is alleged to have led and spearheaded. Some of them, but not all, are also facing embezzlement charges. Two auditors from KPMG Bulgaria are also facing embezzlement charges, while three former employees of the central bank – including former deputy governors in charge of bank supervision Tsvetan Gounev and Roumen Simeonov ­– have been indicted on charges of mismanagement.

Vassilev was indicted on a total of 146 counts. He and the other defendants are alleged to have embezzled a total 2.56 billion leva (about 1.31 billion euro), as well as 205.9 million leva in cash.

The prosecutor’s office statement said that its full bill of indictment and the evidence submitted to the court spanned more than 210 000 pages in 1360 volumes, including the results of questioning more than 400 witnesses and 90 forensic reports.

(For full coverage of the CCB situation from The Sofia Globe, click here. Logo and corporate motto of Corporate Commercial Bank – “our clients are dear to us” – from a CCB advert. Screengrab from corpbank.bg)



The Sofia Globe staff

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