Bulgarian judges in Strasbourg incriminated in conflict of interest

French report shows that magistrates affiliated with Prokopiev work for Soros too

Two Bulgarian judges of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg have been incriminated by a French legal NGO in lack of independence and involvement in cases brought against Bulgaria, which constitutes conflict of interest. The conclusions are part of an in-depth study prepared by the European Centre for Law and Justice (see here). It is entitled NGOs and the Judges of the ECHR 2009-2019 and was presented just days ago in Strasbourg.

The report clearly shows that the country’s two representatives in the ECHR – Zdravka Kalaydjieva, who finished her term there in 2014, and Yonko Grozev, who has been with the court since 2015, are part of billionaire George Soros’s network for applying pressure on EU Member States. The public in Bulgaria has known for years that both Kalaydjieva and Grozev are in the close circle of indicted oligarch Ivo Prokopiev. This report is the latest proof of the ties between the Capital circle and the speculator of Hungarian origin George Soros.

The authors of the report, Gregor Puppinck and Delphine Loiseau, have discovered numerous examples of serious conflict of interest and an unprecedented level of influence of Soros’s network of NGOs in the work of the ECHR, whose rulings are legally binding for the relevant national authorities. And while a debated about possibly not adhering to ECHR rulings in the future is currently raging in France, Bulgarians are not even aware that Zdravka Kalaydjieva and Yonko Grozev are among the starkest examples of the forces that have undermined the ECHR’s work.

Bulgaria is mentioned 30 times in the 25-page document, which examines the work of the Strasbourg-based court between 2009 and 2019. In that period, the judges representing Bulgaria are Zdravka Kalaydjieva (until 2014) and Yonko Grozev (since 2015). ECHR judges serve nine-year terms. The authors from the ECLJ went back and looked at the career resume of all judges, their past as activists in NGOs and how that background has affected their work in the ECHR, more specifically in ruling on cases.

They reached the conclusion that from the procedures for nomination to the appointment, which is handled by national authorities, and the confirmation by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) and then the judges’ subsequent performance – there is solid evidence that some of the judges were in conflict of interest and influenced by NGO actions. This is especially notable in the cases of Kalaydjieva and Grozev.

The authors of the report highlight how big of an influence judges’ professional past has had on their work in the ECHR, more precisely on specific judgements. As it turns out, 51 out of 100 judges over the past 10 years were not magistrates prior to joining the ECHR. A total of 22 have come from NGOs tied to Soros, with Kalaydjieva and Grozev among those names. Most of these judges used to be lawyers for NGOs, who, after gaining experience arguing cases before the ECHR, were then sent to Strasbourg as judges thanks to Soros’s networks of influence.

The document also reveals facts that have been public knowledge in Bulgaria for some time – that Yonko Grozev, together with Krasimir Kanev, co-founded the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (Grozev was its member from 1993 until 2013), while Zdravka Kalaydjieva started the Bulgarian Lawyers for Human Rights Foundation, which is linked to the committee.

“Most of the judges who were salaried employees or officials of NGOs come from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Latvia and Romania. For example, in Albania, a poor and highly corrupted country, two of the three candidates for the judge election in 2018 were leaders of the Open Society Foundation (OSF). One of them was elected. … Likewise, the last two judges elected in respect of Latvia are collaborators of the Riga Law School, founded by the Soros Foundation of Latvia. The two latest Bulgarian judges also come from NGOs supported by the OSF. In such small countries, the OSF and its foundations have become inescapable for anyone involved in social and media matters. They are major employers and funders. The OSF currently spends more than 90 million euros per year in Europe, mainly in Eastern Europe and the Balkans,” the report reads.

The document notes several times that Kalaydjieva and Grozev have ties to the Open Society Foundation-Sofia, which is funded by George Soros.

The analysis also sheds light on two problem areas in the ECHR’s work. The first one concerns the fact that six out of seven judges with links to Soros’s Helsinki committee across Europe have heard cases in which these NGOs either appeared in the proceedings or took informal action – 12 such cases for Zdravka Kalaydjieva and six cases for Yonko Grozev. Regarding the second problem area, Yonko Grozev is among eight (out of a total of 12) judges who both had ties to Soros’s Open Society Foundation and ruled on cases that involved the organisation as part of the proceedings or as a concerned third party. The ECLJ underscores that organisations such as Open Society, which are especially active in ECHR cases, have been major donors of NGOs across Europe since 1984. One of the examples given is the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee receiving $460,000 in funding in 2016.

Bulgarian representatives in the ECHR also lead the way in conflict of interest. Figures show that of the 313 recusals for the examined 10-year period 66 concerned Bulgarian judges, which is one fifth of the cases. A total of 53 times Zdravka Kalaydjieva was recused, while her successor Yonko Grozev – 13 times.

The ECLJ report offers a series of recommendations, including reforming the mechanisms through which national governments choose judges and then PACE confirms their appointments; introducing mandatory disclosure of potential conflict of interest and improving transparency in the ECHR.

The ECLJ believes that it should be the responsibility of judges incriminated in violating basic rules for avoiding conflict of interest to request that the governments of their own countries replace them. The report ends with a quote from France’s Compendium of the Judiciary’s Ethical Obligations: “Members of the judiciary must ask to be removed or withdraw if it appears that they have a connection with a party, their counsel, an expert or any interest in the proceedings that may cast legitimate doubt on their impartiality in handling a dispute.”

In Strasbourg Grozev for sure doesn’t cater for Bulgaria’s national interests but rather for the interests of juridical and economic circles he is linked to. He proved it himself when he showed up in Bulgaria in 2019 in order to push through – together with the representatives of PACE – lobbyist legal amendments aimed at limiting the independence of the prosecution and making the judges more “untouchable”. PACE even threatened the government that Bulgaria will be qualified as a country that does not comply with the supremacy of law requirements. This is the reason why the cabinet proposed an amendment, according to which an independent prosecutor may investigate the prosecutor general. Currently such a case is considered by constitutional judges.

Formally, curbing the legal authority of No.1 prosecutor should be executed as part of the ECHR decision on the well-known “the Kolevs vs Bulgaria” case which established that there are no effective mechanisms in Bulgaria to investigate the top prosecutor. And, while Grozev and Zdravka Kalayidjieva (who is especially active in this respect) insist on stripping the prosecutor general of his legal authorities, referring exactly to the decision on the Kolevs vs Bulgaria case, the fact that the two of them contributed a lot to this court ruling against Bulgaria remains almost unknown. In 2009, Yonko Grozev was one of the defence attorneys for litigants against Bulgaria whilst Zdravka Kalaydjieva was a member of the panel of judges which approved the ruling against Bulgaria.

Several days ago, again Kalaydjieva, through the Bulgarian Lawyers for Human Rights Foundation, made another attempt to push through at the Constitutional Court (CC) the proposals for amendments to the Constitution. The aim is to tip the balance in favour of judges at the expense of the prosecution drastically curbing the latter’s legal authority. The defence lawyers who are thought to be gravitating to the orbit of Capital and Ivo Prokopiev insist that every act issued by public prosecution should be a subject to strict court control and it must be clearly stated in the Constitution that although the prosecution remains within the judicial power only the court is the judicial power per se. Another demand is that in case of an investigation of the prosecutor general the procedure should be conducted by a judge of the Supreme Court of Cassation with investigative functions instead of by a prosecutor. The submittal of such a statement is unprecedented for two reasons: first, it was not requested by the CC and second, because on these grounds the defence lawyers may intervene into the cases related to the judicial power. Incumbent Prosecutor General Ivan Geshev in an interview for the Bulgarian National Radio commented the abovementioned document as “barefacedness” and explained: “Can you imagine that I will propose amendments to the Bars and Law Act? Everyone will leap up and start bombarding the European Commission with letters accusing me of being an advocate of Stalin, Lenin, Hitler and who not.” In his opinion, the people he mentioned would like to muzzle the prosecution, make it safe for those who stand behind them: “It is apparent who caters for such interests, what NGOs finance them and whose advocates they are.” His words provoked an immediate response of no one else but the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee which is the “protagonist” in the French centre’s report.

So, in practice the two Bulgarian representatives (to be more accurate, the representatives of George Soros in the ECHR) confirm the conclusions of the European Centre for Law and Justice.

Meanwhile, 9,500 European citizens petitioned for withdrawal and early termination of the mandates of ECHR judges who were exposed to conflict of interests. The petition is addressed to PACE. In the Strasbourg-based European Centre for Law and Justice they are convinced that namely PACE should come out with a stand on the conflict of interests’ exposure.

Hristo Ivanov personally handpicked Grozev for the office

Hristo Ivanov, the ill-famed ex-minister of Justice and current leader of the oligarch-dependent party Yes, Bulgaria is the man behind the election of Yonko Grozev for the Bulgarian judge in ECHR. It happened in 2014 when Zdravka Kalaydjieva withdrew herself from the office ahead of time. At that time the presence of Kalaydjieva in her capacity of a Bulgarian judge in Strasbourg Court was really embarrassing for the institution, Trud newspaper writes. Shortly after her departure in 2009 a request was sent to the Ministry of Justice for nominating an ad hoc judge who could substitute for her in cases concerning drastic conflicts of interests. The nominee was Paulina Panova, at that time vice president of the Supreme Court of Cassation, currently a constitutional judge. Although her mandate was to expire in 2018, Kalaydjieva terminates it all of a sudden in 2014. It is noteworthy that it happened shortly after in August of the same year Hristo Ivanov assumed office, first as the Minister of Justice in a caretaker cabinet and then held the same office in the second cabinet of Boyko Borissov. The events of the end of 2014 - beginning of 2015 will prove that Kalaydjeva’s resignation was agreed in advance in order to install in her place a “suitable” candidate.

The role of a justice minister in the nomination of the Bulgarian judge is important because the nominee has to be approved by an ad hoc commission and then the candidature has to be defended before government and PACE. It is outrageous that Hristo Ivanov appointed Krasimir Kanev, chair of the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee as a member of the commission which elected Yonko Grozev for a Bulgarian judge in Strasbourg.

All these events unfolded against the backdrop of journalistic revelations maintaining that Yonko Grozev and Krasimir Kanev are the co-founders of the organisation established in the early 1990s. Regardless of this fact, Grozev’s candidature was readily approved by the Council of Ministers at the beginning of 2015, i.e. during the first months of the coalition government of GERB and the Reformist Bloc, part of which is the Bulgaria for Citizens Movement of Meglena Kuneva. Interestingly, in 2013 namely Yonko Grozev was the vice president of the party.

Five years after this backstage decision was approved, Minister of Justice Danail Kirilov had all the reasons to revise the decision which, as the independent analysis proves, has seriously compromised Bulgaria. Otherwise it could result in more rulings against Bulgaria in the European Court of Human Rights which more and more often brings into question its own impartiality.

The two defence attorney’s practice only confirms the conclusions of the French experts. It is worthy of note, though, that Minister of Justice may ask for terminating the mandate of the Bulgarian judge which otherwise expires in 2024 ahead of time.

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