Bulgarian PM's chief of staff charged in embezzlement case

SOFIA Thu May 8, 2014 7:01am EDT

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SOFIA (Reuters) - The Bulgarian prime minister's chief of staff was charged on Thursday with aiding in the embezzlement of European Union funds, two weeks after two senior magistrates were charged with the scheme.

Prosecutors said that in 2009 Maria Divizieva helped the magistrates present false statements in an EU-funded project worth over 400,000 levs ($284,700). Divizieva, then the head of the managing authority of an EU aid program, "facilitated through advice and promises to provide assistance," they said.

Divizieva denied any wrong-doing and called the charge "one huge misunderstanding".

Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski declined to say if he would dismiss Divizieva, who has gone on leave until the case is clarified.

"She was only charged at this stage," Oresharski told reporters. "This is a case that has nothing to do with the activities of this cabinet and her activities as head of the cabinet in the last year."

Last month, the prosecutors charged Veselin Pengezov, chairman of the Sofia Appeals Court, and Petar Petkov, head of the Military Appeals Court, with embezzling EU funds related to an information system for military courts in the cities of Sofia and Pleven. The scandal has further undercut public trust in the Bulgarian judiciary.

Bulgaria is under fire from the EU, which it joined in 2007, over failure to reform its inefficient judicial system and to convict senior officials of graft. It has managed to jail only a few crime bosses since the fall of communism in 1989.

Public anger over corruption and organized crime is likely to be on display in next month's European Parliament elections, when populist parties are expected to perform well in Bulgaria as in many other EU member states. ($1 = 1.4049 Bulgarian Levs)

(Reporting by Angel Krasimirov; Editing by Larry King)

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