The European Court of Human Rights said on January 31 that it was awarding damages to Bulgaria’s former Labour and Social Policy Emilia Maslarova in her case against the state, finding that her rights to presumption of innocence and to an effective remedy had been violated.
Maslarova was a member of Sergei Stanishev’s 2005/09 tripartite coalition government, and after leaving office, was charged with embezzlement. In December 2015, after a five-year trial, the Sofia City Court acquitted her.
Her case in the European Court of Human Rights arose from a complaint about a failure to respect her right to be presumed innocent, on account of remarks by “certain political and judicial figures”, and relayed in the press, in connection with the charges of embezzlement against her, the court said.
“The Court found in particular that remarks made by the spokesperson for the Prosecutor-General’s office – during a press conference about the proceedings in question – and those of a Member of Parliament who was also deputy chair of the ad hoc parliamentary commission of inquiry into the expenditure of the previous government, had breached Ms Maslarova’s right to be presumed innocent as they had gone beyond the mere conveying of information,” the European court said in its announcement of its judgment.
“The Court also found that no effective domestic remedy had been available to Ms Maslarova.”
The European court dismissed complaints about comments attributed to the Prime Minister (Boiko Borissov) and about a request for the suspending of parliamentary immunity sent by the Prosecutor-General to the National Assembly through official channels, “finding that they were manifestly ill-founded”.
This was a reference to, in February 2010, Borissov having been reported to have said that he was convinced that the charges against Maslarova would be made out because things were clear.
“As to the Prime Minister’s remarks, Ms Maslarova referred to an article published in the daily newspaper 24 Hours about the criminal proceedings against her. The Court noted that the sentence complained of had been written in the form of reported speech and thus reflected the interpretation by the author of the article of the remarks attributed to the Prime Minister. Consequently, the Court took the view that it was not established that the remarks attributed by the author to the Prime Minister had actually been expressed by him. This complaint was thus manifestly ill-founded.”
Regarding the statements by the spokesperson for the Prosecutor-General’s office, “the spokesperson’s remarks had gone beyond mere information because they unequivocally indicated that Ms Maslarova had been responsible for the embezzlement of public funds, which consisted in the awarding of public procurement contracts to the firm of one of her friends,” the European court said.
The court found that the remarks by the spokesperson and by an MP had breached Maslarova’s right to be presumed innocent. On the question of effective remedy, the court found that none of the remedies suggested by the Bulgarian government constituted a domestic remedy that was sufficiently effective in the present case.
The European court ruled that Bulgaria must pay Maslarova 5000 euro in respect of non-pecuniary damage and 3000 euro in costs and expenses.
(Photo, of the ECHR: CherryX, and of Maslarova: eu2008.si)