Bulgaria’s specialised court found the former mayor of Sofia’s Mladost district Dessislava Ivancheva guilty on April 15 on charges of soliciting a bribe and sentenced her to a jail term of 20 years.
The verdict comes a year after Ivancheva was arrested in the centre of Sofia in a highly public sting operation and is one of the heaviest sentences handed in a corruption trial in the country in recent years.
Ivancheva was also fined 10 000 leva and handed a 10-year ban from holding public office, while her former deputy Bilyana Petrova was given a sentence of 15 years imprisonment and a 15 000 leva fine.
A third defendant, Petko Dyulgerov, whom prosecutors identified as an intermediary in the bribery attempt and a key witness, was sentenced to 12 years in jail and a fine of 12 000 leva.
During a recent court hearing, Dyulgerov recanted his earlier testimony, saying that his confession of acting as an intermediary for Ivancheva and Petrova was made under pressure from prosecutors and with only a public defender present.
The sentence can be appealed within 15 days. All three are also subject to asset forfeiture.
Ivancheva was elected mayor of Mladost, one of Sofia’s more populous boroughs, in November 2016 after taking a lead role in several protests against over-development in the district, already home to numerous high-rise residential buildings.
In the case brought against her, prosecutors said that Ivancheva sought a bribe of 500 000 euro for four construction permits, blocking all other property developments. Ivancheva and Petrova both denied the charges.
Besides being one of the most high-profile corruption trials to result in a conviction, which has been a rarity in Bulgarian court proceedings in recent years, Ivancheva and Petrova frequently made headlines over the past year for the poor quality of the facility where they were held under arrest.
Attempts to move them to house arrest were repeatedly resisted by the prosecutor’s office and the court, prompting media critical of the government to accuse the court of making an example of Ivancheva and Petrova and to put pressure on the defendants.
(Screengrab of Ivancheva in handcuffs following her arrest on April 17 2018, from Bulgarian National Television.)