SOFIA -- A Bulgarian court has released alcohol tycoon Minyu Staykov after nearly 2 1/2 years in detention due to deteriorating health.
The 59-year-old businessman was transferred to house arrest on February 2 and will be required to wear an ankle bracelet while his case continues.
Staykov, the owner of Vinprom Karnobat, was arrested in September 2018 on charges of tax fraud, money laundering, and failing to pay excise taxes on cigarettes.
When his eight-month detention expired in May 2019, he was charged with large-scale fraud with the use of European Union funds.
Despite being held for nearly 30 months, Bulgaria has yet to try him before a court. Staykov maintains his innocence.
Marshall Harris, the managing director of Alexandria Group, a Washington-based lobbying firm hired last year by Staykov, said the government of Prime Minister Boyko Borisov may have released his client to improve its image ahead of national elections in April.
"They are cleaning up their behavior because they are going to be under increased scrutiny. Borisov is going to do everything he can to look good before then," he said.
Harris said the European Parliament is also looking at rule-of-law abuses by the Borisov government.
Staykov is one of several Bulgarian tycoons who have been charged over the past few years by the Prosecutor-General’s Office with crimes in what critics call an asset grab by members of Borisov’s government.
The Bulgarian Prosecutor-General’s Office has also gone after Plamen and Atanas Bobokov, brothers who own major energy assets; oligarch Nikolay and Evgenia Banev, who made a fortune during the privatizations of the 1990s; and Vetko and Marinela Arabadjiev, who own hotels, among other business people.
Bulgaria was rocked by anti-corruption protests last year as disgruntled citizens took to the streets to call for the resignation of Borisov's government as well as Prosecutor-General Ivan Geshev.
The Bobokovs also hired Harris last year to lobby Congress on their behalf.
In material prepared for Capitol Hill, Harris described their clients as victims of Bulgaria’s "democratic decline and devolution into a criminal state," including the capture of privately held assets by extralegal means.