Sofia Echo

Bulgaria

The politics of crime

Author: Clive Leviev-Sawyer Date: Fri, Jul 15 2011 1996 Views
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The drama may be said to have started with Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov saying that the next high-profile anti-crime operations would be named after the judges who had allowed criminals back on to the streets.

The thought was reminiscent of the days that his current boss, Prime Minister Boiko Borissov, would – when while Borissov was Interior Ministry chief secretary, yet another well-publicised bust had ended with criminals walking free from court – complain, "we catch them and the courts let them out". Borissov has kept up the refrain, but Tsvetanov’s threat was seized with vehemence by various critics.

First out of the gate was the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, which called for Tsvetanov to resign and said it would request the "intervention" of European Justice Commissioners Viviane Reding if he did not.

"The threats issued by Tsvetanov against judges with regard to their future rulings on concrete cases, namely to use their names as stigmata, are an act of primitive violence against the judiciary whose independence is instrumental to the existence of the state," the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee said.

It was the first droplet in a flood tide that would within subsequent days see minority parties seeking support for a motion of no confidence in the Government, with Tsvetanov as the bogeyman.
 
Assets? 
Tsvetanov, deputy leader of ruling party GERB and also its campaign headquarters chief for the October 2011 presidential and municipal elections, had to share with his party colleagues the unwelcome spectacle of the Justice Ministry’s bill on confiscation of assets gained through crime defeated at the first round in Parliament.

The bill was defeated mainly because the ruling party neglected to ensure that it had enough MPs in the House for the first reading vote. However, the debate itself gave critics of the bill another chance to attack its principle that would allow confiscation of assets even before a court had handed down a conviction.

One of them, Maya Manolova of the socialist Coalition for Bulgaria, told the July 8 debate: "God help any Bulgarian citizen who is not supportive of the Government, who is an opponent or owns property that seems appetising to the authorities".

United States ambassador James Warlick expressed great disappointment at Parliament not approving the bill, saying that non-conviction based asset forfeiture was an important tool in the fight against organised crime and corruption and was used in countries such as the US, United Kingdom, Italy, Australia and Ireland.

"The bill that was before the Parliament was approved by the Venice Commission as effective and fully consistent with democratic norms.  Failure to pass this legislation is a serious setback," Warlick said, adding: "We hope that in the next session of Parliament the Government will seek again to pass this bill in its current form."

But President Georgi Purvanov, a long-standing critic of the current Government, said that the legislation had been "poor quality" and Parliament had been correct to reject it.
 
Court saga
Meanwhile, the same day, the Supreme Bar Council weighed in against Tsvetanov, saying that from the very start of the Government’s term, he had behaved in a way that "grossly violated" the constitution and Bulgarian law. The council said that Tsvetanov publicly denigrated independent Bulgarian courts, eroded confidence in the system, created an atmosphere of hatred for the institution of the judiciary and exerted pressure on the courts to issue rulings favourable to the police.

These attacks slightly took the gloss of matters as there appeared to be revived efforts in cases that have been cause celebres in Bulgaria in recent years.

On July 7, according to a report by Bulgarian news agency BTA, the Supreme Cassation Prosecution Office granted a request by the prosecuting magistracy to resume the investigation into Krassimir Marinov, aka The Big Marguin. Five months after it suspended an investigation into allegations that Marguin headed a crime group distributing illegal drugs, the Sofia City Prosecutor’s Office asked to reopen the investigation. Prosecutors said that new evidence had become available which was said to be confidential. BTA quoted informed sources as saying that an anonymous witness had given evidence.

A day earlier, the Sofia Appellate Court had overturned the not guilty verdicts in an earlier trial of Doupnitsa-based businessmen Plamen Galev and Angel Hristov, known as "the Galev Brothers," sentencing them to seven and five years' imprisonment, respectively. Plamen Galev was found guilty of leading a criminal group engaging in racketeering and extortion in Doupnitsa. His "brother" Angel Hristov was in the group, as were also Georgi Gradevski, to whom the Sofia Appellate Court gave a one-year conditional sentence with a five-year probation period, Vladimir Angelov and Apostol Chakalov, who were sentenced to four years 'imprisonment each, and Georgi Blatski, who got three-and-a-half-years’ jail.

But for all these apparent successes, it was clear that something was awry in making progress with the court system. Not only has implementation of the controversial plan for a Special Criminal Court to try serious organised crime cases been postponed until the beginning of 2012, but also the system appeared to have trouble making senior appointments.

Rossen Roussev, the sole candidate to head the Special Criminal Court of Appeal, withdrew his nomination.

That the Supreme Court of Cassations and other major courts did not launch nomination procedures for members of the Supreme Judicial Council caused Prosecutor-General Boris Velchev to say that he doubted that the hold-ups were caused by procedural and technical issues, but rather by what he called "some kind of mistrust".
 
No confidence 
By July 13, the process of gathering support for the latest motion of no confidence – in what has become a regular occurrence unlikely to be unconnected to the fact that this is an election year – was underway.

Bulgarian Socialist Party leader Sergei Stanishev said that the motion would be based on what he called the failure of the Government’s security policy. No minority party supported Tsvetanov and this was good reason for them to unite against the Government, Stanishev said.

The Movement for Rights and Freedoms, formerly a partner of the socialists in the 2005/09 tripartite coalition government, said it was ready to support a motion of no confidence, over the failure of the Government’s internal security and public order policy, the indefinite postponement of Bulgaria's entry into the Schengen area, the use of police-state methods and the violation of fundamental human rights.

On the right, the Union of Democratic Forces (UDF) and the Democrats for a Strong Bulgaria (DSB) – the constituent parties of the Blue Coalition – said that they would support the motion. UDF leader Martin Dimitrov said that his party already had withdrawn its support from Tsvetanov, who he said should not combine the roles of Deputy Prime Minister, Interior Ministry and GERB campaign chief.

GERB deputy floor leader Valentin Nikolov poured scorn on the idea of the motion, saying that the opposition was seeking to attack an area where the Government was strongest. The Government’s security sector policies were clear and successful and any earlier kinks had been ironed out. The minority parties were debasing the mechanism of the no confidence motion, and by so doing, also debasing themselves, Nikolov said.

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