Bulgarian Prosecution Office – Apocalypse Now

Екип на Биволъ

Bulgarian Chief Prosecutor, Boris Velchev, has painted an apocalyptic picture of the state of the prosecution services in the country at a meeting with American Ambassador, John Beyrle, held soon after Velchev’s election to the post. This has been revealed in a cable written by Beyrle, dated February 7, 2006, and leaked by Wikileaks [06SOFIA198].

The prosecutor’s office under the leadership of Velchev’s predecessor, Nikola Vilchev, was described by the new Chief Prosecutor as “some kind of terrorist organization” used to settle political and business scores, but totally incapable of fighting crime.

Empty files and hostile deputies, who did not even want to talk to him, is what Velchev stumbled upon at the prosecution services. He had described his priority of cleansing the institution from corrupt prosecutors as “some kind of a war”.

Velchev’s “war,” however, has implications beyond the borders of Bulgaria – it must lead to effective guilty verdicts of organized crime bosses, one of the top requirements of the EU, monitoring Bulgaria before its accession to the Union.

Facing the outrageous failure of Bulgarian prosecutors and law enforcement to collect sound evidence against the leaders of organized crime, the Chief Prosecutor declares, according to Bayrle, his equally outrageous plan to seek “a contract with the Courts.” Ambassador Beyrle explains this means appealing to judges to sentence criminal bosses “based on evidence that otherwise might not pass muster“.

Bayrly adds, that according to the Chief Prosecutor (head of the institution supposed to monitor the rule of law), such an arrangement “would be justified against the country’s 20-30 highest-ranking criminals, in whose cases adherence to “strict legal principles will be counterproductive.”

Velchev had also shared that Interior Minister Petkov had already enlisted his support in deploying this strategy in the high-profile prosecution of the Marinov Brothers (The Marguins) for attempted murders linked to organized crime.

Chief Prosecutor Boris Velchev told Bivol that he did not remember the conversation with Beyrle and cannot comment on something reported by others, but, most likely, the Ambassador misunderstood what he meant to say. The Chief Prosecutor pointed out it was impossible for him to have said such thing, because it contradicts his principles and there is no judge in Bulgaria who would agree to issue such verdicts.

From another cable, preceding Velchev’s visit to Washington DC [06SOFIA926] we learn that behind the apparent good relations between Velchev and Petkov, there was also completion. In private conversations with Beyrle, they pointed the finger at each other regarding the failure in the fight against organized crime and its extension – political corruption. Velchev even hinted about ties between Petkov and organized crime figures, complained about corruption at the Interior Ministry, and the lack of will on the part of the Ministry to share information.

Rumen Petkov also applied the “contract strategy,” not with judges but rather directly with “operationally interesting individuals.” According to one version, during the notorious meeting with the Galevi Brothers at the Spartak swimming complex, a temporary armistice with the underworld had been discussed, in order to not pose obstacles to the process of Bulgaria’s EU accession. In essence, these activities of the Minister, over which he was forced to resign, are also bending of the “strict legal principles,” which mandate the authorities to collect sound evidence for criminal activities and give them to the Prosecutor’s Office.

Velchev was one of the good guys.

The Chief Prosecutor was obviously favored by the US in the beginning of his term. In addition to the already quoted cable about Velchev’s visit to the US in July, 2006, this is further evident from a report, sent in 2007, [07SOFIA364], where Beyrle praises him and gives an account for his success in the internal “war”: 12 fired and 10 probed prosecutors from Filchev’s army.

On the external front, however, these successes are more modest. Only one case against a politician has entered the Court (against Kuzov on charges of pedophilia). “The files are empty,” Velchev lamented once again to Beyrle, who notes that his predecessor Filchev, most likely, had emptied them.

One year later, it is the Ambassador McEldowney’s turn to head the complaints office at the Embassy. In a conversation held on September 12, 2008 [08SOFIA620] Velchev blames the Interior Ministry, now led by Michail Mikov, for the poor results in the fight against organized crime. Velchev defines the Ministry as “broken, corrupted and incapable of progress” and tells the Ambassador he learned with bitterness that the Interior cannot provide him with any data about the criminal activities of the 14 top criminal figures. This forced him to turn to the State Agency for National Security (DANS) and in the future to seek evidence from FBI and European partners on whose grounds to press charges against the criminal lords.

Nancy McEldowney, however, does not seem to be such an enthusiastic supporter of the brave, in his statements, Chief Prosecutor. She notes that “he appears to be an honest man struggling under very difficult circumstances” but also shares that many European Embassies have already given up on Velchev and complain that he says what they want to hear, but is incapable of turning his words into actions.

Thierry Cretin, Director of Directorate A (Operations and Investigations I) in OLAF, the anti-fraud office of the European Commission, is under the same impression. In a conversation with the Ambassador [08SOFIA631] he voices doubts about Velchev’s capacity to do the job of investigating abuse of EU funds, and criticizes the judicial system, which is built so that the prosecutors are able to conceal the guilt of the defendants by breaking the cases into smaller ones, and hiding the evidence connections among them. This formal method is used “only by those wishing to escape responsibility.”

Businessman Vasil Bozhkov, aka The Skull, is noted as the main OLAF target – “extremely wealthy and influential businessman, with known OC ties and links to many high-level politicians.” Cretin believes that if ”Bulgaria brings down Bozhkov, that would be progress”.

To bring Bozhkov down, however, there is a need of, at least, a probe and charges pressed by the Prosecutor’s Office. A legal case against the businessman, close to President Parvanov and politicians from the National Movement for Stability and Prosperity party, is yet to materialize.

Cretin criticizes Velchev for the appointment of “an extremely unhelpful” prosecutor as liaison with OLAF. Prosecutor, Stefka Krastanova, had been so uncooperative that Cretin’s subordinates called her “the snake.”

Bivol’s comment:

Prosecutor’s Office under Velchev: from “terrorist organization” to “terrarium”?

The successful cleansing of the “terrorist organization” at the central level under Velchev is confirmed by Embassy reports. But for the Bulgarian public the numerous prosecutors’ scandals and dependencies that came to the forefront in the last several years still blame the prosecutor office.

Helas, the prosecution’s “sneaks” do not bite so venomously the OC leaders and this is demonstrated by the large number of high-profile legal cases which go down the drain, not so much over the lack of evidence but over inept prosecutors.

Velchev’s term is already nearing its end, but the Bulgarian prosecution services remain an ineffective, set in stone, hierarchical structure with a Soviet style. The statistics speak volumes – while in Bulgaria (a population of 7,5 million) 1 600 prosecutors press charges in about 52 000 cases a year, in the Netherlands with a population of 16 million and 750 prosecutors, the cases entering court are 400 000.

The results, actually, cannot be different if the Bayrle report is true and if the initial intentions of the Chief Prosecutor aimed not at radical reforms to make the system faster, more effective and independent from political and economic pressure, but at pulling wool over the public’s eyes through agreements with the court and opportunistic violations of the rule of law.

Today, the full failure of Velchev’s strategy is evident. The emblematic case against the Marinov Brothers (Marguins) ended with a not-guilty verdict at two instances. The Galevi Brothers were also exonerated of the charges. From all 20-30 criminal bosses, pedantically put in a “herbarium” by Ambassador Pardew in his notorious cable about organized crime from 2005, today only Petar Petrov aka “Amigos” stands sentenced on charges of money laundering.

And if, luckily for the state of law, guilty verdicts not based on sound evidence are not that numerous, the Bulgarian society became a witness of outrageous not-guilty verdicts against high-ranking politicians and their protégés when there was sound evidence. For this reason, even current US Ambassador James Warlick, defined Bulgarian justice as double-faced – one for common people and making others “untouchable.”

But Warlick and his predecessors, Beyrle and McEldowney alike, certainly understand that to bend “strict legal principles” could not lead to anything better.

***

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