Bulgaria Ex Agriculture Minister Name Cleared in Court
Ventsislav Varbanov, Bulgaria's former agriculture minister in the right-wing government of Ivan Kostov, has been cleared of embezzlement charges.
Sofia City Court acquitted Varbanov on all nine counts. According to the allegations the money that he embezzled from the country's agriculture fund between 1998 and 2001 ran into BGN 87 M.
The ruling is not final and can be appealed by the prosecutors at the Supreme Cassation Court.
In his final statement, the prosecutor dropped part of the allegations, admitting that they were not backed by sufficient evidence. He demanded a light sentence for the defendant, including just a fine.
"Nikola Filchev was acting on political orders," Varbanov said in court, referring to the former senior prosecutor, who was after him.
Varbanov's case first entered the court after he gave up his MP immunity in May 2006, when he was an MP from the tiniest right-wing party in Parliament Bulgarian People's Union.
His name came into the limelight at the beginning of April 2006, when the then Bulgarian top prosecutor called for the lifting the immunity of several MPs, including that of Varbanov.
The demands of the chief prosecutor came after the critical reports on Bulgaria's lumbering judiciary by European advisors and by Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn.
In a bid to appease Brussels, Bulgaria amended its constitution by cutting the threshold of immunity enjoyed by deputies and giving parliament the right to dismiss the chief prosecutor and heads of the civil and supreme courts.
Over the course of the trial Varbanov agreed four time to have his parliamentary legal immunity removed.
After the trial was delayed he then became an MP for the right-wing Blue Coalition in 2009 before being dropped as an MP because of voting errors.
Amazingly, Varbanov was then given his MP position back after more voting irregularities – this time in the Turkish polling stations. He returned to Parliament in January 2010 as an independent MP.
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