THE STATE BROUGHT TO SUIT BECAUSE OF THE LICENCE OF NOVA TELEVIZIYA
The State has also become a side in the dispute about who should be the third national TV operator. The Czech company Nova Holding had initiated two private claims for BGN1 at the Sofia City Court against the Supreme Administrative Court, it became known during the week. The claims are for violations of article 7 of the Constitution, which stipulates that the State shall be responsible for damages, caused by unlawful acts of its bodies or officials. In March the Supreme Administrative Court ordered the Commission for Regulation of Communications to close the former procedure (dating back to the year 2000) for the choice of a national programme, in which Nova Holding (successor to MEF Holding, which took part in the first procedure) should not be admitted to participate. In May the Commission held a new competition, in which Nova Televiziya was declared the winner and was instantly granted a permission for covering with its signal the entire country's territory, without having to wait for the outcome of possible lawsuits. As it could be expected, the Czechs appealed against the choice of Nova Televiziya. On Tuesday (December 2) a 3-member team of the Supreme Administrative Court held its first session. In the beginning of the hearing the representative of the foreign company demanded that the three members of the jury should withdraw as they were the same who removed Nova Holding from the contest. The lawyer Liliya Foteva said that the Chair of the jury Andrey Ikonomov had already demonstrated his partiality by interpreting contradictively one and the same radio and TV cases. What shall we think as within a few days Mr. Ikonomov ruled that more than ten regional tenders for licensing radio stations should be repeated and only that for the third national TV operator to be cancelled and launched again, although the procedure for all contests was identical?, she asked. The Czech company demanded also that the cases should not be entrusted to another seven judges, who participated in the hearing of the previous arguments.Judge Ikonomov asked Ms. Foteva if she had brought proof that the Sofia City Court had initiated a lawsuit regarding the filed claims. The 3-member jury decided to stay after it became known that Nova Holding had not received certificates that legal proceedings have begun. Nova Holding's rivals - the jurists of the Council for Electronic Media, of the Commission for Regulation of Communications, and the defence of Nova Televiziya - spoke in defence of Mr. Ikonomov and the other nine judges. Georgi Dimitrov and Marin Arsov, managers of the law firm that worked out the criteria for the tender held in the spring, also spoke against the foreign company. We believe that the claims for damages against the State, due to rulings of the Supreme Administrative Court, are an attempt to exert pressure on the jury in the beginning of the forthcoming lawsuit, Mr. Dimitrov said. According to that logic, anyone who is not content with a court ruling might decide to sue the State for having inflicted losses to him, he added. During the first session that lasted almost three hours, the disputes between Mr. Ikonomov and Ms. Foteva maintained high tension in the courtroom. The two of them were not trying to hide their tense relations.All three hearings of Nova Holding's suits were postponed for April 2004. Till then the sides should file to court documents, trying to justify their rightness. After the session the representative of the Czechs Ivan Genchev told the BANKER weekly that the company intended to refer the matter to an international court of arbitration. We'll sue the State for EUR250MN, he said. We'll lay a claim at the court of arbitration in Washington, as Bulgaria has ratified there a Convention for protection of investors' rights, Mr. Genchev added. In the struggle for licensing the third Bulgarion national TV operator, which lasted more than three years, hardly anyone remained only white or black. Too many interests have been interwined in the dispute. However, it is not yet clear if the State is a player, too. In November 2001, amendments to the Radio and Television Act were approved, due to which things like the above-described case are happening. Until these changes entered into effect the State held all the trump-cards and due to the deletion of only one sentence it may have huge problems. Last week's events show as well that the disputes between magistrates and discontent people would continue. On Monday (December 8) the second lawsuit begins, initiated by a failed contestant against the Commission for Regulation of Communications. The Swedish company SBC also wants to ban almost half of the judges from the Supreme Administrative Court from the legal proceedings.