Conflict between Bulgaria’s president, chief prosecutor escalates after incriminating wiretaps released

Conflict between Bulgaria’s president, chief prosecutor escalates after incriminating wiretaps released
By Denitsa Koseva in Sofia January 29, 2020

Tensions between Bulgaria’s President Rumen Radev and chief prosecutor Ivan Geshev escalated after the prosecution decided to release wiretaps, which were supposed to prove that Radev might be involved in criminal activity, but instead raised suspicions their release was an attempt to silence him.

Radev, a former air force commander who was backed by the opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), has repeatedly clashed with both Geshev and Prime Minister Boyko Borissov. 

The scandal broke after on January 27 the constitutional court announced it has launched a case to determine a binding interpretation of a provision of the constitution regarding the immunity of the president and vice president upon the request of Geshev.

After being urged by Radev to provide information on what grounds he initiated this procedure, Geshev released the wiretaps of Air Force commander Major-General Tsanko Stoikov, including a phone conversation with a man who presumably was Radev, although he has not been categorically identified.

In the conversation, Stoikov and his interlocutor are discussing a request from the anti-corruption body for documents related to the appointment of a civilian PR officer for the Bulgarian Air Force in 2014 who subsequently became Radev’s wife, Dessislava Radeva.

The prosecution claims that the investigation into that appointment was likely blocked as documents were not provided by the air force. The investigation officially ended on January 23 as the president has immunity. However, it gave Geshev occasion to file the request with the constitutional court.

The release of the wiretaps provoked outrage in Bulgaria. Magistrates commented that Geshev’s request was unnecessary as it concerns treason, which is very clearly described in the constitution. Moreover, even if Radev appointed his future spouse based on their personal relationship, this concerns his actions in the past and would not be treason, but a conflict of interests, if proven.

Attempt to remove the president suspected

Analysts have noted that Geshev’s actions – to release the wiretaps and ask the constitutional court to rule on Radev’s immunity – are either aiming to worsen his otherwise positive image among citizens or to prepare the ground for a future request for his removal from the post.

“In the released recordings of conversations between persons, one of which is supposed to be the president, I do not see signs of treason. I doubt that a magistrate with self-respect will be found who will see such elements. However, there is the question how these wiretaps were made.  Who has been wiretapped and on what ground? Because there is no way this to be the acting president,” Hristo Hristov, a lawyer and law professor at Sofia university, commented on Facebook.

Others believe that Geshev’s actions could be motivated by revenge as Radev has opposed his appointment and banned it initially. However, this version was seen as rather not very likely.

Political analysts have also suggested that the ultimate goal of Geshev’s actions is to clear the way for the current Prime Minister Boyko Borissov to take over the presidency. Geshev is believed to be close to Borissov and to serve his interests.

Political analyst Evgenii Dainov commented on Facebook that the goal of the attack on Radev is to have the president suspended within days. Dainov was rather pessimistic that Radev has the political experience to “survive in this jungle”.

Meanwhile, Radev commented that the attacks on his family are not new but now have taken on an ugly dimension.

He also said in a statement that the latest actions of the prosecution show once again the need for constitutional changes to secure the independence of the judiciary.

Radev attempts to make top prosecutor more accountable 

In December, Radev launched consultations on changes to the constitution with his legal team, members of the academic society, NGOs and unions of professional magistrates.

His initiative was announced in November after the highly controversial procedure that saw Geshev elected. Geshev was the sole candidate in the competition. At the time, Radev said he would use his constitutional right to initiate constitutional changes that would make the head of the prosecution more accountable. Currently, Bulgaria’s chief prosecutors are untouchable and can only be investigated if they allow this.

On January 28, in his speech marking his third year as president, Radev said he will continue with his initiative on constitutional changes aiming to improve the effectiveness of magistrates and judiciary, as well as their independence.

Bulgaria’s legislation allows the president to initiate constitutional changes, but they need to be approved by the parliament.

The chief prosecutor is one of the most powerful positions in Bulgaria. The EU has repeatedly insisted that the legislation has to be amended to allow probes and removals of chief prosecutors.

Meanwhile, the small United People's Party has alerted the specialised prosecution on the release of the wiretaps.

"[We] are addressing the specialised prosecution about the existence of an organised criminal group. According to the facts that have gained publicity, it includes the supervising prosecutor [who provided the wiretaps], the chief prosecutor and unknown individuals," the party said in a statement.

The alert is a move to court publicity, as Geshev can be investigated only if he himself gives the go-ahead for a probe.