Meeting Australian diplomats to discuss the Jock Palfreeman case, Bulgarian Foreign Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva said that the Bulgarian justice system is absolutely independent and the executive cannot interfere in its decisions.
A Bulgarian Foreign Ministry statement said that Zaharieva called on the Australian side not to politicise the Palfreeman case and to await the Bulgarian court ruling.
Australian chargé d’ affaires Jon Philp has been holding a series of talks with various Bulgarian officials, including the Prosecutor-General and the Minister of Justice, on the case of Palfreeman, who was paroled after serving 11 years of a 20-year prison sentence for the December 2007 murder of student Andrei Monov.
Palfreeman is being held in the Busmantsi detention centre for foreigners. Prosecutor-General Sotir Tsatsarov has lodged an application in the Supreme Court of Cassation for a review and suspension of Palfreeman’s parole. The court said on October 7 that it would hand down a ruling within two months.
The Foreign Ministry statement said that Zaharieva had “briefly” joined a meeting between Deputy Foreign Minister Petko Doikov and Philp.
Zaharieva emphasised to the Australian diplomat that this was a consular case. “Let’s not allow this case to interfere with our bilateral relations,” she said.
There is no political pressure on the Palfreeman case in Bulgaria, the Foreign Ministry statement quoted Zaharieva as saying.
Zaharieva expressed the understanding that the case is socially sensitive and that Bulgarian society has the right to express its opinion and comment, provided that this is in accordance with the constitution of Bulgaria and hate speech is not used.
“We are convinced that the rule of law is respected in Bulgaria and that justice is independent,” the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry statement quoted Philp as saying.
Doikov and Philp discussed bilateral relations with Australia, as well as co-operation within the framework of Australia-EU relations.
“We have very good dialogue between the two countries, and there are positive trends in co-operation in the trade and economic sphere, where there is great potential for development,” Doikov said.
He reaffirmed Bulgaria’s interest in concluding a social agreement and noted the importance the country attaches to the large Bulgarian community in Australia – about 20 000 people.
Bulgaria’s bilateral trade with Australia grew in 2018, up 116 per cent on an annual basis, reaching close to $100 million, the Foreign Ministry statement said.
Bulgaria also welcomes the start of negotiations for an EU Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with Australia, which Bulgaria had made a major start to during the 2018 EU Council Presidency, the statement said.