Bulgaria businessmen jailed over EU fund laundering

Six Bulgarians were sentenced to imprisonment on Monday for laundering 7.5 million euros in European Union farm aid.

Bulgaria businessmen jailed over EU fund laundering

Six Bulgarians were sentenced to imprisonment on Monday for laundering 7.5 million euros ($10.08 million) in European Union farm aid.

The Sofia City Court sentenced Mario Nikolov and his wife Mariana Nikolova to 10 and eight years in jail, respectively. Another four people got six years in jail for taking part in the criminal group.

Businessman Lyudmil Stoikov, who together with Nikolov was initially suspected of being the mastermind behind the group, was acquitted, the court said.

Brussels has been following the case as well as several other high-profile trials as indicators of Sofia's ability to punish rampant corruption and organised crime.

In an interim report last week assessing Bulgaria's progress, the European Commission said the new centre-right government, elected last July, had the political will to fight graft but criticised the lack of convictions.

Failing to show results by July may threaten access to some of the 11 billion euros in aid promised to the EU's poorest member until 2013.

In 2008, the European Union anti-graft agency OLAF said there were powerful forces in the Bulgarian government, led at the time by the Socialist party, who were not interested in punishing anyone from the circle around Nikolov and Stoikov.

Brussels blocked Sofia's access to millions in EU infrastructure and agricultural aid in 2008 as punishment for the previous government's soft approach to fraud.

The defendants, together with five other people, were charged with misappropriating 7.5 million euros in EU farm aid and laundering it after revelations by police from Bulgaria, Germany and Switzerland exposed a criminal network.

The network consisted of more than 50 Bulgarian and various other European and offshore firms.

A final court ruling in a separate trial for the misappropriation of the EU farm aid is expected on Tuesday.

The charges of embezzlement against Stoikov -- who in 2006 donated 25,000 levs ($17,180) to the election campaign of Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov, a Socialist -- were dropped after the court said no evidence of his guilt was found.

On Monday, the Sofia City Court ordered the seizure of property worth some 13 million levs from those convicted. Each of them was also fined 30,000 levs.


Reuters

Güncelleme Tarihi: 29 Mart 2010, 14:37

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