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21/04/24

Parliamentary Ad Hoc Committee Hears More Victims of Trade-in-Influence Network in Judiciary

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A Parliamentary Ad Hoc Committee Thursday held a new hearing into a network trading in influence in the judiciary run by Martin "The Notary" Bozhanov. The committee was set up on February 7 and has already given hearings to journalists, judges and prosecutors, as well as to other victims of Bozhanov’s network.
Bozhanov was shot dead in a gated complex in a Sofia suburb on the evening of January 31. Accounts of his business by victims and witnesses portray him as a large-scale fixer of people’s problems with the judiciary. He has been implicated in building a network of connections with prosecutors and judges whom he allegedly bribed, threatened, blackmailed or otherwise pressured to treat his "clients" favourably. Pretrial proceedings have been initiated. 
On Thursday, Ivayla Bakalova and her partner Veselin Denkov talked about the extortion and pressure to which they had been subjected by members of the judiciary and how, having refused to pay the demanded sum – first BGN 100,000 and then EUR 100,000 – Denkov got three charges of participation in a criminal group and was arrested by the now defunct Specialized Prosecution Office.
A former model, Bakalova got in the limelight in 2021 when she became one of the key players in the Anti-Corruption Fund’s investigation into a network of influence in the judiciary set up by Bozhanov (for which the committee was set up in Parliament).
Bakalova told the MPs: "Martin ‘The Notary’ Bozhanov phoned me and said the Specialized Court did as it was bid, so that we should pay regardless of whether [Denkov] is innocent or guilty." Bozhanov allegedly told her that if they paid the sum, it would be some time before Denkov was released from remand – this could happen after the parliamentary elections and after they changed their lawyer Ina Lulcheva.
Bakalova said: "Martin Bozhanov was a man created by the system, he could not have thrived in that system without political patronage." In her words, he knew he could get away with it. "Martin ‘The Notary’ existed because of the inaction or excessive action of the authorities and institutions in this country. Such intermediaries thrive thanks to our ailing justice system."
Denkov said that between 2016 and 2020, he was visited by people who claimed that they had been sent by the Specialized Prosecution Office and that he must pay BGN 100,000 so as not to lose his status as witness and become accused. When he refused, he was charged with extortion, usury and incitement to murder. He was arrested and held in remand for nine months and under house arrest for a further eight months.
The parliamentary committee was set up after Bozhanov was killed. The MPs heard representatives of the Anti-Corruption Fund, as well as Judge Vladislava Tsarigradska, who complained that she had been threatened by Bozhanov to decide his case in his favour. Since then, Tsarigradska has been provided with security detail. She said, however, that no other action had been taken by the institutions.
The committee also gave a hearing to Nevena Zartova, former head of the Sofia Regional Prosecution Office (SRPO). She resigned at the request of acting Prosecutor General Borislav Sarafov after suspicions arose that the SRPO had failed to act on alerts about property fraud committed by Bozhanov. Zartova claimed, however, that she was pressured into resigning because a case file against another trader in influence in the judiciary, former investigator Petar "Petyo the Euro" Petrov, contained evidence that Sarafov and Petrov were close friends.
The Parliamentary Ad Hoc Committee gave a hearing to two Greek businessmen who claimed they had been blackmailed by people close to Bozhanov, as well as by the SRPO which had instituted a case against them.
The Supreme Judicial Council set up its own ad hoc committee of inquiry into the Bozhanov case.

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