The case of Nikolay and Evgenia Banevi against the former chief prosecutor Ivan Geshev and his deputies, including Borislav Sarafov, should be heard by the Sofia City Court, the Supreme Court ruled.
The business family is suing the former leadership of the prosecutor’s office for BGN 60,000. They felt affected by a letter dated December 21, 2021. It says: “A number of Bulgarian citizens, considered by society to be untouchable for law enforcement agencies, known oligarchs, among whom is Vasil Bozhkov, were brought as defendants… A number of other significant persons with enormous economic and financial resources were brought before the court – Tsvetan Vasilev …Plamen and Atanas Bobokovi …… Evgenia and Nikolay Banevi /responsible for large-scale embezzlement, led to the bankruptcy of one of the largest industrial enterprises in Bulgaria, money laundering in the amount of BGN 1.5 billion; tax crimes on a particularly large scale and participation in an organized criminal group/”; “… to hinder the work of the prosecutor’s office, to frustrate investigations and to prevent guilty persons from being brought before the independent Bulgarian court on the basis of the collected evidence”.
According to Banevi, the expressions and qualifications relating to them, used in the statement, which is addressed to 67 individuals listed by name in their capacity as representatives of various international institutions, organizations and foreign diplomatic missions, distributed on January 8, 2022 by numerous Bulgarian media, including national radios and televisions, as well as the overall negative context in which their names are placed, are false, disgraceful and damaging to their constitutional rights – their personal honor and dignity, the presumption of innocence of the accused.
However, the SGS terminated the case due to the inadmissibility of the claims, because the prosecutors, including the management of the prosecutor’s office, have functional immunity under the constitution.
The second instance – the Sofia Court of Appeal, has indicated in the first place that the sending of letters containing certain positions of the prosecutor’s office cannot be characterized as illegal behavior.
Functional immunity should not limit the rights of persons using and relying on the presumption of innocence. Immunity is actually established for the protection of the state and the normal functioning of the judicial system, and not exclusively and only for the protection of the person using it.
For this reason, the public statements of the authorities related to specific criminal proceedings acquire special importance. If in such public statements or in judicial decisions, other than decisions on the question of guilt, the suspect or accused person is represented as guilty until proven guilty in accordance with law, the presumption of innocence would be violated.
The European Court of Human Rights also accepted that the obligation not to incriminate suspects or accused persons does not prevent the authorities from informing the public about ongoing criminal investigations, but requires them to do so “with all discretion and restraint”.
So now the Sofia City Court, which will hear the case on its merits, will have to answer whether the statement of Geshev and his deputies goes beyond the usual disclosure to the public of information about the conduct and development of the criminal proceedings instituted against Banevi, as it contains the idea that they are guilty of committing the crimes for which they were charged before the criminal court issued a final conviction, explains the “Now” website.