SOFIA, Bulgaria (AP) — A district court in Bulgaria imposed a four-year prison sentence Tuesday on a deputy parliament speaker and head of a small opposition party who was convicted of extorting money from a restaurant owner.
Veselin Mareshki heads the populist Volya party, which is closely linked to 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 restaurant, denied wrongdoing and said his lawyers will appeal within the legal deadline. The decision must be confirmed by Bulgaria's supreme court.
The 53-year-old politician owns one of the largest pharmacy chains in Bulgaria, as well as a network of gas stations across the country.
He claimed that the trial was set up by legal authorities to demonstrate “the successful fight against oligarchs and corruption” in Bulgaria.
The Balkan country, which is the European Union’s poorest, has been regularly criticized by Brussels for failing to deal with widespread graft and to sentence corrupt top officials.