Court decision to release Palfreeman prompts political storm in Bulgaria
The decision by the Court of Appeals in Sofia to overturn a lower court’s refusal of parole to Australian murder convict Jock Palfreeman unleashed a storm of comments from political leaders and the family of the victim.
Palfreeman, accused of stabbing student Andrei Monov to death in central Sofia during a December 2007 incident the facts of which remain disputed, pleaded not guilty at his trial but in December 2009 was found guilty by Sofia City Court and sentenced to 20 years. Appeals to higher-instance courts saw the verdict and sentence confirmed.
On September 19 2019, it was announced that the Court of Appeals in the Bulgarian capital city had opened the way for Palfreeman’s release, in a ruling not subject to further appeal.
On September 20, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borissov was one of the few not willing to make a direct comment on the appeal court’s ruling.
“I am the prime minister and I cannot comment on a decision in a Bulgarian court. I’ve never done that. We all know the answer as it is, but I cannot afford to say it,” Borissov told journalists in Parliament.
Kornelia Ninova, leader of the opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party, described the early release of Palfreeman as a “mockery and a shame”.
“It is a mockery of the victims, their families, the grief of these people, the sense of justice and retribution. A mockery, a shame, an ugly decision by the Bulgarian court,” Ninova said.
The United Patriots, the ultra-nationalist grouping that is the minority partner in government, expressed surprise at the appeal court’s decision.
The deputy head of the group, Milen Mihov, cited a conclusion from prison authorities a year ago, claiming that Palfreeman had sought to evade justice in Bulgaria and had not rehabilitated himself while serving his sentence.
“The whole community, I think, regards this verdict as unjust. We will read the court’s reasons. They may have some bureaucratic reason, but the truth is elsewhere. I would not like to comment further, but there is a statement by Palfreeman about the quality of the Bulgarian judicial system. I wonder if this decision is a proof or rebuttal of this statement,” Mihov said.
Krassimir Tsipov, of Borissov’s GERB party, called on Kalin Kalpakchiev, head of the Bulgarian Judges Association, to explain his reasons well.
“It is very interesting whether the Union of Judges, chaired by the Honorable Judge Kalpakchiev, will pronounce on such a decision, as public reactions are clear, people are outraged and the family of the murdered boy awaits an answer to what the reasons were. Given that Jock Palfreeman himself stated at the sentencing that the Bulgarian court was corrupt. What will Mr Kalpakchiev say about these statements by Palfreeman?” Tsipov asked.
Hristo Monov, the father of Andrei Monov and a former BSP MP, said that through the court, the Bulgarian state had made a mockery of Bulgarian citizens.
“The three judges – this Kalpakchiev and the two judges – will carry a moral disgrace on their own,” Hristo Monov said. “You see that the biggest problem in this country is the judicial system, and that’s not the prosecution, but the court,” he told Darik Radio.
He said that he wanted to hear the judges’ motives for their decision.
“I invite them to meet, in front of the media and the whole society, to tell me why. Because I am not a fan of the concept of (nominee Prosecutor-General) Ivan Geshev, but it is to his credit that he is open to the media. And this Kalpakchiev is silent,” Hristo Monov said. “He should stand up and explain.”
On September 20, public broadcaster Bulgarian National Television said that Palfreeman might not be released in spite of the ruling by the Court of Appeals.
BNT said that Palfreeman did not have a valid passport and had not renewed his identity document.
The report said that for this reason, the prison authorities likely would have to transfer the Australian to the Migration Directorate at the Ministry of Interior, for him to be placed in one of the special facilities for migrants unlawfully in the country.
Nova Televizia reported Palfreeman’s lawyer Karin Angelov as saying that the court had agreed to the release of Palfreeman because he had met the criteria for serving 12 years to qualify for parole.
“The motives are very long and detailed. I look forward to them being uploaded to the court’s website so that I don’t retell them,” Angelov said.
Australian media reported Palfreeman’s father Simon as being “thrilled” by the Court of Appeal’s decision and looking forward to being reunited with his son. During the years of Palfreeman’s imprisonment, there has been a campaign for his release, backed by some Australian celebrities and activist groups. Palfreeman, who founded the Bulgarian Prisoners Rights Association, repeatedly spoke of abuses in prison, of himself and others.