At a recent press conference in Sofia, the chairman of the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Sophie in’t Veld accused the Bulgarian Prosecutor General Ivan Zhev of using “extraordinary powers” to crack down on the opposition. In ‘t Veld, who led a European Parliament delegation to Bulgaria in December to investigate reports of official offenses, said Zhev had shown an unwillingness to wiretap and investigate questions about corruption and her committee’s investigation during the 2020 protests Answer police violence. She called on the European Commission to closely monitor developments in Bulgaria.
“Effective and fair law enforcement remains one of the most pressing problems in Bulgaria,” said in ‘t Veld. “The prosecution of high-level corruption remains problematic.” The delegation is also concerned about police violence cases in the summer of 2020 that have not been properly investigated, she said.
In ‘t Veld headed a delegation from the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs
The sharp criticism of the European Parliament comes from the fact that members of the Bulgarian interim government raise new allegations almost every week about the events of 2020. Police files leaked on the Internet in mid-September 2021 revealed that 30 members of the protest movement and a total of around 1,000 people were wiretapped during the mass demonstrations. Interior Minister Boyko Rashkov has been making similar allegations since April. Culture Minister Velislav Minekov told DW last week that he and everyone he spoke to, including German journalists, had been bugged.
Section 95 of the Bulgarian Criminal Code is key to understanding the complexity of the wiretapping scandal. It defines subversion, seizure of power and armed insurrection. On this basis, the Bulgarian Public Prosecutor’s Office applied for and received judicial authorization to monitor members of the protest movement last year, said Rashkov.
‘Not illegal supervised’
In July 2020, Shev publicly accused Vasily Boschkov, a gaming billionaire who fled to Dubai after being charged with tax fraud, of being behind the nationwide protest movement. According to the public prosecutor’s office, the billionaire who fled was paying police rioters for violence on the fringes of the protests.
Minekov speaks at a protest in Sofia in August 2020
That was the official explanation for the first subversion interception application in Bulgarian history, which the judge admitted. “I officially asked the public prosecutor whether I was being monitored,” Minekov told DW. “The answer was, ‘You were not illegally monitored. I came to the conclusion that, according to the prosecutor, I was legally bugged along with everyone I spoke to, including German journalists and ambassadors,” he said.
Minekov, one of the leading organizers of the mass protests last year, argued that the demonstrations were legal protests and that “a violent seizure of power or overthrow” was impossible.
In June, the investigation platform bird.bg published police documents showing that several journalists, including Vesela Sergieva, the office manager of Agence France-Presse in Sofia, had been wiretapped during discussions with representatives of protest groups.
The investigation into the surveillance measures was slowed down by the political trench warfare. In August Nikolai Hajigenov, chairman of the parliamentary commission of inquiry, spoke of “the largest mass wiretapping of Bulgarian citizens in recent Bulgarian history”. The investigators have not yet managed to maintain the confidentiality of individual incidents, which the public prosecutor and police demanded.
Police at the protests in Sofia in July 2020
The scope of the wiretapping, the names of the persons concerned and the content of the wiretapping protocols remain under lock and key. However, some documents have been leaked on the internet, making it easier for individuals to dismiss the allegations as politically motivated.
The Hajigenov Commission is also investigating allegations of police violence at two demonstrations in July and September 2020. A recently released 18-minute surveillance video shows police dragging a protester into a pillared area of the Council of Ministers building and kicking him and the lying figure on the ground beat.
The investigation has since stalled. Six police officers were disciplined in 2020 for “excessive use of force”. Five days after the incident, Interior Minister Mladen Marinov was replaced, and his successor, Hristo Terzijski, protested to the committee that he had started an investigation. There were no political or legal consequences.
This article has been translated from German.