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Want to escape from arrest? Run for EU elections!

Eugenia Baneva and her husband Nikolay [R] in company of policemen [Dnevnik]

Eugenia Baneva is an illustrious Bulgarian business lady who was arrested in August last year at the airport in Nice at the request of the authorities in Sofia. Four months later, Baneva was transferred to a Bulgarian arrest. She and her husband Nikolay Banev are accused of money laundering to the tune of €500 million and of tax evasion. Banev is also behind bars. He is one of the richest Bulgarians, his fortune origination in the privatisation at the end of the last century.

The Banev family journey in recent months can easily be described as from riches to rags.

Eugenia Baneva now wants to become a member of the European Parliament, which is quite understandable. The indictments forced the rich family to exchange their overly expensive home in the style of Louis XIV-inspired kitsch for the miserable atmosphere of a Sofia arrest.

Running for European elections would allow Baneva to be released under warranty in order to fix her personal and political affairs. If she finds the time, she can even see her hairdresser.

The start of the Baneva’s political campaign was announced by her husband on his Facebook page:

“We invite all friends, relatives and adherents to support her candidacy for a MEP. She is educated and intelligent woman, who has graduated from law. She is fluent in English and French, a mother of three, a business lady with all the qualities of a Europe-engaged personality.”

Baneva’s fans are not many. She also ran for MEP in 2014 with paid articles in lifestyle magazines, in an attempt to attract an audience impressed by her sumptuous style. Baneva’s fashion line was rated by 0.276% of the voters, possibly less than the number of people the family employs. For some reason, voters missed the link between the Banev family taste for the French Riviera and the commitment to solve Europe’s problems.

Now Baneva has decided to make a second attempt to storm into Brussels’ politics, despite the worsened starting position. A month ago, the Deputy Prosecutor General Ivan Geshev revealed the political line of the Banev family. The authorities had wiretapped Nikolay Banev’s phone he used illegally behind the bars. The phone was brought to him hidden in a juice box. It turned out that the rich family is close to the most anti-EU trends in European politics.

Nikolay Banev used the phone to try setting up a pro-Russian party in Bulgaria and to seek political asylum for himself and his family in Russia. Geshev said that it became known that Banev received a promise of protection on behalf of Russian lawyers before the European Court of Human Rights. The Russians said they would even start a “hybrid war” in defence of the Banevs.

In 2016 Nikolay Banev established the Eurasian Club – Bulgaria, which was supposed to be an alternative to the Atlantic Club in Sofia, but his idea didn’t gain popularity. That same year Nikolay Banev run for president, winning 0.11% of the votes.

During the campaign, attention focused on his wife, Eugenia Baneva, who stated: “We have paid millions of corruption money”. Back then, the Prosecution back did not show interest to learn to whom these millions were paid.

Banevi may not be the only millionaires who got rich during the privatization, but they became the first Bulgarians named in the Panama Papers.

This is not the first case when elections opened the doors of the arrest for famous Bulgarian “businessmen”. In January 2009, Plamen Galev and Angel Hristov, known as the Galevi brothers, were arrested as leaders of a criminal group for blackmailing and drug trafficking. They had a huge influence in Southwest Bulgaria and their native city of Dupnitsa was considered by many Bulgarians as their personal property.

Six months later, they both run for MPs in the Bulgarian national elections, having established a “Party of the Liberal Alternative and Peace”. The court released them under warranty of €50,000 so that they could meet their voters. Plamen Galev wrote an emotional statement after which the Baneva message appears to be copied.

“Your support and letters give me the strength and the belief that we have chosen the right way. I will be your voice in the National Assembly; I will ask your questions. I will work tirelessly to stand up for the guaranteed rights of each of you as a citizen of Bulgaria and the European Union”, Galev wrote. He declared that if he was elected as MP, he would “ask for his immunity to be lifted so that the investigation against him can go on”.

The two “brothers” were not elected, but they did not return to custody. Three years later, the Supreme Court of Cassation found them guilty and sentenced them to five years in prison as leaders of a criminal group. The problem was that they were no longer in Bulgaria. A few days before the final sentence they had disappeared without a trace. According to unofficial information, they are in the Republic of South Africa, with which Bulgaria has no extradition treaty.

Krassen Nikolov

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