Suspect in Ex-PM Murder Convicts Bulgaria in Strasbourg
One of the five defendants, who were cleared of all charges regarding the murder of former Prime Minister Andrey Lukanov, has won his case against the Bulgarian state in Strasbourg.
Bulgaria has to pay the applicant, Yuriy Lenev, EUR 27 000 in non-pecuniary damage for his tortures and lack of an effective investigation, the European Court of Human Rights ruled unanimously on Tuesday.
Ukrainians Alexander Russov and Alexey Kichatov, Bulgarian construction entrepreneur Angel Vassilev, his nephew Georgi Georgiev and his driver Yuriy Lenev were sentenced to life imprisonment at the end of November 2003 for the murder of former Prime Minister Andrey Lukanov.
Bulgaria's supreme court, however fully and definitively cleared the five on March 15, 2007 and the verdict was not subject to appeal.
A few months later – in August 2007 - a Bulgarian military court acquitted the three policemen, charged with torturing Lenev into confessions.
Bulgaria's former Prime Minister Andrey Lukanov was killed on 2 October 1996 in front of his Sofia home. He was a member of the Moscow-trained Bulgarian communist elite, served as government head from the Socialist Party from 1989 to 1990. At the time of the murder Lukanov was a lawmaker for his party.
Lenev was arrested on June 1, 1999, nearly three years after Lukanov was shot dead, and taken to what was later described as "the house of the horrors" in the town of Koprivshtitsa.
The developments that unfolded inside the house were described by the Bulgarian court as an attempt to "instill respect in Lenev" in line with the law.
The court in Strasbourg however found that Lenev's injuries had been characteristic of bodily harm inflicted intentionally for the purpose of obtaining a confession, and that the Bulgarian courts had failed to give a plausible explanation of the origin of those injuries.
The judges point out that after the arrest Lenev was forced into a minivan and, handcuffed and hooded, was taken to a secret location outside Sofia to be interrogated.
According to his submissions, he did not resist his arrest. He alleges that during the trip, the officers questioned him and hit him with solid objects; pressure was applied to his eyes and he lost consciousness several times. At night, he was held in a house, where he was further questioned and ill-treated. In particular, he alleges that objects were inserted under his fingernails.
During the interrogation, Lenev confessed that he had taken part in a plot to assassinate the former Prime Minister.
On the following day, Lenev was taken back to Sofia and charged with complicity to premeditated murder. He was examined by a doctor, who noted some injuries, in particular haematomas under the arms, on his wrists and legs, and open wounds on a wrist and finger.
Following two further medical examinations by a forensic specialist, further injuries were noted, in particular an injury to the parietal area of the skull and injuries to the fingers (a haematoma under a nail, a missing nail and swelling of a finger).
The European magistrates point out that in the criminal proceedings against Lenev, the prosecution sought to rely on recordings of his interrogation, which had been made without his knowledge and without a judicial warrant.
During the first months after his arrest, Lenev maintained his initial confession, as did his co-accused. Later they changed their position and stated that they had never been involved in the alleged assassination plot and that their confessions had been extracted under torture.
Neither the Government's submissions nor the findings of the Bulgarian courts had given a plausible explanation of the origin of certain other injuries, in particular those to his fingers and fingernails.
The Court observed that, when seen in their context, those injuries were characteristic of bodily harm inflicted intentionally for the purpose of obtaining a confession.
The magistrates in Strasbourg also found deficiencies in the investigation of his allegations of Lenev's ill-treatment.
The court held that Bulgaria was to pay Lenev EUR 27,000 in respect of non-pecuniary damage and EUR 4,000 in respect of costs and expenses.
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