BTC BETWEEN THE COURT AND PROSECUTOR'S OFFICE
In the first days of 2003, when the world INTERNET-society clebrates the 20th anniversary since launching the international network, the destiny of telecommunications in Bulgaria seems quite vague. The most numerous queries regard the deal on the Bulgarian Telecommunications Company (BTC), which is about to open a new chapter in the legal theory and practice, at least if we judge from this week's events. On Wednesday (January 8) a 3-member team of the Supreme Administrative Court (SAC) nonsuited the protest of the Deputy Prosecutor General and Head of the Supreme Administrative Prosecutor's Office Hristo Machev for announcing null and void PA's choice of the Vienna-based company Viva Ventures as buyer of the national telecom.A day earlier (on Tuesday, January 7) the same three higher magistrates nonsuited two other claims regarding the same deal - filed by Viva Ventures. The claim, submitted on December 27, 2002 at the SAC by the lawyers of the nominated buyer, demands to announce null and void the ruling of the Supreme Cassation Prosecutor's Office of December 6, 2002, by which the procedure for BTC's sale was cancelled due to apprehensions for the commitment of a crime as per articles 180 and 185 of the Criminal Procedures Code. Magistrates explained they were not competent to extend a ruling on that claim and did not consider it. In order to act in accordance with the effective legislation, the higher magistrates sent to the Supreme Cassation Prosecutor's Office a copy of the claim.However, things are different regarding Viva Ventures' second claim, which demands from SAC to order fulfillment of the PA Chairman's choice of the telecom's buyer. In fact Viva Ventures require to immediately continue the negotiations and finalize the deal on BTC despite the deeds of other legal instances. The higher magistrates nonsuited this claim as unjustified and returned the matter to the Supreme Cassation Prosecutor's Office. Presently only it and the Prosecutor General can resume the cancelled deal, at that after ascertaining that no crime has been committed.Let's recall that the cassation prosecutors were approached on December 2, 2002 by a group of MPs from the UDF, claiming that Viva Ventures did not meet the requirements for a buyer of the BTC. The requirements were described in the strategy for the telecom's divestment, approved by Parliament and formulated in a special decision of the PA. The deputies claimed that the Vienna-based company had purchased tender dossiers prior its registration. The UDF opposition pointed out as well that there was sufficient evidence of a crime, committed by the ministers Nikolay Vassilev, Plamen Petrov, Nikolay Svinarov, Milen Velchev, and PA's Executive Director Apostol Apostolov. A few days later the Supreme Cassation Prosecutor's Office cancelled the negotiations on the BTC with the motive that they could lead closing a disadvantageous deal, which is a crime as per article 220 of the Penal Code and violation of the office responisbilities with the purpose of benefitting oneself or other people, which is a crime as per article 283 of the Penal Code. However, no term for concluding the prosecutor's inspection is fixed by law. According to the Chairman of the Parliamentary Economic Commission Valeri Dimitrov, who is one of the best Bulgarian experts in commercial law, the inspection of the Supreme Cassation Prosecutor's Office should be completed in a reasonable term. But nobody dares to forecast how long that will be.It would be an absurdity as well to predict the result of the inspection. On January 8, a few hours after the SAC nonsuited the protest for declaring the choice of Viva Ventures null and void, the Vienna-based company officially voiced their expectations for a soon renewal of the negotiations. However, lawyers who are not directly connected with BTC's sale believe that the ruling itself and the juristic anlyses and the conclusions of the three higher magistrates may become the basis for new lawsuits. There are several possibilities now. The BTC saga will certainly continue in the SAC. The Chairman of INTERNET-society Veni Markovski litigated at a 5-member team of SAC the rejection of his claim (nonsuited in November 2002) against the choice of Viva Ventures as BTC's buyer. The possibility of appealing within 14 days against SAC's ruling of January 8 should not be ruled out. According to pundits, a new protest could be filed by the Deputy Prosector General Hristo Manchev demanding to declare the deal on the telecom unlawful (i.e. liable to revocation). The arguments for such a protest are included in detail in SAC's ruling of January 8. It's another question if they will be used.