Sleep tight, oligarchs! The court of Lozan Panov watches over you

“Communism will soon be gone. Sleep tight, kids,” the Poduene Blues Band used to sing soothingly at the dawn of democracy in Bulgaria. Alas, 30 years later these lyrics are neither soothing nor particularly accurate. Communism never went anywhere, it simply shapeshifted into a behind-the-scenes clique that has captured the state in its web.

The leftist nomenclature of the communist era was replaced by proxies on its feeding rack during the so-called transition to democracy. These individuals are red on the inside as well, but pose as supporters of EU and NATO values – a role meant to deceive the enemy, which is the Bulgarian society and the country’s partners, i.e. those same international organisations.

The lyrics have also been modified. And the rewrite is sad, tragic and shameful. It was officially dated and given an entry number with the ruling of a panel of judges of the Specialised Criminal Court (See here) – the institution called upon to punish organised crime groups. With said court decision, all defendants in the EVN case, which stems from a deal that prosecutors and expert witnesses say defrauded the state out of over BGN 20m, were acquitted. That includes oligarch Ivo Prokopiev, who made millions thanks to the criminally conducted privatisation deals under former PM Ivan Kostov’s government and who ruined hundreds of lives by decimating an entire resort town. Also on the list of defendants are former Minister of Finance Simeon Djankov and former Minister of Economy and Energy Traycho Traykov, whom Prokopiev installed in the first cabinet of PM Boyko Borissov (Traykov turned out to own shares in the mining company Kaolin, the crown jewel of Prokopiev’s business empire – editor’s note). The list is completed by the management of Prokopiev’s subsidiary Bulbrokers, which simultaneously collected a fee as an intermediary on the sale of the state-owned minority stake in EVN-Bulgaria and, according to experts on the case, manipulated the tender procedure in favour of the buyer by using a Russian system that lacked protection against outside interference and attacks. Does this sound fair to you? Of course, it does not because it is not.

Because 30 years ago we supposedly chose a different path and yet we are still trapped in that same vicious cycle of untouchable criminals who steal from the state and in the rare occasion that they are charged for it, the court proclaims them clean. Even though their bank accounts are stuffed with the Bulgarian taxpayers’ money. Despite society’s expectations that in the EVN case justice will be served at last, justice was kicked to the curb. Once again. Unfortunately, this will not be the last time either.

With these acquittals, the behind-the-scenes clique defeated the rule of law and illustrated the fact that the Bulgarian judicial system, which purports to be independent, and our democracy by extension, is brutally vulnerable to manipulations and pressure. Blatant, orchestrated, built-entirely-on-lies media pressure exerted by Prokopiev at the price of defaming Bulgaria abroad. Pressure through which the indicted oligarch proved yet again that free speech is not a core value to him, but a currency to use in service of his own interests. Similarly, media outlets are a shield to cover up his crimes, while journalism is nothing but parroting talking points and giving ovation at a signal. Journalism is not treated as a value, but as an object, a tangible asset that Prokopiev once pledged as collateral against a bank loan and will surely not hesitate to gamble again, given reports that he is once again chin-deep in debt. A tangible asset that may have nothing to do with all the ongoing legal cases against the oligarch, but which Prokopiev uses as flag to avoid retribution for his crimes.

Because the acquittals are the latest proof of something else as well – that the Bulgarian judicial system, and our democracy by extension, is also brutally dependent. From that same behind-the-scenes clique, with Prokopiev as one of its main players, which has been syphoning off public resources and stealing from taxpayers for years and which has spread its tentacles everywhere. It has control over the judicial system thanks to Lozan Panov, the head of the Supreme Court of Cassation, who is a pawn of the oligarchs. He is a puppet who serves their interests and holds the judicial system captive on their behalf through minion judges on every level of the system. Infuriatingly, this is all happening right before our eyes.

As long as Lozan Panov is in place, the oligarchs can rest easy that they will remain untouchable. Justice will likely remain an illusion – for those robbed by the kaolin king who inflated electricity bills; for the thousands of CorpBank depositors defrauded by fugitive banker Tsvetan Vassilev, who operated the lender as a pyramid scheme and stole billions of levs that way; for those who want pharmaceutical tycoon Ognyan Donev to be held accountable for his financial machinations and who has already been acquitted by the court of first instance; and for the people who want repercussions for Vasil Bozhkov, the gambling tzar who has been slapped with 18 charges. Bozhkov already took of the mask of an “honest businessman” and demonstrated that he is nothing more than a mobster by getting someone to follow the prosecutor supervising his case, Angel Kanev, and publicly threatening him by publishing some of the photos, in the process incriminating himself as the person behind this illegal surveillance.

Because even if any one of the oligarchs is miraculously convicted, against the wishes of the behind-the-scenes clique, at one of the courts of lower instance, the case will eventually get to the Supreme Court of Cassation headed by Lozan Panov.

For those aforementioned lyrics to truly reflect our times, they should go like this: “Sleep tight, oligarchs! The court of Lozan Panov watches over you.”

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