Bulgaria Monthly Digest: Billionaire Charged and Prosecutor General on the Offensive5 min read
On 27 February, the Prosecutor’s Office of the Republic of Bulgaria published a request to the Constitutional Court to interpret the rules of procedure for the Immunity of the Head of State. Prosecutor General Ivan Geshev, who assumed office in December last year, is asking the judges for a specification on the extent of the president’s immunity. Geshev requests an interpretation of the terms “treason” and “violation of the constitution” and he asks whether it is lawful to carry out inspections by public authorities and to institute criminal proceedings if there is indication that a crime has been committed by the president.
On 28 February, the office of the prosecutor published police recordings of conversations allegedly involving President Rumen Radev and commander of the Air Force Tsanko Stoikov. The Prosecutor’s Office suspect that the collected by the police data implicate Radev’s involvement in criminal activity, the press center of the institution has announced. From the recordings one can hear the two commenting on a investigation by Bulgaria’s main anti-corruption agency for the President’s wife Desislava Radeva appointment as an Air Force PR years ago.
Vasil Bojkov, one of the richest men in Bulgarian and a gambling tycoon also known as The Skull, has been charged in absentia of extortion and attempted bribery, among other crimes, and placed on an international wanted list, Prosecutor-General Ivan Geshev said on 29 January. Bojkov is believed to be worth about 1.25 billion euro and owns the country’s biggest lottery and Levski Sofia, one of the most popular soccer teams in Bulgaria. Authorities say Bojkov avoided paying about half of a billion leva (about 250 000 euro) in taxes and fees related to his private lottery companies dating to 2014. On 2 February, Prosecutor General Geshev announced that authorities in the United Arab Emirate had detained Bojkov. Geshev is seeking his extradition.
In a live televised address to the nation on 4 February, Rumen Radev said that he was officially withdrawing his confidence in the government, the Sofia Globe reports. “Today we are witnessing an acute crisis in governance at all levels, a lack of will to reform and fight corruption”, Radev stated. “This government and administration are leading to the collapse of the state and depriving us of our future as a nation,” he added. As reasons for the withdrawal of confidence, a symbolic act with little procedural consequences, the president mentioned the water crisis in Pernik and the scandals from last month related with the imports of waste from Italy.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement on 5 February that Andon Mitalov, a judge from the Bulgarian Specialized Criminal Court Judge, will be denied entry to the U.S. due to his involvement in “corrupt acts that undermined the rule of law and severely compromised the independence of democratic institutions in Bulgaria.” Mitalov raised the ire of many within and outside Bulgaria when he allowed Nikolai Malinov, a former Bulgarian lawmaker who had been charged with spying for Russia, to visit Moscow, where he received an award personally from President Vladimir Putin in November, Radio Free Europe reports.
Rapid amendments to Bulgaria’s Gambling Act proposed by the leader of the National Fund for the Salvation of Bulgaria (NFSB) Valeri Simeonov and approved on 7 February have effectively put an end to private lotteries in the country. the distribution and sale of lottery tickets, slips, coupons and others by organizers other than the Bulgarian Sports Totalizer has been banned.
On 12 February, Prosecutor General Geshev ordered the State Agency for National Security, Bulgaria’s main intelligence agency, to do a “full check” of the “entire” privatization process in the country. The review is to include all privatization deals, the payments connected with them, as well as all steps taken in the process of post-privatization supervision, the Bulgarian National Radio reports.
Following an official International Monetary Fund (IMF) staff visit to Sofia between February 4 and 14, the organization issued a “concluding statement” describing its preliminary findings. Among other things, the IMF concluded: “Better designed social protection spending could reduce poverty and inequality. Bulgaria’s already high inequality has been rising in recent years, as social protection spending (as a share of GDP) and the effectiveness of fiscal redistribution have been falling. We recommend a review of the level, targeting, and composition of social protection spending, after which such spending could be increased to better cover broader social risks.”
Prime Minister Boyko Borissov said on 17 February that the government would “slow the tempo” of progression towards the Eurozone’s “waiting room” – the European Exchange Rate Mechanism II (ERM-II) – amid fears that the preparatory steps could endanger the lev’s long-standing fixed exchange rate against the euro. “I want a national consensus, I want all people to understand that Eurozone entry is for the good of the country,” Borissov said a few days later in Brussels.
On 21 February the Catalan newspaper El Periódico reported about an investigation conducted by the Spanish national anti-corruption agency and the Catalan police on a case of moneylondering in which the Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov is believed to be involved. Key subjects of the investigation are Borislava Yovcheva, a former topmodel and allegedly an ex-partner of Borissov, and her father. According to the Catalan authorities, the newspaper writes, Yovcheva and her father bought a house for 3 million euro and established two firms in Barcelona. One of the firms received subsequently 2.3 million euro from another company of Yovchevi – in Cyprus.