A Bulgarian district court has sentenced a deputy parliament speaker and chief of a small opposition party to four years in prison on September 15 for extorting money from a pizza parlor owner.
Veselin Mareshki, 53, heads the populist Volya party, which has ties with the pan-European far-right Identity and Democracy Party.
Mareshki, who was found guilty of extorting money from the businessman and threatening to destroy his pizza parlor, denied all accusations and said his lawyers will appeal within the legal deadline. The Supreme Court must confirm the decision of the Varna Court of Appeal.
Mareshki is the owner of one of Bulgaria's largest pharmacy chains and has a network of gas stations across the EU's poorest member country.
He claimed that the trial was set up by legal authorities to demonstrate "the successful fight against oligarchs and corruption" in Bulgaria.
"I believe that the time for passing this sentence was deliberately chosen so that the European Commission's report on the rule of law in Bulgaria due on September 23 could state that Bulgaria has already very successfully condemned the so-called oligarchs or people with business that the prosecution declares to be such," he said.
Bulgaria has been regularly criticized by Brussels for failing to deal with widespread graft and to sentence corrupt top officials.
Bulgarian Lawmaker Gets Four-Year Sentence For Extortion