Sofia City Court Chair Cleared of Conflict-of-Interest Accusations

Domestic | August 29, 2011, Monday // 13:52|  views

Vladimira Yaneva, SCC Chair, has been freed from widely-publicized conflict-of-interest accusations. Photo by BGNES

Sofia City Court (SCC) Chair Vladimira Yaneva has not committed conflict of interest in the embezzlement trial against the former executives of the municipal real estate company Sofiyski Imoti.

Bulgaria's Commission for Prevention and Ascertainment of Conflict of Interest announced Monday that the SCC head boasting a close family friendship with Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov had not committed any breach of the Conflict of Interest Prevention and Ascertainment Act.

One month ago, Yaneva self-recused from the trial, explaining later on that she had not done it in connection with conflict-of-interest accusations but in order to ensure compliance with the ruling of the court of second instance, the Sofia Appellate Court, according to which the case closure ordered by her constituted inadmissible intervention into the substance of the case.

"In this case it is obligatory for judges to announce their self-recusal", Yaneva declared on August 25, over 3 months after the issuance of the second instance
court's ruling.

In May 2002, the current SCC Chair, who had just been appointed Junior Judge, sealed a contract for the purchase of two pieces of property from Sofiyski Imoti as a proxy for a company owned by her father.

Eight years later, Yaneva was assigned the embezzlement trial against the management of the municipal real estate company, delaying her pronouncement for several months and eventually calling the case closed and returning it to the Prosecutor's Office.

According to the announcement of Bulgaria's new watchdog, the following three premises are necessary to identify a case of conflict of interest - the accused must be a public servant found in pursuit of a private interest which resulted in a personal profit.

The commission further declares that there is neither private interest nor personal gain involved in Yaneva's case.

The conflict-of-interest watchdog reckons that the two properties have been acquired by a person related to the magistrate (her father) and the trial delay in the period July 22 - December 20, 2010 "is in no way related to the acquisition of the property on May 17, 2002."

Apart from that, the postponement of the "procedure activities in the criminal case in question cannot affect the validity of the deal signed by Vladimira Yaneva Yaneva acting as a proxy of her father".

According to the watchdog, the decision for the sale of the property in 2002 was not taken taken single-handedly by Toshko Dobrev, then CEO of Sofiyski Imoti EAD, but by an authorized collective body, the board of directors of the firm, and in observance of the procedure

Among the arguments of the commission is the the long period between the signing of the deal and the pronouncement on the Sofiyski Imoti case and the entry into force of the Conflict of Interest Prevention and Ascertainment Act (September 01, 2009), which postdates the acquisition of the property (May 17, 2002).

According to the unit, the conflict-of-interest act has not been explicitly given retroactive force and therefore "regulates social relations arising after its entry into force".

Some time ago, Bulgaria's Supreme Judicial Council (VSS) refused to conduct a probe into allegations that the SCC Chair had violated ethical rules or to check her breach of the ban on magistrates' involvement in commercial activities.

The VSS Inspectorate reached a conclusion that the SCC Chair had flouted deadlines in the Sofyiski Imoti case, as well as in a number of other cases, for which she had to face disciplinary action.

Yaneva's disciplinary penalty is yet to be decided by VSS, once it resumes activities after the summer recess.

Meanwhile, Yaneva's appointment as a SCC Chair was appealed by her main rival, Judge Velichka Tsanova, and the case will be heard by the Supreme Administrative Court (VAS) in the fall of 2011.

Yaneva's victory triggered tensions in the judiciary, which resulted in two protest resignations of VSS members and a boycott of the selection of their replacements.

At the same time, two parallel protest campaigns urging the "totally discredited" VSS to collectively resign were organized by the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee and by the website for investigative journalism.

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Tags: Vladimira Yaneva, Sofia City Court, Sofiyski Imoti, Toshko Dobrev, conflict of interest, Conflict of Interest Act, Sofia Appellate Court, Supreme Judicial Council, Velichka Tzanova, Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov


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