By Krassen Nikolov
The former district mayor of Sofia’s Mladost district Desislava Ivancheva who runs for the European elections as an independent candidate was sentenced in a corruption case on Monday (15 April). She was imposed a record-breaking verdict of 20 years in prison for a bribery request, and put behind bars.
The two other defendants in the same case were also found guilty and given 12 and 15 years of jail respectively. Desislava Ivancheva has the right to participate in the European elections because the verdict against her is not final and she will appeal.
The heavy punishment in the case of Ivancheva is unprecedented in Bulgaria for the last 30 years. The few corruption trials so far have resulted either in acquittals or punishments of maximum 4 years. In comparison, most of the murder cases in Bulgaria end with smaller punishments than those of Ivancheva and her co-defendants. Because of that, Ivancheva’s verdict surprised the society. Moreover, the court imposed such severe sentences in spite of the prosecution’s evidence being considered as doubtful.
Ivan Vaklin, the main witness against Ivancheva said that his first testimony was taken after he was threatened by the investigative authorities. Ivancheva was charged for having tried to obtain a €250,000 bribe from the Vaklin, owner of a construction company. He testified that Ivancheva had never asked for money directly.
The district mayor was handcuffed in a special operation and accused that she had accepted €56,000 – the first part of the bribe. The money had been marked to provide evidence that the culprit had touched the banknotes.
Ivancheva says she had not touched the money, but that her hands had been marked by the documents she signed when she was arrested. She was not convicted for taking the bribe, but only for asking for it. This is also very strange given that the evidence for requesting the bribe money was questioned during the trial.
“If we are found guilty that would mean that the state is dead,” said Ivancheva before she heard her sentence. A protest in her defence was organized later in the day. The protestors gathered in front of the European Commission office in Sofia.
Even Vaklin commented that he was “stunned as a human” by the severe sentence. “I understand the severity of the sentence, it is extremely heavy, but this is what the court has decided,” he told Nova TV.
Emanuil Yordanov, who is the lawyer of the second defendant – Bilyana Petrova (sentenced to 15 years in prison), also commented on the subject. He explained that if the defendants had killed the businessman, they would probably have been sentenced more lightly.
A week ago Ivancheva announced that she would run for the European elections as an independent candidate. She has already been nominated by an initiative committee called “The disobedient”. To participate in the elections she still needs to gather 2,500 signatures.
In 2016 Ivancheva won surprisingly the mayoral elections of Mladost district. She defeated the GERB candidate. 30,000 people from only this district voted for her. She will need more than 120,000 votes in order to become a MEP.
After the severe sentence the focus of Ivancheva’s will probably be that she is a victim of the repressive apparatus, which is dominated by GERB.