Bulgaria Signs Agreement To Transfer $57M of Libya’s Debt to International Fund for HIV-Positive Children
Bulgarian Deputy Foreign Minister Feim Chaushev on Monday signed an agreement to transfer about $57 million of Libya's debt to Bulgaria to an international fund to aid more than 400 Libyan children living with HIV/AIDS, the AP/International Herald Tribune reports. The agreement is part of a deal that secured the release of five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor who were imprisoned for more than eight years in Libya for allegedly intentionally infecting the children with HIV (AP/International Herald Tribune, 9/3).
The medical workers in May 2004 were sentenced to death by firing squad for allegedly infecting 426 children with HIV through contaminated blood products at Al Fateh Children's Hospital in Benghazi, Libya. They also were ordered to pay a total of $1 million to the families of the HIV-positive children. The Libyan Supreme Court in December 2005 overturned the medical workers' convictions and ordered a retrial in a lower court. A court in Tripoli, Libya, in December 2006 convicted the health workers and sentenced them to death. The medical workers then filed an appeal of the December 2006 conviction with the Libyan Supreme Court. The Supreme Court upheld the conviction in July. After Libya's Supreme Judicial Council reduced the sentence to life in prison, the six medical workers were released and pardoned by Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov after arriving in the country. The Gaddafi Development Foundation -- which is headed by Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's son, Seif al-Islam Gaddafi -- in July said the families of the children accepted a compensation package of about $460 million. The Supreme Judicial Council -- which can approve or cancel the Supreme Court's conviction of the medical workers or issue a less serious sentence -- reduced the sentences to life in prison after each family received the compensation package (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 8/17).
"Transferring Libya's debt to Bulgaria into the Benghazi fund is a humanitarian and social act," Chaushev said, adding, "We have always underlined that we are committed to solving the tragedy in Benghazi, so let the money be used to this aim." According to AFP/Middle East Times, Libya stopped paying back its debt to Bulgaria in 1984. The agreement was co-signed by Mark Pierini, chair of the Benghazi International Fund. "The fund was instrumental in obtaining a pardon from the families of the victims in Benghazi and for the annulation of the death sentence and later for the medics' release," Pierini said Monday (AFP/Middle East Times, 9/3).
Pierini said he could not disclose the amount collected by the fund but said that the European Commission contributed a total of about $16 million and that Germany contributed about $2 million. The Bulgarian government previously said 27 donors -- including 17 governments, nine private companies and one nongovernmental organization -- also had committed to contribute to the fund (Reuters, 9/3). Bulgaria has said that it canceled Libya's debt as a gesture of goodwill and that it should not be seen as an admission of the medical workers' guilt, according to the AP/Herald Tribune (AP/International Herald Tribune, 9/3).