The European Commission has published its fifth progress reports for Bulgaria and Romania under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) for 2011. The reports monitor the progress of the two Member States on progress with judicial reform, the fight against corruption and, concerning Bulgaria, the fight against organized crime.
The report on Bulgaria notes that Bulgaria has strengthened the Supreme Judicial Council and improved rules for the appointment, professional training, appraisals and promotions of judges. Several organised crime and corruption cases have reached verdicts in court. At the same time, an increased number of indictments in cases related to organised crime and fraud with EU funds have been achieved. The report notes that the leadership of the Bulgarian judiciary has yet to show a real commitment to thorough judicial reform as slow progress is not just the result of shortcomings in judicial practice and in the Penal Code. Again and again the Commission points out that judicial appointments still lack the necessary level of transparency and credibility. The report also notes that there is a lack of consistent disciplinary practice in the judiciary. The Commission sees weaknesses in the collection of evidence, the protection of witnesses as well as in investigative strategies, comprehensive financial investigations and the securing of assets. The Commission recommends that coordination within the prosecution and between the prosecution and the police should be improved. The most important recommendation of the Commission is to establish proposals for a reform of the Supreme Judicial Council, the Supreme Cassation Prosecution Office and the Prosecution in general regarding structures, legal attributions, composition, appointments and internal organization.
The report on Romania points to the significant steps Romania took since the last annual report of July 2010. Romania improved judicial efficiency, re-established the legal basis of the National Integrity Agency, continued preparations for the implementation of the four new codes, launched preparations for a functional review of the judicial system and carried out an impact analysis of its anti-corruption policy. At the same time, the report also notes that consistency and results in a number of areas remain a challenge and that progress in the fight against corruption still needs to be pursued. The report concludes that Romania needs to take urgent action to accelerate high-level corruption trials and to prevent their prescription due to expiry of statute-barred periods. The fight against corruption should remain a top priority, with support from Parliament, and urgent measures should be taken to improve the recovery of proceeds of crime, the pursuit of money laundering and the protection against conflict of interest in the management of public funds.
Posted in Enlargement, Institutional Affairs, Justice and Internal Affairs
Tagged Bulgaria, Bulgarian Judiciary, Bulgarian Supreme Judicial Council, Cooperation and Verification Mechanism, Corruption, organized crime, police, prosecution, Romania
A lot can and should be said on the problems of the Bulgarian judiciary system. But the recent attacks by the Bulgarian government against the Bulgarian courts in particular may prove to be really harmful. The courts have a very important function in a legal system, and their debasement will not serve any just cause. The very notion of statehood may be compromised.
Stoyan Baltov is dead. He was beaten to death on this day, December 5th, 2008 in front of a disco club in Sofia.
His death prompted a series of protests that climaxed on January, 14th 2009. On this date police dispersed the protestеrs in front of the Bulgarian Parliament with brutal force.
Today the case against two of the murderers is still in the prosecution’s office (it was referred back by the court for further investigation). The other participants in the beating are not considered responsible for Baltov’s death.
There is no independent investigation of the legality of the Bulgarian police’s actions on January, 14th 2009, either.
What does this mean for young Bulgarians that would like to lead a normal, meaningful life in Bulgaria? It means that they are not protected. It means that it is better to rely rather on yourself than on the Bulgarian institutions. It means hopelessness.
Make no mistake about it – unless the murderers of Stoyan Baltov are punished, there will be no legitimacy for the Bulgarian state in the eyes of the young Bulgarians. Unless we prove that murderers get punished in this country, we will only encourage new murderers. Should the Bulgarian institutions remain silent in this case, many more will simply choose the way out of here.
Is that what we want?
Three members of the Bulgarian Supreme Judicial Council – Stoyko Stoev, Ivan Dimov and Plamen Stoilov, have been accused in corruption and trade in official posts in the Bulgarian judiciary system.
Members of the formers Bulgarian king Simeon’s party also seem involved in the case.
These are the facts. Now I would like to know – what is the remedy? How exactly are we supposed to fight corruption in the judiciary when no less than three members of the Supreme Judicial Council have been allegedly involved in wrongdoing?
To put this in perspective – the SJC consist of 25 members; most decisions are taken with simple majority. The SJC is responsible for all appointment and career development decisions in the Bulgarian judiciary system.
The Sofia City Prosecutor’s Office has declined to initiate a formal investigation against police officers for the severe suppression of the protest in front of the Bulgarian Parliament on 14 January 2009.
I could not disagree more with this conclusion. I was myself witness of cases of police brutality during that day in my attempt to protest peacefully. I wrote about the police brutality the same day (you can read a Google translation of my account). I was later not surprised to see that the Bulgarian Parliament declined to form an ad hoc commission to investigate events during that day.
Now the Prosecutor’s Office tells me I didn’t see what I saw; that I am not able to discern between necessary and unnecessary use of force. True, it is up to that institution to conduct a formal investigation of events; it is also up to the prosecutors to decide whether there are grounds for starting an investigation in the first place.
But this development given all the information that we have about the events is really cynical. It is also exonerating all the acts of police brutality during that day. It is delegitimizing the whole Bulgarian law enforcement system only to protect the political instigators of that brutality.
Strangely enough, this announcement comes just a few days after the Minister of Justice announced 57 measures to reform the judiciary in order to respond to the criticism of the European Commission and Member States about our justice system.
Make no mistake – until ALL crimes in this country are prosecuted, no matter WHO committed these crimes – we will not have achieved any meaningful reform of the judiciary.
The Bulgarian Ministry of Justice has announced a new action plan of 57 points aiming at a thorough reform of the Bulgarian judiciary system.
This is really good news. But it would be much, much better if the public were allowed to see that document, and if it was discussed with relevant stakeholders and NGOs before being sent to Brussels.
We do need transparency of policy making and policy implementation in order to produce sustainable results in this surmounting task – reforming the Bulgarian judiciary.
Bulgaria’s new Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov has sided with the five anti-mafia policemen, who were sentenced to 82 years in jail for allegedly killing 38-year-old Angel Dimitrov, saying they did not act deliberately. He also said that he wouldn’t allow the five policemen to go to jail if that depended on him.
Angel Dimitrov AKA Chorata, was allegedly killed in November of 2005 by the Blagoevgrad police during a law enforcement operation entitled “Respect.” Dimitrov’s death was first presented as a heart attack but expertise showed that he had died due to blows to the head.
It is very difficult to assess the case from my position. There is a lot of contradictory evidence material, and one cannot speculate without having seen the whole documentation. However, the statement of Mr. Tsvetanov may be interpreted as a sign of political influence on the Supreme Cassation Court, and that is a problem. Time and again reports by the European Commission have stated that Bulgarian criminal justice is “subject to influence and interference”. Mr. Tsetanov should refrain from such statements that may hamper all other sincere efforts to reform the Bulgarian judiciary system.
The European Commission has published its regular annual reports under the Co-operation and Verification Mechanism for Bulgaria and Romania.
The report for Bulgaria includes an assessment on meeting the indicative benchmarks for justice and home affairs since its last full report (23 July 2008). It also makes recommendations to Bulgaria based on this assessment.
The report says that there is “a change in attitude and a more open and frank dialogue at all levels with the Bulgarian authorities”.
In more specific points, the report finds that:
- The establishment of a permanent Joint Team for the Suppression of Offenses against the EU Financial System is an excellent initiative;
- Killings linked with organized crime continue and known criminals are not apprehended;
- Organizational overlaps continue in the new structure of the Ministry of Internal Affairs which has not yet led to increased effectiveness in the investigation of serious crime;
- Delays in criminal cases are largely caused by the extreme formality of the criminal procedure, a certain passivity of the bench and the seemingly limitless possibilities offered by the criminal procedure law to defendants to stall the proceedings;
- The Inspectorate to the Supreme Judicial Council has become fully operational and has achieved an encouraging track record in the investigation of disciplinary violations and of systemic weaknesses of judicial practice;
- There is a need for a more pro-active approach for fighting corruption in vulnerable areas and sectors such as health or education.
On the question of possible invocation of the safeguard clause, the Commission concludes that this is not necessary. According to the report:
“The kind of deep seated changes that are needed can only come from within Bulgarian society. The CVM is a support tool in this endeavour; it is not an end in itself nor can it replace commitment that Bulgarian authorities need to make in order to align the judicial system and practice with general EU standards.”
Posted in Bulgaria, Enlargement, Institutional Affairs, Justice and Internal Affairs
Tagged Bulgaria, Bulgarian Judiciary, Bulgarian Supreme Judicial Council, Cooperation and Verification Mechanism, Corruption, indicative benchmarks, organized crime, recommendations, regular report, Romania, safeguard clause
Two events have further shaken my confidence in the Bulgarian judiciary system.
First, the case for the murder of Bulgarian student Stoyan Baltov was referred yesterday by the Sofia City Court back to the prosecution for further investigation because the rights of the defendants have been “breached”. One of the suspected killers, Vili Georgiev, was freed from jail and put under house arrest.
Stoyan Baltov was beaten to death in front of a disco club in December 2008. The students’ protests in January 2009 against this deplorable murder were brutally dispersed by police force. I happened to participate in the protests and my account of the events is available here.
In another move, the Bulgarian Supreme Judicial Council has given excellent marks for the professional attestation of Nelly Batanova – the judge that acquitted the murderers of Martin Borilski. Martin Borilski was a Bulgarian student in Paris who was killed there in 2001. The French authorities carried out an investigation and provided all materials to the Bulgarian prosecution.
However, two courts in Bulgaria consecutively found the murderers not guilty, including the court chamber under the presidency of Mrs. Batanova. Now the Paris Appellate Court has ordered a new trial to begin in France against the same suspects.
I fail to understand these developments.
Franz-Hermann Brüner, director general of OLAF, said during the presentation of the annual report of the anti-fraud office that “Some criminals are still dancing around us and the Bulgarian government, and I don’t like it.”
According to him, Bulgarian courts are the weakest link in the judiciary. He believes that political pressure on the judiciary system must be relieved.