Bulgarian chief prosecutor refuses to resign despite pressure from politicians

Bulgarian chief prosecutor refuses to resign despite pressure from politicians
Bulgaria's chief prosecutor Ivan Geshev tore up his resignation letter. / bne IntelliNews
By Denista Koseva in Sofia May 15, 2023

Bulgaria’s chief prosecutor Ivan Geshev said on May 15 he will not resign under pressure by politicians, dramatically tearing in two his resignation letter at a press conference.

Geshev’s move comes days after key members of the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) filed a request for his dismissal for alleged abuse of his authority and harming the prestige of the judiciary. Prior to their request, Boyko Borissov’s Gerb party and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) – seen as Geshev’s political patrons – agreed the chief prosecutor should be fired.

Geshev said he was warned to resign by 10.00 am on May 15 or an unnamed person would “press the Enter button”.

“Yesterday I was invited to file my resignation until 10 am. [Otherwise] someone will press the button for some videos, I must show understanding. There were also lyrical statements that I am alone on the rock and it is windy there. I am not afraid,” Geshev said.

He did not say who had pushed him to resign but hinted that Borissov had indirectly offered him to become Bulgarian ambassador to Israel or Turkey, and to have a political career in his party.

“This is my resignation. And this is a pen,” said Geshev; then he threw the pen and ripped up the resignation letter into little pieces, throwing it on the floor.

His gesture was seen as a declaration of war on Borissov and the DPS. He added he had been under pressure to resign from Borissov for several months but that he did not take it seriously. Then he recalled an explosion that occurred on May 1 next to his car, claiming this was a terrorist attack aimed at killing him.

Although initially that version was supported also by Borislav Sarafov, the head of the national investigation office and Geshev’s deputy, he has subsequently said that the possibility of a fake attack is also being probed.

“On Monday morning [May 8] a friend of mine, close to Gerb, from the country, told me that the individual Boyko Metodiev Borissov has called and asked where my family was. ...... He [Borissov] has been advising me to stop talking. I thought there was something wrong with that person. Then I saw a statement by my deputy Bobi Sarafov who has apologised to me but said he could not do anything else,” Geshev said.

He added that SJC’s request for his dismissal had the only purpose to force him to resign, claiming this was information provided by politicians, members of the SJC and magistrates over the past few days.

The highly controversial chief prosecutor also said he was instructed to put an end to an investigation dubbed Barcelonagate. So far, Geshev has been claiming that an investigation of the money laundering scandal is ongoing but had not provided any information on its development.

Several years ago, Borissov was linked to the ‘Barcelonagate’ money laundering scandal that involved several people close to the former prime minister. The information about possible money laundering involving people linked to Borissov was first revealed back in 2020 by Spanish El Periodico and confirmed at the time by the police. In February 2022, the government said it had received new evidence indicating that €5mn was laundered in the ‘Barcelonagate’ scandal.

According to El Periodico, police in the autonomous region of Catalonia were probing whether Borissov was linked to an international money laundering scheme. The article outlined allegations that former model Borislava Yovcheva (who has been linked to Borissov), her father and two companies had received more than €5mn since 2013 from non-Spanish individuals.

According to Bulgarian investigative news portal Bivol.bg, Borissov has a child with Yovcheva and he bought her the luxury house in Spain. These allegations were denied by the former prime minister several times.

Back in 2015, a leaked conversation between two judges and an unknown third individual included the claim that Borissov had bought a property in Barcelona for a girlfriend for €1.5mn.

Geshev went further, saying it was time to oust the ‘political scum’ and said he would complete his seven-year mandate. He accused Sarafov of staging a coup aiming to oust him and urged his deputy  to resign, saying this would mark the beginning of clearing Bulgaria from oligarchs.

“I hope this will be the beginning of the end of the oligarchic model. It is time to sweep away the political scum,” Geshev said.

Borissov and Sarafov fight back

Borissov fought back, saying that Geshev has not been doing his job and denied  being involved in attempts to remove the chief prosecutor. In a press briefing after Geshev’s statement, Borissov said he has not offered him any posts.

“In what position would I propose the position of ambassador? Ambassadors are being appointed by President [Rumen] Radev. I have neither talked, nor have I called to a prosecutor, to anyone, except to him to express support and care and a request to find the perpetrators [of the alleged attack on Geshev],” Borissov said.

He also criticised Geshev for accusing politicians of being ‘political scum’. In response to Geshev’s hints that he could reveal information related to investigations of Gerb’s leader, Borissov said that he is not afraid of another arrest.

However, people commented that Borissov looked worried while giving his statement on May 15.

“I have not seen Boyko Borissov so nervous. He was trembling today while he had to explain what Ivan Geshev has said. Sarafov is worried about his life. Hollywood can come and film this story. Unfortunately, we are living in this story,” political analyst Petar Cholakov said in an interview for Nova News.

Sarafov also made a statement, saying he was afraid of his life. He called on the SJC to urgently remove Geshev, accusing him of not being suitable for the post and behaving as if he owns the prosecution service.

Sarafov also said he knows Geshev’s methods and requested protection as he does not want to share the fate of prosecutor Nikolai Kolev who was killed in 2001. 

“I know Mr. Geshev and that is why I am afraid for my life,” Sarafov told reporters as quoted by Mediapool news outlet.

Sarafov also accused Geshev of intentionally keeping key high profile investigations incomplete for years in order to blackmail politicians.

"Doesn't every thinking person understand that a case cannot stay unsolved for years? This is a shameful secret that must be said, because we really need to clean up the prosecution. Cases cannot stay latent in order to blackmail politicians by assigning them [these cases] to classmates of the prosecutor general," Sarafov said.

He also accused the chief prosecutor of using state property as if he owned it and of using two very expensive armoured vehicles worth BGN1mn (€500,000) each as if they were his property.

Change of chief prosecutor is not reform

While Geshev’s removal seems inevitable, experts say his replacement would not change the way the prosecution is working and would not make the long delayed in-depth reform the judiciary needs.

Hristo Ivanov, co-leader of Democratic Bulgaria, has said that the replacement of Geshev is not the reform of the judiciary that has been long required.

Adela Katchaunova, director of the legal protection department of the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (BHC) NGO, said that the procedure for Geshev’s removal can be completed by the end of the month and that there might be enough votes by SJC members this time.

However, she also said that the current members of the SJC are highly compromised – it has appointed Geshev in a procedure defined as controversial back in 2019. Moreover, the SJC has until now repeatedly refused to debate accusations that Geshev has abused his office and harmed the prestige of the judiciary.

Katchaunova said that last week five NGO’s  asked the SJC to discuss Geshev’s intervention in the investigation of the explosion next to his car, which was not allowed by the law. On May 11, the SJC refused to do that. A day later, six of its members made the same request as the NGOs.

“Even if [the SJC] decides to remove Geshev, it should appoint a replacement and that is very dangerous,” she concluded in an interview for AlternativataBG online TV outlet.

Political analyst Daniel Smilov commented that the use of “political scum” by Geshev was enough for his removal by the SJC. “Not that additional grounds for that are necessary but the open breach of the ethical code of the magistrate exposes his [Geshev’s] willingness for a total war,” Smilov wrote on Facebook.

He added that Geshev’s press conference and SJC’s behaviour after the agreement of Gerb and DPS that he should be removed demonstrate clearly the capture of the prosecution by politicians. “Unfortunately, all this – and the “coup” against Geshev – looks like a war between organised criminal groups on the top of the state. And most likely it is exactly that,” Smilov wrote.

He added that the worst for Bulgaria would be if the two sides reach a mutual agreement and end the war.