Bulgaria’s interior minister fuels suspicions that attack on chief prosecutor was staged

Bulgaria’s interior minister fuels suspicions that attack on chief prosecutor was staged
A roadside explosive device was detonated next to the motorcade of chief prosecutor Ivan Geshev on May 1.
By Denitsa Koseva in Sofia May 7, 2023

Clarifications provided by caretaker Interior Minister Ivan Demerdzhiev have cast doubt on claims that Bulgaria’s chief prosecutor was the victim of terrorist attack on May 1 when an explosion damaged his motorcade.

On May 1, an explosive device was set off on the road between the city of Samokov and the village of Kovachevtsi, when Geshev’s motorcade was passing by. The prosecution said the incident was a terrorist attack, but it almost immediately sparked suspicions — including among mainstream politicians — that the attack could have been staged

The prosecution said it is investigating a terrorist attack and, although the explosion did not injure anyone, claimed that it was only chance that Geshev was not killed. Borislav Sarafov, director of the National Investigation Service, said at the time that the explosion created a column of fire 4-5 metres tall, and the crater formed next to the road was 30-40 cm deep and 3 metres in diameter.

However, on May 5 Demerdzhiev said the explosion did not damage Geshev’s car, which is the most secure in the country. Even the car of the country’s president has a lower level of security, he said.

The minister said that only one of the headlights of Geshev’s car was broken.

Over the week, many experts published photos showing that there was only minor damage in the area of the explosion and no damaged trees. There was no evidence of a 4-5-metre tall fire column, nor damage to the road.

That contradicts claims by Sarafov that the explosive device detonated next to Geshev’s car contained at least 3 kg of TNT equivalent and multiple fragments, pellets the size of a human fingernail. 

Demerdzhiev also said that Geshev’s family was not in the motorcade. This contradicts the chief prosecutor's statement on the day of the attack that his children were very scared.

Initially, Sarafov also said that Geshev’s family was put at risk and that they survived by a miracle. However, on May 5, Sarafov said he was misled by Geshev’s statement that his family was in the car.

Demerdzhiev said also that an Israeli expert, who the prosecution said is helping investigate the attack, arrived in the country an hour and half before the explosion. He did not say why the expert was invited to the country prior to the explosion but promised to reveal that information if the prosecution refuses to do so.

After Demerdzhiev’s statement, the Change Continues-Democratic Bulgaria coalition urged Sarafov to resign, but he refused. 

Meanwhile, the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) condemned allegations by several news outlets in Bulgaria that two investigative journalists, Dimitar Stoyanov and Atanas Tchobanov, as well as Romanian investigative reporter Attila Biro were involved in the attack. All three journalists work for OCCRP.

In April, Geshev accused Stoyanov of plotting against him and other high-ranking police officers. This accusation was made after the Bird.bg investigative news outlet, where Atanasov works, published an investigation alleging that officials had covered up a murder. Tchobanov is editor-in-chief of Bird.bg and the news outlet is part of the OCCRP’s network.

“OCCRP categorically rejects these silly claims from a highly politicised prosecutor who has been a major barrier to reform,” publisher Drew Sullivan said as quoted in a statement.

He called the bomb attack “theatre designed to mislead and recapture the state for organised crime”.

OCCRP co-founder Paul Radu called the attack on journalists an “attempt to criminalise honest journalism”. 

“We published investigations exposing Geshev’s corruption and abuse of power. This is obviously an act of revenge,” Tchobanov said.