Valentina Madzharova: Whether the common interests of accused with politicians are not the main reason for the Specialised Prosecutor’s Office to be closed?*

Valentina Madzharova: Whether the common interests of accused with politicians are not the main reason for the Specialised Prosecutor’s Office to be closed?*
Valentina Madzharova

Prosecutor Madjarova, last Thursday prosecutors, investigators and judicial servants came out in front of the court buildings to protest against the closure of specialized justice, voted at first reading in the Committee on Legal Affairs. There were comments that this was pressure on the legislator, who has the right to change the laws.

We do not challenge the right of the legislative authority to change the regulations, nor do we try to put pressure on it. And we did not go out in front of the court buildings to protest, but to silently express our position. By law, magistrates are depoliticized. But we are also part of civil society. Each of us has taken an oath to strictly comply with the laws of the country.

Our appearance in front of the court buildings was not a strike - all the magistrates involved in scheduled cases were in the courtrooms.

As a prosecutor, I have always believed that the country must follow the principles that make all citizens equal before the law, that the rule of law precludes actions that undermine the independence of the judiciary, especially as a result of political pressure. In this case, it turned out, figuratively speaking, dilettantish - by once again putting into circulation the thesis that the Specialized Court is extraordinary. Almost like the former People's Court. It was rejected by the Constitutional Court (CC). Or to deliberately omit the fact that the final decisions in the cases of the Specialized Criminal Court are taken not by it, but by the Supreme Court of Cassation as a third instance.

The fact that the issue of the legitimacy of the Specialized Prosecutor's Office (SPO) is being "revived" right now is understandable for us - we have shown that we work and we are strong. No one "encroaches" on a weak magistracy.

How do the discussed bills threaten the independence of the judiciary?

The state is legal, constitutional and democratic only when there is a separation of powers, when power deters power. Far back in time, Montesquieu came to the conclusion that if there was no division between the legislature, the executive and the judiciary, there could be no talk of republican government.

Let's think together. You probably remember that before the specialized magistracies started working, there was a nearly 2-year public debate about their functions, goals, expected results. Scientists, experts, various institutions, international organizations took part in it, and the Constitutional Court was also asked. Today, a bill is being proposed to close them without discussion, without seeking the opinion of the professional guild and the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) - which existence is constitutionally enshrined to defend the independence of the magistracy. Isn't the omission of SJC a gross interference in the work of the judiciary and a blow to its independence?

The current question in fact is why the closing the specialized magistracy is being raised right now

Is it because of specific cases which have been or are about to be initiated in the Specialized Court? Is it because of the momentary coincidence of the interests of certain persons affected by the prosecution with those of political circles? Why is it proposed to close judicial institutions without a thorough analysis of their activities? An analysis which would show that these institutions work well and enjoy the trust of the vast majority of society.

What do you mean?

I will answer you with facts that are easy to prove. In the past 2020, the magistrates in the SPO worked on a record number of cases - a total of 7517 (compared to 6950 in 2019 and 2435 in 2018), and supervised more pre-trial proceedings - a total of 1431 (compared to 1089 in 2019 and 919 in 2018). Among them, the most serious growth is in the investigation of corruption crimes or crimes with a possible corruption motive - a total of 271, or 66 more than in 2019 and 141 more than in 2018.

Most of the monitored proceedings - 672, are for crimes committed by organized criminal groups. Of these, 80 are for crimes against the tax system, 64 for money laundering, 40 for illegal trafficking in human beings, 22 for extortion, 15 for misuse of EU funds, 11 for criminal breach of trust, 10 against the economy and customs, 9 for documentary crimes, 7 are for crimes against the Republic (in one of them an indictment was submitted in the Specialised Court).

During the year prosecutors from the SPO initiated a total of 363 new pre-trial proceedings, of which 86 for offences committed by persons occupying high positions. Only in the newly initiated proceedings there is a slight decrease in their number - of around 20, compared to 2019, which indicates that in the face of lockdown, strict anti-epidemic measures and difficult actions in investigations SPО has not reduced the intensity of its work. On the contrary. Тhe increased workload is due not only to the expanded competence of the SPО.

More and more the initiated cases and investigations are based on direct complaints and signals of citizens, and this is a sign of gained confidence. Against the background of the difficult conditions for the year, 515 people were brought to court with an indictment (compared to 503 persons for 2019 and 327 for 2018).

It is known that your workload is high. Is this the reason why some investigations last for years and is it permissible for them to be terminated by law 2 years after they launched?

The workload is high not because of the large number of investigations, but because of their complexity, because of the need for serious expertise, interrogation of a large number of witnesses, and sometimes investigative actions on the territory of other countries.

There is not a country with such a strictly regulated length of time for investigation of serious crimes. In many cases, they last 5-8-10 years. And this is considered normal. The setting of a 2-year time-limit for investigating such cases is not an innovative idea. The only result would be the failure of the investigation.

Let me come back to the workload of magistrates. If we define it in the number of monitored and resolved cases - as they say "per kilogram", here we must add the huge work of prosecutors and investigators in the SPO in terms of international legal cooperation.

In 2020 alone, they worked on the execution of 190 European investigation orders - 158 submitted by judicial authorities of other countries and 32 issued by the SPO in pre-trial proceedings conducted by it. 44 European arrest warrants have been issued and 5 have been executed at the request of partner authorities. There were also 12 requests for legal assistance from non-EU countries, with 11 requests for investigations conducted by SPO. This activity remains hidden from the public; otherwise each case requires the same amount of work as in an investigation, even more. In 2020 alone, in pursuance of these 158 EIOs, investigators and prosecutors from the SPO conducted more than 1,000 investigative actions, mainly searches and seizures.

Prosecutors and investigators from the SPO are also involved in joint international investigations. For this activity in 2020, the SPO got the recognition of European judicial authorities as a necessary and important partner in the fight against international organized crime, as well as of police investigative bodies and organizations such as Europol, Interpol, US investigative services - FBI and Secret Service”.

In short, our partners abroad appreciate our work and support us in the process of identification of criminal assets

What is the amount of the seized property as a result of the actions of the Specialised Prosecutor's Office?

For over 3 billion BGN. Whether the request for closing the specialized magistracies have something to do also with these assets seized by the court? Until recently, we were criticized for not looking for the money with which the Bulgarian people were robbed since the start of post-Communist transition, that there are immune from justice persons. When we began to establish this money and ensure them for the reason to be was returned to the society, we became unnecessary. 

Are there more enforcement requests for the application of special intelligence means brought to the Specialised Court in 2020?

A total of 1438 requests for permission to use special intelligence tools have been brought to the court - about 200 less in compare with 2019 and 2018. But there has been a sharp reduction of the court refusals to apply special intelligence tools.

A similar decrease is observed in the requests brought to the court for determination of a measure of restraint “detention in custody”, as the refusals for imposition of this most severe measure issued by the court are 26% less. At the same time, the supervision measure "house arrest" was taken against 89 people - twice as many as in 2019 and 2018, respectively - 44 and 49.

The results of our work are visible. Telephone fraud has been reduced to the minimum, racketeering groups have become mainly associated with the past, and drug distribution among adolescents has been significantly limited. Unfortunately, just when we demonstrated the will for uncompromising actions regarding the so-called high-level corruption, we have become unnecessary for certain individuals and circles.   

What will happen with the pre-trial proceedings you are working on if your activity will be terminated?

I can't guess what the lawmaker will decide. The truth is that in this situation nothing can happen automatically, in one fell swoop. Practice shows that any inflow or separation within the judiciary is a difficult process. Prosecutors' offices and Courts are not groceries where you can turn the key to lock them.

It takes time, at least to write out the cases when they will be allocated, and with us they are multi-volume. The only loser from this will be the taxpayer. And who is the winner will be seen soon. For now, it is only assumed, with a "high degree of probability" - those against whom the Specialised Prosecutor’s Office is prosecuting. Politicians are the ones who have to decide and take responsibility for their decisions.

How do you accept the only motive mentioned so far for closing the SP - that it is ineffective?

As an untrue. We are ineffective for those whose interests we have effectively affected. Some even registered parties. After all, the people, and the politicians, wanted just that from us - to be effective. Now that we get up effective, we turned out to be uncomfortable and bats.

How do prosecutors work in the current situation, is there demotivation among magistrates?

On the contrary. And this was seen last Thursday in front of the courthouses. We have all been magistrates long enough, we have experienced such changes, there is nothing to scare us. So far, we have motivated our colleagues to have a passion for work, we have assured them that they will be free from pressure and outside influence. Well, at least we believe in this. Otherwise, whether a magistrate will work in the Specialised Prosecutor’s Office or in the Sofia City Prosecutor's Office, he will continue to perform the same professional duty, will bear the same responsibilities.

It is insulting that without explanation it’s wanted to destroy what they have built with a lot of efforts and deprivation over the years. It is difficult to watch the demolition of the house you built with solid foundations and after European standards. If you ask me, it doesn't matter to me whether I will be a magistrate in the Specialised Prosecutor’s Office or in another Prosecutor's office.

Yes, but your salaries are higher.

It is high time to understand that all prosecutors and investigators in Bulgaria receive equal salaries according to rank and position, incl. and in the Specialised Prosecutor’s Office. It is also time to debunk the myth of receiving six additional basic salaries per year from the magistrates in the Specialized Prosecutor's Offices. From 2 years for good work, assessed by various indicators, additional remuneration is given in the amount of up to three basic salaries. There are colleagues who have received even less than the 1,5 additional basic salaries provided for in the law for other magistrates.

Out of the current topics - is there a reaction from the United Arab Emirates to your request for the extradition of Vasil Bozhkov?

What was needed, the Prosecutor's Office of Bulgaria did a long time ago. The right to decide belongs to the respective state.

Do prosecutors from the Specialized Prosecutor's Office receive threats?

I will not comment on this issue, and citizens are hardly interested in which magistrate is under guard for how long and because of whom. The measures provided by law are applied by the Protection Bureau. There are prosecutors from the Specialized Prosecutor's Office who are currently under guard.

You are talking about success, but with the exception of the case against Rumen Ovcharov for Bobov Dol mines, in which a conditional sentence was reached at the first instance, in other cases against ex-governments the Prosecutor's office has so far failed to reach convictions. Why?

In the Specialized Prosecutor's Office we do not divide the accused persons into former, current or future governing. And it is not true that we have not achieved convictions - only for 2020 we have 5 persons, sentenced and sanctioned with entered into force decision of the court. Last year, prosecutors observed a record number of pre-trial proceedings for corruption offenses - 274, of which 205 for crimes committed by officials with a probable corruption motive, one third of which were newly initiated.

Such cases are difficult to investigate, in which the Prosecutor's Office is obliged to comply with current regulations - which do not always allow faster investigation and hand over to the court of the accused. If we compare the amount of evidence needed for an effective corruption conviction in our country with that presented to the court by colleagues in Europe, the findings will certainly not be in favor of the Bulgarian criminal justice system. Formalism in the process takes too much time, especially the preparation of indictments, as well as the opportunities provided by the Criminal Procedure Code to delay the process by postponing court hearings, etc.

You have my assurances that we will not stop or delay our work in all proceedings, including in criminal cases of persons in leading positions.

Valentina Madzharova is acting administrative head of the Specialized Prosecutor's Office since July 22, 2020. She graduated in law in 1998. She started working in the judiciary in 2002 as an investigator in Burgas, and in 2006 she became a prosecutor in the Regional Prosecutor's Office in Sredets, of which she was also administrative head. She comes to the Specialized Prosecutor's Office from the District Prosecutor's Office of Shumen. Madzharova has the rank of "prosecutor in the Supreme Prosecution Office and the Supreme Administrative Court."

*"24 часа" newspaper

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