Top Judge Calls for Independent Body to Investigate Leaked Tapes in Yaneva Case

Top Judge Calls for Independent Body to Investigate Leaked Tapes in Yaneva Case

Top Judge Calls for Independent Body to Investigate Leaked Tapes in Yaneva Case

Sofia/Brussels, November 26 (BTA) - Supreme Court of Cassation President Lozan Panov suggested that an independent body, set up under the President and comprising all three branches of government, should investigate the leaked phone conversations between former Sofia City Court president Vladimira Yaneva and fellow judge Roumyana Chenalova.

In the leaked recordings, the two discuss a probe against Yaneva over unlawful surveillance warrants that she had signed.

Panov said that this will allow an independent check of the recordings as they implicate representatives of all three branches.

Panov urged for a check into the essence of the tapes and not just into whether they are lawfully made. "If the essence of the tapes is not checked, then a stain will stay on the judicial system," he said, adding it was obvious that Chenalova wanted to talk, but the question was which body wanted or could hear her.

Justice Minister Hristo Ivanov also called for a more extensive of into the case. He added that last week's closed-door hearing of Yaneva by the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) Ethics Commission was not enough.

Ivanov said that attempts to throw in Prime Minister Boyko Borissov's name aimed to divert attention away from the SJC members, who had to shoulder the responsibility. The Justice Minister suggested that the SJC launch a check into the case.

According to Supreme Administrative Court President Georgi Kolev, the unending debate about the leaked conversations between Yaneva and Chenalova artificially fuels tensions ahead of the upcoming vote on amendments to the Constitution. Kolev told the SJC meeting that such facts and circumstances were fiction.

SJC member Kalin Kalpakchiev suggested that the check should be made public. He was supported by Galina Karagyozova, who also called for an in-depth comprehensive check.

According to the "Mediapool" e-zine, the European Commission said there should be an independent investigation into the possible trading in influence in the so-called "Yaneva Gate" case, involving the leaked recorded conversations of Yaneva and Chenalova. "An independent check can happen only if those allegedly involved are excluded from participation in the process," the EC told Mediapool in a response to a question: "Should the concerned judicial leaders recuse themselves /be temporarily removed from office/ so that an objective investigation can be conducted?"

The e-zine concludes that since the prosecuting magistracy is the only State body that can investigate the case, an independent investigation would imply that Prosecutor General Sotir Tsatsarov has to suspend himself from office until clarification of the case implicating himself, SJC members, Prime Minister Boyko Borissov and others.

On Thursday, the European Commission firmly denied that it had called for Tsatsarov's withdrawal. Approached by BTA about reports to that effect in Bulgarian electronic media, the Commission said: "Of course not. The independence of the
judiciary is a cornerstone of every democratic society. It is not the role of the Commission to enter into discussions of how Member States should organise independent investigations into individual alleged cases. What matters to us is the independence of the judicial process which we monitor on a regular basis and in a structured process through the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism. We will issue the next report at the beginning of next year. Media reports suggesting that the Commission is calling for the stepping down of any figures allegedly involved in wiretapping case are simply wrong."

Recorded phone talks between Chenalova and Yaneva that started to be leaked in installments to the media in mid-November suggest that various high-ranking members of the executive and the judiciary, including Prime Minister Boyko Borissov and Prosecutor General Sotir Tsatsarov, have allegedly tried to influence the course of the probe against Yaneva over the unlawful surveillance warrants signed by her.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday on her way into a SJC hearing on the leaked phone recordings, Chenalova said that on multiple occasions Yaneva had summoned her and suggested how she should handle one case or another. She said one of these cases were of special interest to the Prosecutor General and a foreign ambassador. She would not elaborate, saying only that it is a pending commercial case.

Chenalova alleges that she had instructions from the Prosecutor General about how to handle the case but she did not follow them.

"And I was not the only judge who was told by Yaneva to 'see about this case' or to 'handle that case with care'," Chenalova said, adding that Yaneva had "an elegant way" of going about this. Those under Yaneva's alleged influence were a small group of judges who were close to the former Sofia City Court president - because the rest were not on speaking terms with her.

She said that judges were not paid to solve a case in a certain way and the instructions did not always come in one-on-one conversations.

"People are scared to speak out. What I do puts me in danger. Outside my home, I see cars with tinted windows and Plovdiv number plates, which have never before stopped there," said Chenalova.

Prosecutor General Tsatsarov was President of the Plovdiv District Court before he was elected to his present position.

Chenalova said she was aware her revelations might sound paranoid.

She went on to say, however, that Yaneva offered her money to keep to herself her complaints against the Prosecutor General. "She warned me not to speak out against the Prosecutor General, or else I would be in trouble. I had already said I did not like some of the methods of the prosecution office and the Prosecutor General. It was a warning," said the judge, recalling that Yaneva was close to Tsatsarov.

"She probably feared for herself, all the more so that there are still things I have not yet spoken about."

Chenalova said she never discussed with a prosecutor these things because she did not expect that anything would be done. She had alerted the SJC, though, but nobody paid any attention, she said.

BTA correspondent in Brussels Nikolay Jeliazkov contributed to this story.

Source: Sofia/Brussels