Supreme court justice gives political speeches abroad

Lozan Panov once again ran away from the judges’ college’s questions; his wife comments in his stead

Lozan Panov

The Chairperson of the Supreme Court of Cassation (SCC) Lozan Panov has been giving political speeches, in breach of the constitutional provision prohibiting such statements from members of the justice system, not only in Bulgaria but abroad too. This was revealed during a session of the judges’ college of the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC). At this meeting, the members of the college attempted, for a second time, to ascertain in conversation with Panov the reason why he is violating the country’s main set of laws and tarnishing the justice system’s image. Alas, just as the week before, he ran away from the questions again.

Tensions between the SJC and the head of the SCC escalated after Panov accused the entire justice system of essentially being crooked during an international forum held on 16 November by the grant-funded Bulgarian Judges Association. He also attacked the prosecutor general and talked about “protectionism” and dependencies, without providing a single evidence to support his words. In response, 10 of the 13 members of the judges’ college signed a letter addressed to him, posing concrete questions and insisting that he answer those at a college session in a spirit of dialogue. On 4 December the SJC judges made their second effort to get answers to their questions but as was the case the previous time Panov simply stood before them, said he had nothing to add and left the room. He also refused to face the journalists who were present in the SJC building to cover the meeting. Instead, he sent the head of his cabinet to explain to the media that no procedure had been initiated to include the questioning as item on the agenda.

“Is this how we are going to continue this topic? Issues regarding the justice system were raised at public events, irresponsible accusations were flung. Here seems to be the only place where the person responsible is reluctant to talk. The other day, at the Vienna conference Mr Panov once again said that the European Commission’s positive report on Bulgaria is a mistake. People there wondered, ‘Why are you bringing this up?’,” said the head of the SJC Boyan Magdalinchev, who attended the conference in question alongside Panov. “This is the body that is making decisions about the judges’ community. This is the place to discuss these matters. I see nothing wrong in talking. Why would you take a stance on these things at international forums and yet remain silent here? Mr Panov should talk,” Magdalinchev was adamant. None of the other judges spoke and since Panov, the person presiding over the session had left, the chairperson of the Supreme Administrative Court (SAC) Georgi Cholakov took on his responsibilities until the SCC head finally returned.

Following the meeting, Magdalinchev told the media that the college is not asking Panov to make his personal viewpoint clear but rather is insisting that he answer some questions, as his comments put a blemish on the entire justice system.

“At the international conference in Sofia he said that the justice system is not independent. He should be more concrete and say whether he is blaming us. The judges’ college is the administrative body responsible for governing the justice system as it pertains to judges. How can Mr Panov remark that ‘all judges in Bulgaria are dependent’ and then refuse to explain his words to the judges’ college, the body in charge of appointing, dismissing and taking disciplinary actions against judges,” said the SJC representative, adding that Panov should also clarify whether he himself is dependent or independent. Regarding the Vienna forum, Magdalinchev noted that he was supposed to take part in it as representative of the SJC and that he was chosen to act as such by the council’s plenary session. “Mr Panov showed up too, I have no idea how, perhaps he had a personal invitation from someone. There, he once again said that the European Commission should not end its monitoring of Bulgaria under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM), adding that the justice system in Bulgaria is dependent. He also said that the Prosecutor’s Office has a communist-type structure and that the prosecutor general continues to be left unchecked,” shared Magdalinchev. According to him, the moderator of the forum in Vienna felt the need to interrupt Panov’s wild musings. Asked what will be the judges’ college’s next step regarding the chairperson of the SCC, Magdalinchev said, “From what I saw, none of my colleagues took a stance on the matter. This way, he can easily continue to stay mum. I have to see what my colleagues think. If this inaction is taken to mean that we recant or initial stance then that would be it.”

As for the idea of starting an impeachment procedure against Panov on the basis of his political statements, something he is banned from doing by law, Magdalinchev explained, “We have not discussed such an option. We have not discussed this question at all.”

The behaviour exhibited by the SCC head actually emulates the way the failed justice minister Hristo Ivanov acted while still part of the executive branch of power. He, too, used to attend forums abroad to advocate for keeping the CVM monitoring on Bulgaria in place. The parallels that can be drawn between their actions and speeches are far from coincidental. The ARGO-gate records showed that the two are involved in the attempts at political engineering of Ivo Prokopiev, the indicted master puppeteer of the Capital circle. Hristo Ivanov even dubbed Panov’s significant other, Elisaveta, the Black Swan. Actually, while he is refusing to talk to his SJC colleagues, Panov once again used the Black Swan to talk in his stead. His spouse “shined” in an interview for the Bulgarian National Television, where she attacked Magdalinchev. Asked to comment the salvo, Magdalinchev noted that “it is not the place of a lady to get involved in such dynamics”.

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