The landmark trial on the collapse of the Corporate Commercial Bank (CCB) in Bulgaria, in which defence attorneys had already used several stalling tactics to delay proceedings, saw a new one employed at the hearing on May 9 – a demand to hear the bill of indictment read in court.
A legal requirement that prosecutors and the defence can agree to waive, as indeed they routinely do, in this case the reading of the indictment could delay witnesses taking the stand by months, given the size of the document, which is reportedly more than 11 000 pages long.
Even the operative part of the indictment, which lists in detail the charges against the 18 defendants in this case – the section that presiding judge Virginia Petrova ordered to be read – runs in excess of 5000 pages.
Bulgarian National Radio (BNR) estimated that it would take 160 hours to read the section in full, or 20 eight-hour hearings. Given that Bulgarian courts seldom schedule trial hearings in back-to-back days, it would take months to finish the process, with BNR quoting unofficial forecasts that the first witnesses would take the stand in late October.
Ivan Geshev, the head of the specialised prosecutor’s office, who is also the lead prosecutor on the case, said that the prosecution was prepared to read the bill in full. BNR reported that all the members of the specialised prosecutor’s office had been “mobilised” and would take turns reading the indictment to speed up proceedings.
The presiding judge Petrova also caused a stir asking all the defendants, their lawyers and prosecutors to stand for the reading of the indictment, which she described as “one of the most solemn parts of a trial”. She relented after the defence attorneys argued that it would cause unnecessary physical strain for everyone involved.
Bulgaria has a long history of stalling tactics that can cause trials to last years on end – defendants who are suddenly very ill or changes in legal representation being just two examples of frequently-used ploys.
The excessive length of the indictment in this case is due to the numerous charges brought against the 18 defendants.
Tsvetan Vassilev, the bank’s former majority shareholder and chief executive, alone was indicted on 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, from the lender before it asked to be put under special supervision of the Bulgarian National Bank (BNB) on June 20 2014, following a bank run.
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, who is currently in Serbia, where he is fighting against extradition to Bulgaria, 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).
(For full coverage of the CCB situation from The Sofia Globe, click here. Photo: the full bill of indictment, made public by Bulgaria’s prosecutor’s office when it filed the lawsuit in July 2017.)