The press release of the Ministry of Interior and the violation of the presumption of innocence
Lolov and others v. Bulgaria 21.02.2019 (no. 6123/11)
Presumption of innocence and family criminal organization. A family is accused of creating a criminal organization that favors tax evasion and extortion. They complaint that their presumption of innocence had been violated because of a press release issued by the Ministry of Interior, which stated that “the organization has committed financial crimes and extortion at the expense of businesses and individuals”, “this organization has also hurt public fund “and” some of its members have obtained illegal profits through assets belonging to the municipality and the state “. The ECtHR considered that these statements went beyond simply providing information on the progress of a criminal investigation or describing a suspicion. It considers that they have implied that the applicants were respectively heads or active members of the same criminal organization, before the criminal courts have ruled on the merits of the case. Infringement of Article 6 § 2 of the ECHR (presumption of innocence) and infringement of Article 6 in conjunction with Article 13 (lack of an effective domestic remedy) for violations suffered
Article 6 § 2
The applicants, Svetlozar Lolov, Rumyana Lolova, a married couple, Stamen Lolov, their son, and
Rangel Stanchev, who is not a relative, are Bulgarian nationals who were born in 1964, 1963, 1984
and 1975 respectively. Mr and Ms Lolovi currently live in the United States, and the other two
applicants live in Burgas, Bulgaria.
The case concerned a charge of tax evasion which had allegedly been organised by the applicants,
the first two of whom were business people working in the tourism and real estate sectors.
In April 2009 the Burgas Regional Prosecutor’s Office initiated a criminal investigation against several
people for large-scale tax evasion. On 25 June 2010 a judge authorised a search of Mr and
Ms Lolovi’s home in Sozopol. An investigator charged them, in absentia, with criminal conspiracy to
organise tax evasion and with several counts of extortion from workers who they had employed on
their company’s worksites. On the same date Mr Stanchev was charged with participating in Mr and
Ms Lolovi’s criminal activities and in several cases of extortion. In June and July 2010 a series of
articles were published in the press and on the Internet concerning the police operation in question.
On 13 August 2013, following the withdrawal of all the prosecutors in the Burgas Regional
Prosecutor’s Office, the criminal proceedings were assigned to the Yambol Regional Prosecutor’s
Office. Subsequently, on 24 October 2014 and 19 August 2016, all the criminal proceedings were
terminated on the basis that no criminal offence had been committed.
Meanwhile, on 26 June 2010, Mr Stanchev had been arrested by the police and was held in custody
for 24 hours. Suffering from diabetes, he was taken into hospital on account of the worrying state of
his health. The next day a prosecutor from the Burgas Regional Prosecutor’s Office ordered his
detention until 29 June 2010. On that day he was taken from the hospital to appear at the regional
court. After the hearing the court decided that in view of the applicant’s state of health and the need
to prevent him from absconding and committing further offences, he should be placed under house arrest. In August 2011 the regional court replaced the house arrest with bail. That order was lifted
on 3 July 2012 on the expiry of the legal time-limit.
Relying in particular on Article 6 § 2 (presumption of innocence) of the European Convention on
Human Rights, Mr and Ms Lolovi and Mr Stanchev complained of a violation of the right to the
presumption of innocence on account of the publication of a communiqué from the Ministry of the
Interior on 29 June 2010. Relying on Article 13 (right to an effective remedy) of the European
Convention, they also complained of the lack of effective domestic remedies that could have
provided redress for the alleged violations of their rights.
Violation of Article 6 § 2 – in respect of Mr and Ms Lolovi and Mr Stanchev
Violation of Article 13 taken together with Article 6 § 2 – in respect of Mr and Ms Lolovi and
Mr Stamen Lolov’s complaints were declared inadmissible.
Just satisfaction: 5,000 euros (EUR) each to Mr Svetlozar Lolov, Ms Lolova and Mr Stanchev for nonpecuniary damage, and EUR 3,192.95 to the applicants jointly, for costs and expenses, of which EUR
2,000 to be paid to Mr Svetlozar Lolov and EUR 1,000 to Mr Stanchev.(echrcaselaw.com editing).