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Bulgaria: Ex-Labour and Employment Policy Minister facing embezzlement charges suffered human rights breach

Remarks by two public figures breached the right to be presumed innocent of former Bulgarian Labour and Employment Policy minister, Emilia Maslarova, who was facing  embezzlement charges.

That is the judgement today of Strasbourg’s human rights judges.

In its Chamber judgment in the case of Maslarova v. Bulgaria (application no. 26966/10) the European Court of Human Rights held, unanimously, that there had been:

a violation of Article 6 § 2 (presumption of innocence) of the European Convention on Human Rights, and a violation of Article 13 (right to an effective remedy).

Under Article 41 (just satisfaction), the court held that Bulgaria was to pay the applicant Maslarova 5,000 euros (EUR) in respect of non-pecuniary damage and EUR 3,000 in costs and expenses.

Maslarova, is a Bulgarian national who was born in 1949 and lives in Sofia.
In August 2008 members of an association lodged a complaint with the public prosecutor’s office concerning irregularities in connection with the renovation of a former medical centre.

The following year, the public prosecutor’s office initiated criminal proceedings against persons unknown for misuse of power and embezzlement of public funds, and three months later the public prosecutor asked the National Assembly to suspend Maslarova’s immunity from prosecution so that she could be formally charged.

The next day Maslarova herself agreed to the criminal proceedings against her. On the same day information was circulated in the press and a number of reports were broadcast on the subject.

In particular, the spokesperson for the Prosecutor General’s office held a
press conference on the criminal proceedings, and his comments were taken up by several media outlets and reported in a national radio broadcast.

In February 2010, Maslarova was charged with embezzling public funds. She was accused of embezzling a total of some 5,643,847.13 euros (EUR) for herself and two presumed accomplices.

The next day the 24 Hours newspaper published an article in which the Prime Minister was reported to have said that he was convinced that the charges against Maslarova would be made out because things were clear.

The following month the Politika newspaper published an interview with a member of the National Assembly, who was deputy chair of the ad hoc parliamentary commission of
inquiry into the previous Government’s expenditure.

The article pointed out that that MP had said, inter alia, that this was a typical example of corruption and failure to comply with the law on public procurement contracts committed by a senior member of the executive, that is to say the minister in question.

The criminal proceedings were still pending in March 2018.

Today The case concerned a complaint lodged by Ms Maslarova, who was Minister for  from 2005 to 2009, about a failure to respect her right to be presumed innocent on account of remarks made by certain political and judicial figures, and relayed in the press, in relation to criminal proceedings against her for embezzlement of public funds.

The court found in particular that remarks made by the spokesperson for the Prosecutor General’s office – during a press conference about the proceedings in question – and those of a Member of Parliament who was also deputy chair of the ad hoc parliamentary commission of inquiry into the expenditure of the previous government, had breached Maslarova’s right to be presumed innocent as they had gone beyond the mere conveying of information.

The court also found that no effective domestic remedy had been available to Maslarova.

The court dismissed the complaints about comments attributed to the Prime Minister and about a request for the suspending of parliamentary immunity sent by the Prosecutor General to the National Assembly through official channels, finding that they were manifestly ill-founded.

 

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