Volen Siderov, leader of Bulgaria’s ultranationalist Ataka party, was involved in a scuffle with a fellow passenger in a runway bus at Varna Airport, after getting into a row with a French diplomat on a flight from Sofia, local media reports said.
This is the latest controversy in which Siderov was involved, after previous incidents at a flight to Germany, and confrontations with reporters inside and outside the Parliament building in Sofia.
Police in the Black Sea city and officials at Varna Airport have declined to disclose details of the alleged incident, but an account was given by local reporter Rositsa Penkova in a January 7 2014 interview with Nova Televizia, while prosecutors held a special news conference.
Penkova, of the Varnautre website, said that the incident began on the aircraft and had a sequel in the parking area in front the airport and involved part of an Ataka group and other people.
“Ataka’s group, which consisted of six men and three women, was on a flight from the Bulgarian capital city Sofia to the coastal city of Varna, which was scheduled to land at 8.20 pm.
Aboard the aircraft, Siderov spoke with a woman who was travelling economy class, while Siderov was in the first class. Siderov invited the woman to first class and started a conversation. Probably, the woman was travelling with his group, too, since the two knew each other, the reporter said. (At their subsequent news conference, prosecutors identified this woman as Stephanie Dumortier, an attache with the Institute Francais at the French consulate in Varna.)
At some point, the conversation became noisy, annoying another of the passengers, a man of about 30, Penkova said.
The man eventually intervened, calling Siderov a “boor” because of his screaming, which had continued during the aircraft journey and on the airstrip bus, she said.
“When the row started, the driver of the bus pushed the emergency button, which alerted security officers. The airport security came and managed to separate the group of Siderov, which was attacking the young man – there was a fight. There was some exchange of blows between the young man and Siderov and his associates, about six men, who were travelling in the same group.
“We were told that when Siderov heard himself called a “boor”, he immediately attacked the man, who is stout and tall, with a fine physique. The fight was stopped in the bus and the passengers manage to get off successfully, pass through the terminal, take their luggage and go out to the parking area in front of the new terminal at Varna Airport.
The row resumed there, as witnessed by airport employees and taxi drivers. The new confrontation started as Ataka members allegedly started forcing the other passengers to stop taking photos and recording the incident. They wanted to all records deleted, said Penkova said, who said that she based her account on what eyewitnesses had said.
Siderov and his associates were no longer at the airport at 9.50pm. Only the young man was there, as he was invited for questioning by the Border Police. We managed to exchange a couple of sentences with him,” Penkova said.
According to unofficial information, Siderov has laid a charge against the young man.
“When we met the young man, he was seriously shocked and he was very outraged at what had happened,” Penkova said
“District Interior Ministry Directorate – Varna does not comment on such situations and cases,” Ivana Mileva, spokesperson for the police in Varna, was quoted by local news agency Focus as saying. Varna Airport spokesperson Meliha Kosacheva also reportedly refused to comment on the case, saying that Varna Airport was not authorised to reveal any information, Focus said.
At a special news conference on January 7, Prosecutor-General’s office spokesperson Roumyana Arnaudova said that two individuals and a police officer had been injured in the incident.
Those involved in the incident included Siderov and Ataka MPs including Denitsa Gadzheva and Desislav Chukulov.
There was a witness statement that Siderov had caused an injury.
Arnaudova said that if the Sofia City Prosecutor’s Office endorses the recommendation by the Varna regional prosecutor that there are grounds for withdrawing the immunity from prosecution of a member of Parliament, he would lodge a proposal to the Prosecutor-General, who would in turn lodge this in Parliament.
She said that all relevant authorities had been working “all night” on the case.
Twenty-two witnesses had been questioned and the medical examinations of those injured had been documented. Siderov and the members of Parliament had not yet been questioned.
On the orders of Prosecutor-General Sotir Tsatsarov, two pre-trial investigations had been initiated, one for hooliganism and the other for assault.
“This act of hooliganism involved members of Parliament with the Ataka party. At this stage we can say that Ataka leader Volen Siderov took part in it,” Arnaudova said.
“More evidence is expected to be collected today,” she said, and added that all available video materials had been confiscated.
Siderov said that the incident was a “frame-up” concocted by the Varna regional governor, Ivan Velikov, against whom his party had planned a demonstration on January 7.
His group had been met at the airport by a “group of bandits,” said Siderov, who alleged that the media had covered the incident inaccurately.
Siderov said that the media were “hyenas”, “sellouts”, “vultures” and “frauds” and God would punish the media for its inaccurate coverage. “Curse you,” he shouted at reporters who questioned him about the incident at the anti-Velikov demonstration in Varna.
A statement by the French embassy said that a French diplomat had been the victim of insults and threats from a Bulgarian citizen on a Bulgaria Air flight from Sofia to Varna on January 6.
This citizen had come out with harsh criticism related to the diplomat’s nationality and had invoked his status as a member of Parliament to demand to verify the documentation of the diplomat. Given that he was not a police officer, he had no right to make such a demand, the embassy said.
The French embassy noted that diplomatic and consular officers were protected by the 1961 Vienna Convention and it was the responsibility of Bulgarian authorities to take all necessary measures to not permit attacks on the persons, freedom and dignity of diplomatic and consular officers.