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Former Bulgarian Intel Chief Sentenced to 10 Years

Former Bulgarian National Intelligence Service director, Lt. General Kircho Kirov, back row, far left, welcomes three kidnapped Bulgarians back to Sofia, June 7, 2011.

Bulgaria's former intelligence chief Kircho Kirov was sentenced to 10 years in jail on Friday for misappropriation of public funds and violations of financial discipline, prosecutors said.

Kirov, convicted for misappropriating nearly 5 million levs ($2.8 million) and filing for more than 1,000 non-existent expenses between 2007 and 2011, denied any wrongdoing and will appeal the verdict.

"I believe in the fairness of the Bulgarian judicial system and I believe I will be able to prove my innocence," he told Bulgarian national radio.

The court, which said Friday's sentence was the minimum possible under Bulgarian law for his offenses, ordered half of Kirov's assets to be confiscated.

The European Union has repeatedly criticized the Balkan country for failing to jail corrupt officials or overhaul its inefficient judiciary.

Bulgaria and neighboring Romania hope progress in these areas will lead to them being allowed to join the EU's Schengen zone, in which passport-free travel is permitted.

Corruption has undermined Bulgarians' trust in public institutions and has long deterred foreign investment.

In January 2012, Kirov was dismissed as the head of National Intelligence Service after nine years as its head. Prime Minister Boiko Borisov soon named him as an adviser but fired him after only two months.