Libya Presses for Death Penalty against Bulgarian Medics, Hearing Postponed

Politics | September 8, 2003, Monday // 00:00

Libyan prosecutors pressed for death penalties against the Bulgarian medics, accused of infecting about 400 children with HIV, the virus which can lead to AIDS, at a hospital in Benghazi. The criminal court convened on Monday for the fourth time to hear the trial against the Bulgarian medics.

The prosecutors based their Monday speech on two clues - the confessions made by two of the arrested nurses - Kristiana Vulcheva, Nasya Nenova - and the Palestinian doctor, as well as the banks seized during a search in Vulcheva's home, which contained HIV-infected blood plasm.

In a bid to defend the "deliberate infection" allegation, the prosecutors cited sums that the accused medics received or were about to receive, as well as Vulcheva's bank account to which the money was being transferred.

They cited the confessions of defendant Nasya Nenova who said that in injecting the children she did not know she was infecting them with HIV, but believed she was conducting an experiment of a new drug.

The prosecutors skipped the arguments of Prof. Montagnier, the French doctor who first isolated the HIV virus. He testified in favour of the Bulgarian medics at the previous hearing. Montagnier claimed that the hospital AIDS epidemic in Libya was probably caused by poor hygiene, and not by the seven medical workers.

At the trial, the defendants pleaded not guilty, with two of the nurses saying they had been tortured to extract false confessions.

Later in the day, the civil prosecutor for the families of the HIV-infected children demanded that USD 4 B be paid in damages, a claim totalling around half of Bulgaria's foreign debt. According to the lawyer of the Libyan parents a total of 426 children have been infected with HIV, which makes over USD 10 M in damages per child.

The civil prosecutor involved the claim with the principle of equality of the people around the world and drew parallels with the Lockerbie bombing. In August, Libya accepted the responsibility for the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 and committed to pay compensation to families of the 270 victims.

He demanded that the report of HIV experts Prof. Luc Montaigner and Vittorio Collizi in favour of the defendants, be ignored as evidence because it was, in his words, incomplete.

The hearing against the Bulgarian medics was rescheduled for September 22.

Bulgaria's Foreign Minister Solomon Passy commented the latest development insisting there was no reason to panic. However, he warned against being to optimistic, as "categorical conclusions cannot be made yet." The minister added he expects the Bulgarian medics to be acquitted after the testimony of Mantaigner and Collizi. Passy revealed he had long been worried about the slow pace of the trial but added it currently progressed as fast as Libya's legislation allows.

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