Leaked recording scuppers plans for new government in Bulgaria

Leaked recording scuppers plans for new government in Bulgaria
CC leader Kiril Petkov heard making critical comments about the party's new partners from Gerb. / Bulgarian parliament
By Denitsa Koseva in Sofia May 27, 2023

Mariya Gabriel, the populist Gerb party’s candidate for prime minister, said on May 27 her party is freezing talks on a new cabinet with Change Continues-Democratic Bulgaria (CC-DB) after a recording from a Change Continues leadership meeting was leaked. 

The recording includes critical comments about Gerb leaders and a reference to plans to clear new heads of the security and intelligence services with an unnamed foreign embassy. 

There are suspicions that Radostin Vassilev, a relatively new member of CC, leaked the conversation with the aim of blowing up talks between Gerb and CC-DB.  

A “wash” for Gerb’s leader 

Vassilev played a short compilation of 5-6 minutes of what he had recorded on May 26, including a statement by CC’s co-leader Kiril Petkov that a deal with Gerb would “wash” its leader Boyko Borissov, whose reputation has been tarnished by corruption scandals.

In another controversial statement Petkov says that replacement heads of the security and intelligence services “are to be cleared with the embassy”, without specifying which embassy.

Petkov said he asked European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel if there was a way to circumvent the rules so that Bulgaria could be admitted to Schengen and the eurozone — though he later clarifies that he was asking if Bulgaria could meet the criteria and whether  the EC would take into consideration the war in Ukraine when deciding whether Bulgaria meets the inflation criteria.

Blowing up the talks 

The talks were held the night before the agreement on a joint government was supposed to be reached. 

Vassilev claimed he recorded part of the meeting as it was late at night and he had to go to bed but wanted to listen to the conversation the next day. 

A former member of There Are Such People (ITN) who left the party last summer, he told reporters when releasing the recording he was leaving CC and would not back the proposed government.

Although Vassilev denied the recording was doctored, many suspect it was released with the aim of breaking the fragile agreement between the two largest political formations in parliament.

Hristo Ivanov, co-leader of DB, commented that the release of the recording had the obvious goal to torpedo the planned government.

Petkov suggested that Vassilev’s move aimed to prevent a regular government reforming the security services. 

Gerb reacts 

Initially, Borissov said the recording would not affect the agreement, but a day later his party decided to freeze the talks.

At a press conference, Gabriel said that she cannot accept building a democracy with lies and accused CC of not acting in line with democratic practices.

Gabriel also said that there was still an opportunity for an expert government, but only if there were clear guarantees of compliance with principles and laws.

“I see that at this stage an expert government continues to have support, but I need more clarity. Until there are answers and guarantees for compliance with these principles, we are freezing the negotiations. I am waiting for answers before guarantees are reached,” Gabriel said.

She added that the talks could be unfrozen but that CC owes an apology.

Borissov added that Gerb has made a lot of compromises, including giving up the first mandate to form a government and the prime minister position, and by respecting the legislation programme drafted jointly with CC-DB. With the support of Gerb and CC-DB, parliament has adopted legislation changes that make the chief prosecutor replaceable and accountable for his or her actions, and a law on domestic violence.

He added that his initial position that the recordings would not affect the talks was because he was misled by Petkov that the meeting was secretly wiretapped by special services.

Petkov defends CC-DB

After the recording was released by Vassilev, Petkov said that national security is Bulgaria’s responsibility and should not be influenced by foreign countries, responding to the accusation he plans to coordinate the replacement of security service leaders with foreign embassies.

“[For] every candidate [to head the security services] that we shall propose, we shall insist to have a clean past, that he was not an agent of [the communist-era] State Security and that he was not part of a criminal organisation at home or abroad. We have not agreed on any appointment with any embassy,” Petkov said at a press briefing.