Balkan Airlines ex-CEOs convicted in absentia

11th November 2011, Comments 0 comments

Three former chief executives of Bulgaria's Balkan Airlines, a Briton and two Israelis, were Friday convicted in absentia over the company's privatisation and bankruptcy in 2001, the prosecution said.

Andrew Gray and Israelis Yehim Mar and Zvi Frank-Haim of Israeli Zeevi Holdings, which bought Balkan in 1999, wired to the Netherlands $37.9 million without declaring the money to the central bank, it said.

A Sofia court found them guilty on Friday of having broken Bulgaria's currency transfer laws.

Gray was handed a suspended three-year sentence and Mar and Frank-Haim were given four years each, the prosecution said.

The three men were however acquitted on the principal count against them -- breach of trust and suspected "intentional bankruptcy" of Balkan in 2001, it added.

The prosecution said it would appeal.

Zeevi Holdings bought 75 percent in Bulgaria's debt-ridden national carrier Balkan in June 1999 for $150,000 (163,000 euros), and pledged to invest another $100 million in the airline over five years.

Instead, Balkan nosedived into bankruptcy amid legal disputes between its new owners and the government that also saw Zeevi Holdings sell off a great part of its planes and other assets.

The government claimed back the company and renamed it Bulgaria Air in 2002 before selling it to a Bulgarian firm.

© 2011 AFP

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