Media coverage of the arrest of a former secretary general of the Ministry of Finance’s resulted in multiple violations of the European Convention on Human Rights.
That is the decision today, of the European Court of Human Rights, following its consideration of the complaint Popovi v. Bulgaria (application no. 39651/11).
The case concerned the arrest of Tencho Nikolov Popov, former secretary general of the Ministry of Finance, during a police operation that received extensive media coverage.
In today’s judgment in the case the European Court of Human Rights held, unanimously, that there had been:
a violation of Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment and lack of effective investigation) of the European Convention on Human Rights,
a violation of Article 6 § 2 (presumption of innocence) of the Convention regarding the statements by the Minister of the Interior on the day of Popov’s arrest;
no violation of Article 6 § 2 of the Convention regarding the statements by the Prime Minister and the prosecutor R.V. on the day of Popov’s arrest;
a violation of Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life) due to the media coverage of Popov’s arrest and the search and seizure carried out in Antonia Vasileva Popova’s offices; and
a violation of Article 13 (right to an effective remedy) taken in conjunction with Articles 3, 6 § 2 and 8
Under Article 41 (just satisfaction), the court held that Bulgaria was to pay Tencho Nikolov Popov 10,000 euros (EUR) and Antonia Vasileva Popova EUR 4,000 in respect of non-pecuniary damage, and EUR 5,000 jointly in respect of costs and expenses.
The applicants, Popov and Popova, are Bulgarian nationals who were born in 1962 and 1969 respectively and live in Sofia. Popov is the former secretary general of the Ministry of Finance and Popova, a notary in Sofia, is his wife.
In 2009, the prosecuting authorities instituted criminal proceedings against a person or persons unknown for mismanagement of public funds within the Ministry of Defence. The investigator in charge of the case contacted the police to say that he had been approached by Popov and his brother-in-law P.S., a judge at the Sofia City Court, who had allegedly offered him money to influence the outcome of the investigation. The police set up a surveillance operation and prepared to make an arrest.
Popov was arrested at his wife’s notary offices on 1 April 2010 together with two suspected accomplices.
In a judgment of 29 October 2012 the court acquitted Popov and his two co-defendants. The judgment was upheld by the Court of Appeal and subsequently by the Court of Cassation. On the day of the arrest, on 1 April 2010, in an interview on national radio R.V., the prosecutor, commented on the arrest.
On 2 April 2010 several daily newspapers quoted statements made by the Minister of the Interior the previous day: “This is quite clearly a plan designed to influence the outcome of criminal proceedings. The money offered by Tencho Popov was intended for the judge so that the criminal case would be decided in favour of the former minister Nikolay Tsonev”.
On 5 April 2010, a daily newspaper published a comment by the Prime Minister referring to the prosecutor’s comments.
The court found that Popov had been subjected to degrading treatment by the police during his arrest and that the ensuing investigation had neither been sufficiently prompt nor carried out with the necessary diligence. It had neither enabled the facts to be established nor determined, where applicable, the responsibility of the police officers involved.
As Popov had subsequently been acquitted by the courts, the Court found that the statements by the Minister of the Interior on the actual day of the arrest had resulted in a violation of his right to be presumed innocent, but not the statements by the public prosecutor R.V. or the Prime Minister.
The media coverage of the arrest and also the search and seizure carried out in the notary offices had infringed the applicants’ right to respect for their private life.
Lastly, the court concluded that the applicants had not had any remedy under domestic law that would have allowed them to assert their respective rights.