Valyo the (C)Heating
For many Bulgarians, life got worse just before Christmas as inexplicably high utility charges boosted heating bills. They also felt cheated.
A Bulgarian court surprisingly let Valentin Dimitrov, the former head of the country's biggest steam-heating plant, get away from jail time for illegally transferring millions to foreign bank accounts.
You certainly remember that man, who boasts the juicy nickname "Valyo the Heating". If not, here is a brief and equally juicy description – he is the one who misused millions from Sofia heating company and flashed (obviously just part of) the cash on various luxury goods. The one who installed a jacuzzi in his office, splurged company money on exotic holidays and satisfied abundantly his penchant for French cheese.
The other jail sentences against him - for embezzlement and mismanagement of funds - haven't taken effect yet, but we have no grounds to believe justice will triumph in the end.
Could this have been one of Bulgaria's first and earnest reckonings with its corrupt past?
It must have been only those naive to the point of foolishness, who believed that the allegations against Dimitrov could have taken him to jail. The journalists, who pooled efforts to dig up the dirt on the scandalous deal, took the risk to appear that naive.
Naive and foolish, however, Dimitrov was not. He knew that playing with the "lack of evidence" and "vested interests" cards always pays off in Bulgaria.
The weird details are interesting, of course – especially when you know that nearly forty percent of Bulgarians can not afford to heat their homes properly for lack of money.
But the trial is important because it's been keenly watched both in Bulgaria and Brussels as a test of the government's efforts to clamp down on rampant corruption. This was an emblematic case at the center of the anti-corruption drive of Prime Minister Borisov, a key test of the cabinet's ability to rein in corruption and cope with the weak judiciary.
Prime Minister Borisov, himself a former karate black belt who made his name fighting corruption as mayor of Sofia, swept to power in 2009 on an anti-corruption mandate and on the promise to bring to justice such big fish as Valentin Dimitrov.
His acquittal only shows once again the real face of the current goings-on in Bulgaria. Not a single government so far has had the courage to go till the end of the story. Because all of them have had vested interests.
My forecast is that in this case we will see the well known scheme at work once again. The trial will stretch over five or even ten more years. The defendant will be happily flashing his (in fact our) money at home and abroad. Finally, one day, at the left bottom corner of the newspaper a short brief will inform readers that Dimitrov has been acquitted.
Is it any wonder then that in Bulgaria, being the boss of a state-owned heating plant will be on anyone's wish list for the New Year?
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