New Balkans Law Office (www.newbalkanslawoffice.com) is often approached by clients who are dissatisfied with the judgments issued by the Bulgarian courts and feel that they have been unfairly treated. While, as a general rule, the Bulgarian court has the last word in the case, it is also important to recall that Bulgaria is a party to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), which provides additional legal protections against property violations.
Most claims under the ECHR are brought by individuals, and usually relate to topics such as discrimination, unfair trials, or intruding upon one’s right to private and family life, among others. Only when all national appeal courts have given judgement on the case can a person appeal to the European Court for Human Rights in Strasbourg.
However, investors, including corporations, can also benefit from the ECHR. Their investments constitute ‘property’, which is expressly protected by the Convention.Bulgarian courts are under the obligation to abide by the Convention’s requirements. Therefore, they must uphold the claimant’s right to property and, accordingly, ensure the peaceful enjoyment of their possessions.
We are currently representing one such investor before the Court in Strasbourg. He invested in real estate in Bulgaria shortly before the 2008–2009 financial crisis. Subsequent financial difficulties caused the local developer to take questionable measures without the investor’s knowledge, which resulted in the property being mortgaged and ultimately handed over to the lending bank. After several years of complaints, the Bulgarian prosecutor’s office dismissed our client’s claim that any criminal activity had taken place, in effect denying him protection of his investment. If our complaint under the ECHR is successful and the Court in Strasbourg finds that there has been a violation, the prosecution will have to re-initiate proceedings against the developer.
The scope and significance of investor protection provided by the European Court of Human Rights cannot be overstated - especially for those considering investing in Bulgaria. Property rights, such as those upheld by the Court, are essential for creating a stable and predictable legal environment that encourages investors to invest and grow their businesses. Investors, be they natural persons or corporations, often place large sums of money into foreign countries and rely on the host country's legal system to protect their holdings. The Court's focus on investor protection helps ensure that investors are not subjected to arbitrary or discriminatory treatment by host countries, and have incentives to make investments that benefit the economy.
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