Who Let The Marguin Out?

Editorial |Author: Maria Guineva | June 17, 2010, Thursday // 15:05|  views

The Sofia City Court issued last Monday a not-guilty verdict for two of Bulgaria’s most notorious, alleged crime bosses, Krasimir and Nikolay Marinovi aka The Marguin Brothers.

The other defendants in the case, believed to be minor underworld players, received fines and between two and a half to four years behind bars.

The Big Marguin (Krasimir) and the Little Marguin (Nikolay), who was tried in absentia after disappearing in January, and the four other defendants were charged with plotting the murders of Nikola Damyanov, Ivan Todorov, aka The Doctor (a large-scale mafia boss specialized in international contraband of cigarettes), and of General Lyuben Gotsev (who survived the attempt on his life).

The saga began in the distant September of 2005, when a known criminal, Velin Dobrev, was detained for illegal drug trafficking. While in jail, he told how The Marguin have ordered the murder of three people. The police moved swiftly and arrested Marinovi on October 29, 2005, and charged them with plotting Damyanov’s, Todorov’s and Gotsev’s murders The trial began on June 8, 2006, but it was postponed numerous times over a number of ailments striking the defendants and over the prosecution’s attempts to locate and bring different individuals to the witness stand - until June 14, 2010, when The Marguin were acquitted.

The trial against Marinovi is considered emblematic for Bulgaria’s judicial system and has been closely monitored by the European Commission. This was not only a typical high-profile criminal case, but one charged with political and international commitments. When the brothers were arrested, Bulgaria’s EU accession was truly on the line with the strongest opponents criticism aimed at the country’s failure to fight organized crime. The Marguin case was the first and the top “European exercise” for Bulgaria, which was supposed to show the country is really applying efforts to eradicate the mafia. Soon after Marinovi were thrown in jail, Bulgaria became member of the EU. We are yet to learn if the not-guilty verdict will be noted in the upcoming EC report.

With the arrival last summer of the center-right GERB government, led by Prime Minister, Boyko Borisov and his Deputy, Interior Minister, Tsvetan Tsvetanov, both former cops, the number of high-profile criminal cases turned staggering. But are they all going to burst?

The pressure from outside is still here and still requires a speedy demonstration of will, which, as it became obvious, is far from being enough. The murky times of “the initial accumulation of capital in Bulgaria” were blessed by political parties, not only closing their eyes to the dealings of the new “businessmen,” but actually providing political protection and cover-up. Years later, any attempt to punish The Marguin or any other high-profile mafia ringleaders seems doomed to failure – at this point, the crème de la crème of the so-called Mutri in Bulgaria are dead, gunned down some time ago, while those left standing have already legalized all of their businesses.

It must also be noted that from media reports only, without having read the entire case file, no one can say with certainty if The Marguin were guilty or not. The question is - if they were, why didn’t the investigation find good enough evidence and if they weren’t – who had interest to frame them?

With every one blaming the other, it also remains unclear who is really at fault – was this the failure of the State or the Court? Bulgaria’s Interior Minister, Tsvetan Tsvetanov, was and is quick to blame the “unreformed court,” lagging behind EU standards. While there isn’t any doubt many of the court servants are corrupt, incompetent or both, Bulgaria also has capable and honest judges, and instances of corruption do not automatically lead to the conclusion that the prosecution should not partake in the blame. (Many lawyers and judges I have spoken to say 90% of the not-guilty verdicts stem from police and prosecutor’s blunders – committed on purpose or due to lack of skills.)

The Marguin verdict is the result of the system’s crisis on all levels – from the police through the prosecution to the court and even our politicians. Tsvetanov, for example, should maybe consider beginning the reform with police investigators, who need to be independent, motivated, and most of all, capable of collecting sound evidence. Bulgarian forensic teams and investigators have minimal training, knowledge and skills, and many of them believe gossip and negative statements against someone could be constituted as proof. But the Law says otherwise much to the Interior Minister’s discontent.

The outcome of The Marguin trial is, most of all, a negative assessment of the State prosecution’s work in high-profile criminal cases. For yet another time the State’s resources have been wasted for 5 years only to end up with a not-guilty verdict as result. The acquittal, which is yet to be appealed, actually did not come as surprise to legal experts and reporters following the case. Over the four years of the trial, the magistrates heart numerous witnesses, including two of the three alleged victims – Gotsev and Damyanov, who was still alive in the beginning of the proceedings. Both testified they had no idea why The Marguin would want them dead. The lawyer for the third victim, Ivan Todorov, killed in February 2006, offered the same information. Out of the entire line of witnesses only one talked about some possible connection between the brothers and the murder plots – the same Velin Dobrev, who was the reason for The Marguin’s arrests.

As already noted, Bulgarian courts certainly don’t deserve much sympathy, however the court is the arbiter and the last link in the “innocent until proven guilty” chain. It begins with the police and goes through the prosecution, who must present irrefutable proof.

Political will to make arrests before the TV cameras is impressive but not sufficient to put criminals in jail for a long time; The Marguin case became a stark example of the pressing need to restructure the police, the investigation, and the prosecution; to finally get rid of the corrupt and the incompetent dressed in power, and to end the communist legacy of the police-prosecution bond when the courts complied with anything the State wanted.

In the Marguin case, the State was represented by Sofia City Prosecutor, Nikolay Kokinov, and his Deputy, Roman Vasilev - both with a long track record as prosecutors, marked mostly by their ability to survive a number of cabinets and by some high-profile failures.

Vasilev made headlines recently when he was scorned by the public and by colleagues for his inappropriate behavior during the arrest of former Defense Minister, Nikolay Tsonev, who already walked out on bail.

Kokinov, the newly discovered favorite of Bulgaria’s cabinet, in another bout of media frenzy, vowed to appeal The Marguin verdict, but, as usual, failed to admit any responsibility for the outcome. It is also worth noting that reporters, who were allowed in the courtroom, say with astonishment that Kokinov, a true media star, very outspoken in front of TV cameras, failed to ask Krasimir Marinov a single question after the latter’s not-guilty plea.

Kokinov has been involved in many cases, including the highly publicized one for the murder of Bulgaria’s PM, Andrey Lukanov. (Andrey Lukanov, who took part in the overthrow of long-time Communist leader Todor Zhivkov, served in 1990 as Bulgaria's last Communist Prime Minister, at a time marked by corruption, massive food shortages, and civil unrest. His name was connected to numerous shady deals and many still hold him responsible for Bulgaria's foreign debt. Lukanov was murdered in 1996 outside his apartment building in Sofia. The lone gunman fled and was never captured. In March, 2007, the Supreme Court of Cassations acquitted all defendants in the murder trail – a group of Bulgarians and Ukrainians.)

Lukanov’s case, also considered by most legal experts failure of the prosecutor (Kokinov), bears a stark resemblance with “The Marguin” one – forced admissions of “small fish” criminals, and the same made up scheme of first arresting alleged perpetrators and then attempting to fill the blanks.

On the other side, the judge in The Marguin case - Lada Paunova is respected for her competence and has an impeccable, untarnished reputation. With so many wanting guilty verdicts for The Marguin, no one had yet come forward with accusations or evidence Paunova had ever been involved in anything “unclean.” Her verdict, actually, showed both courage and freedom from public and political demands. The Appellate Courts are to say if her rule was right or wrong, but she must be applauded for the guts to stand up for her decision and not give in to media, politicians’ and prosecutors’ pressure.

Because the independence of the court is a cornerstone of democracy.

Interior Minister Tsvetanov is a policeman and a politician. His job is to make political statements that align with the expectations of society for justice and for punishment of the mafia symbols in Bulgaria. Blaming the court is not only easily digested by common Bulgarians, who hear stories about corrupt judges every day, but supports the image of the police doing a great job. Tsvetanov’s ratings are sky-high, and he is finally one top cop trying to do something, however for him the difference between educated guess and proof beyond reasonable doubt seemingly does not mean much. His talk is definitely the talk of a politician, but not the so needed talk of a statesman…

The supremacy of law will finally and only arrive in Bulgaria when politicians become statesmen, the investigation turns competent and the court truly has the last word – all without the shadow of doubt about possible corruption or succumbing to pressure.

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Tags: Marguins, Nikolay Marinov, Sofia City Court, Sofia Appellate Court, Krasimir Marinov, Tsvetan Tsvetanov, Roman Vasilev, Nikolay Kokinov, Lada Paunova, Andrey Lukanov


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