The District Court in Bulgaria?s second city Plovdiv upheld on September 19 an application by the Regional Prosecutor?s Office to remove from office Chief Architect Roumen Roussev, who is facing criminal charges in connection with the attempted demolition of a former tobacco warehouse in Plovdiv?s historic ?Tobacco Town? precinct.
The court agreed that if Roussev remained in office, he could obstruct the invetigation and influence witnesses.
Roussev, along with the representative of the owners of the building in Plovdiv?s Odrin Street, face a series of criminal charges in connection with the March 2016 allegedly illegal attempt at demolishing the warehouse, a monument of culture dating back to the early 20th century when Plovdiv had a key role in the Balkan tobacco trade.
The Plovdiv Regional Prosecutor?s Office announced the court application on September 16, saying that it was being brought in the light of evidence gathered during pre-trial proceedings.
This evidence related to, among other things, the building permit for the Odrin Street property and an ongoing investigation into corruption regarding the issuing of building permits and changing of building plans. The pre-trial investigation was continuing, the Prosecutor?s Office said.
The court agreed that there was objective evidence that the accused, if left in office, could have a direct and indirect impact on witnesses employed in the same office and creat obstacles to the collection of the necessary documentary evidence held by the municipal administration.
The ruling is not final and is subject to appeal in the Plovdiv Appeal Court.
Counsel for Roussev said that the decision would be taken on appeal. He expressed astonishment that the application for Roussev?s removal was lodged in September rather than in March, and how it was that only now there was an argument that Roussev could influence staff and obstruct the investigation, although so far there had been no such danger.
Roussev?s lawyer said that Roussev had co-operated fully and voluntarily with the investigation. As a person and as a professional, Roussev had put no pressure on staff regarding the investigation, he said.
The March 2016 attempted demolition caused public outrage in Plovdiv and throughout Bulgaria. The demolition machines were stopped by Plovdiv residents who obstructed them and then by police acting on official orders.
Culture Minister Vezdhi Rashidov has issued an order for the owners to reconstruct the damaged building.
Public outrage about the fate of ?Tobacco Town?, one of the assets that the city pointed to in its successful application to be named European Capital of Culture 2019, flared again when, in August, three other ?Tobacco Town? warehouses were gutted in a huge fire.
A homeless man has been arrested and face charges of arson in connection with the August fires. He denies wrongdoing.
(Main photo, of the Odrin Street warehouse that was the subject of the attempted demolition in March, as seen in August: Clive Leviev-Sawyer)