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Court orders Bulgaria to pay 2.5M leva damages to nightclub owners for 9/11 security measures

After the September 11 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States, Bulgaria ordered the sealing off of parts of streets close to US embassy buildings in Sofia. Now, a court has ordered compensation to be paid, in a ruling that Foreign Minister Ivailo Kalfin calls “outrageous” and that he has asked the Supreme Judicial Council to investigate.

The court ordered the Agency for Real Estate Leasing to the Diplomatic Corps in Bulgaria (ADIS) to pay 2.5 million leva in damages to owners of several night clubs in Sofia, Bulgarian-language Dnevnik daily said on April 23 2009. Kalfin’s ministry is ADIS’s principal.

The money, according to the court, was to compensate Yalta cooperative company for the lost income they suffered between 2001 and 2005 when Sofia’s central Saborna Street was sealed off as a safety measure after the September 11 2001 terrorist attacks. At the time, Saborna was the address of the US embassy in Sofia; the embassy is now in Lozenets borough. Also at that time, Yalta owned the Astoria night club, just a few metres from the US embassy building.

Because access to Astoria was blocked by fences, Yalta’s owners filed a claim against ADIS which owned the then-building of the US embassy. Now the building is used by the Spanish Cervantes cultural centre, and after the fences were lifted in 2005, Astoria opened again, but under the name Exit. A few months ago, it was transformed into one of the most lavish and fashionable night clubs in the city under the name Versai, playing Bulgarian pop-folk music. It is still owned by Yalta, Dnevnik said.

The court case has gone through all court stages and now is not subject to appeal because ADIS did not object to the amount of money Yalta asked as compensation, Dnevnik quoted Yalta’s head Dimitar Iliev as saying. “Kalfin must pay the money out of his own pocket because he did not do his job properly,” he said and added that Yalta had made several attempts to reach an agreement with the ministry, but the latter refused.

Iliev said that the US had paid the Bulgarian Government some funds for the safety measures taken by Bulgaria to protect the US embassy after the 2001 attacks.

Yalta owns several premises in the underground passage next to Sofia University that are currently closed while Sofia’s metro station is being built. Because of this, Sofia city hall’s Metropolitan company so far has paid about two million leva in rent to Yalta, Dnevnik said.

Kalfin, however, had a different interpretation. Dnevnik quoted him as saying that the sentence was an “outrage aimed to get some money out of the budget”. “With all due respect to the court system, I cannot avoid questioning its competence in this case,” he said.

With the sentence now a fact, however, Kalfin’s only way out of the mess is to ask the Supreme Judicial Council to review the case. He intended making such a request, he said.

Yalta co-operation was in the public spotlight after the December 21 2001 incident at its Indigo night club in Sofia, in which seven teenagers died as a crowd crushed together at the entrance of the disco. The tragedy put a pall over Christmas in Bulgaria that year and an official day of mourning was declared.

Six defendants were put on trial after an investigation found that icy steps and a lack of control over the crowd waiting to get in were the main reasons for the tragedy.

On November 17 2006, Sofia City Court (SCC) found only two out of the six defendants in the trial guilty of criminal negligence – Indigo manager Angel Nikolov and Tsvyatko Barchovski, the former chairman of the Youth and Sports Committee, the body that leased Indigo’s building to Yalta.

The other four defendants, which included two of the budyguards on duty on the night of the incident, Sofia’s former chief architect during 1996-2005 period, Stoyan Yanev, and the owner of Yalta co-operation Krassimir Iliev, were found not guilty.

In January 2008, the Sofia Court of Appeals (SCA) found the two bodyguards guilty and sentenced each man, employed as bodyguards in the establishment, to pay a fine of 800 leva for not ensuring that it was safe to enter the disco.  Sofia Echo

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