Lozan Panov wins: Court acquits Prokopiev, Djankov and Traykov in EVN case

A panel of judges pronounced them not guilty, motivating their decision with arguments taken right out of the defence strategy of the kaolin king and his cronies. Prosecutors will challenge the decision before the Appellate Specialised Criminal Court

Lozan Panov

The behind-the-scenes clique’s pawn installed at the helm of the judicial system – Lozan Panov, head of the Supreme Court of Cassation – just provided clear proof that the oligarchy’s influence has infiltrated every last corner of the judicial system, allowing the oligarchs to feel untouchable when it comes to punishment for their crimes. And so after court proceedings that went on for a year and a half, a panel of judges of the Specialised Criminal Court fully acquitted on Sunday the leader of the Capital circle Ivo Prokopiev and the ministers he got onto the first cabinet of PM Boyko Borissov – Minister of Finance Simeon Djankov and Minister of Economy Traycho Traykov – in the EVN case.

On the counts of causing damages for over BGN 20m through the manipulated sale of the state-owned minority stake in the electricity distribution company EVN-Bulgaria, all three of the aforementioned defendants, as well as their accomplices at the deal’s intermediary – Prokopiev’s company Bulbrokers – were acquitted.   

The Prosecutor’s Office has already announced that it will challenge the decision before the court of next higher instance – the Appellate Specialised Criminal Court. But even if a different ruling comes of this move, the case will wind up at the Supreme Court of Cassation, chaired by Lozan Panov, which is the court of highest instance.

The acquittal of Prokopiev and his cronies came down after an unprecedented smear campaign against Bulgaria organised and conducted by the oligarch via the publications in his mainstream media machine and his instruments for exerting pressure abroad. The Specialised Criminal Court’s decision reveals that the smear campaign managed to kill two birds with one stone. On the one hand, it pulled wool over the eyes of the public, both in Bulgaria and abroad, convincing them that the sentences are not foregone conclusion. On the other hand, Prokopiev was made out to be “the victim of repression” against free speech, even though the media outlets published by him have never been subjected to such a process or any of the legal proceedings launched against him.

The game was rigged from the beginning and that fact was made clear by the court’s succinct motives for the acquittals, as presented by the chair of the panel of judges Vilislava Angelova, who essentially parroted the defence’s theses.

Some 25 hearings held over the course of a year and a half, that is how long the EVN case against the six defendants lasted. The court heard numerous testimonies in support of the prosecutors’ argument that the sale of the state-owned minority stake in EVN-Bulgaria was manipulated in favour of the buyer – the Austrian company EVN, which has serious ties to the Capital circle, more specifically Prokopiev and his associates. The sale procedure itself was launched after the oligarch lobbied before the National Council for Tripartite Cooperation (NCTC) in 2010 for the state’s remaining stakes in the electricity distribution companies to be sold, arguing that the state was not a good owner. Later on, then-Minister of Finance Simeon Djankov helped pass the decision as part of his package of anti-crisis measures. During the case, it was revealed that Djankov himself pressured the Financial Supervision Commission on numerous occasions to hurry the release of the prospectus on the sale of the 33% state-owned stake in EVN-Bulgaria. Meanwhile, then-Minister of Economy and Energy Traycho Traykov sent a letter to the Privatisation and Post-Privatisation Control Agency with clear instructions as to the method of conducting the sale of the shares – through the Bulgarian Stock Exchange. The intermediary on the deal was Bulbrokers, whose managing director Radoslav Rachev and shareholders Petar Vassilev and Lyubomir Evstatiev used for the purpose a Russian system that allowed for manipulation. The upshot was that the stake was sold at prices that were damaging to the state.

Against this backdrop, the verbal explanation delivered by Judge Angelova immediately after the acquittals were pronounced in the courtroom sound baffling. You see, Prokopiev’s opinion was consultative in nature and therefore had no legal weight, while his meetings with Traykov and Djankov to discuss the deal did not constitute a crime.

The NCTC decision, the judge went on to say, was a collective one. She also noted that none of the witnesses on the case claimed pressure was exerted or that such pressure came from Djankov, while the decision to privatise the stake was made by the Council of Ministers, which he could not have influenced in his capacity as a minister. According to Judge Angelova, Traykov cannot be held responsible under the law either because, similarly to Djankov, he acted on a Council of Ministers decision and there was no way for him to set or control the stake’s sale price. The judge adopted another one of the defence lawyers’ theses – that the expert accountant report presented before the court covered a 10-year period and not a 7-year period, which caused inaccuracies in the calculations.

In the aftermath of the ruling, Prokopiev did not miss the opportunity to use his media outlets as a shield. After coming out in unison with a common position in support of their publisher on Friday and proceeding to spread over the weekend, in the country and abroad, along with the other media outlets in Prokopiev’s mainstream, the lie that he was a victim of a violation of the right to free speech, the journalists of Capital and Dnevnik showed just how independent they are by dutifully filling both the courtroom and the space outside the court on Sunday. Upon hearing the acquittals, they erupted in applause.

Prokopiev himself openly demonstrated his arrogance by daring to instruct the representatives of all media outlets present in the room, once the sentences were read. Apparently he forgot that, outside of his own publications, which are used to following exclusively his talking points, the media outlets in the country are free and do not write under orders.

“All of you who referred to me as a defendant should now write about me as someone who has been acquitted. This case was a sham,” he said

The oligarch also betrayed his communist past, which he otherwise fiercely tries to hide behind the façade of an EU and NATO supporter, by citing Lenin, “the founding father of communism”, in his last remarks before the judges announced their decision.

Geshev: We lost a small battle, but we are going to win the war against the oligarchs

“We lost a small battle, but we are determined to win the war against corrupted politicians and the oligarchs who got rich through illegal means,” read a Twitter post of Prosecutor General Ivan Geshev, commenting on the acquittals in the EVN case.

“Respect for the decision of the court. Respect for my fellow prosecutors. We lost a small battle, but we are determined to win the war against corrupted politicians and the oligarchs who got rich through illegal means. In the name of finding justice for all those defrauded Bulgarians who deserve a better life,” read Geshev’s tweet in full.

Shortly before that, it emerged that the Prosecutor’s Office intends to challenge the acquittals in the EVN case, delivered by a panel of Specialised Criminal Court judges, before the court of next higher instance.

“We are going to appeal the decision,” said Emil Petrov, prosecutor on the case, declining to comment further until the written arguments for the panel’s ruling come out.  

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