Businessman Mario Nikolov
The Sofia City Court has handed down a 12-year prison term to Bulgarian businessman Mario Nikolov on charges of embezzlement and illegal appropriation of about 7.5 million euro from the Sapard programme, Bulgarian media reported on June 30 2010.
This latest sentence follows a 10-year sentence handed down to Nikolov at the end of March by Sofia City Court on a separate indictment of money laundering. In March he had also been convicted of organising a criminal group and fined 30 000 leva. It is understood that Nikolov will not have to serve the two sentences cumulatively - in what would have amounted to a 22-year sentence - but will instead serve the longer sentence of 12 years for the second indictment.
His wife, Mariana Nikolova, on trial with Nikolov, was originally sentenced to eight years in the March ruling.
Nikolov is also banned from applying for EU subsidies for three years, reports said.
In March, Nikolov's business partner, Lyudmil Stoikov, was acquitted on all charges, while four other defendants in the case were each sentenced to six years. Those convicted will also have to pay a fine of 30 000 leva each.
The case, popularly known as the Nikolov-Stoikov case, was based on an investigation that the European Anti-fraud Office (Olaf) started in 2006.
In July 2008, a report on Bulgaria's deficient handling of European Union funds, conducted by Olaf, said that it suspected that millions of euro had been embezzled by "a criminal network made up of more than 50 Bulgarian, European and offshore companies, controlled and/or financed by Mario Nikolov and Lyudmil Stoikov, suspected of having close ties to the current Government".
On October 20 2008, the court gave the green light to a case filed by the State Fund Agriculture against Nikolov and eight other defendants, including his wife, while Stoikov was cleared due to insufficient evidence. They were accused of tax fraud aimed at embezzling EU funds under the EU Sapard programme managed by the fund.
In the alleged scheme, the Nikolov-Stoykov group exported old meat processing equipment from Bulgaria to Germany, where the equipment was dismantled and then imported back to Bulgaria via Switzerland and Ireland, declared as brand new equipment.
For the "purchase" of this "brand-new" equipment, the Nikolov group had received Sapard funding. The Fund lodged court action against Nikolov and his co-defendants for a total of 17.8 million leva. In response to the fund's claim, Nikolov's lawyers filed a counter-claim for 26 million leva.