Bulgaria’s Constitutional Court nominee withdraws as investigations loom

Bulgarian prosecutor Galya Gougousheva, nominated for the vacant seat on the country’s Constitutional Court, has formally withdrawn her candidacy on December 11 amid calls for her to be investigated for possible money laundering.

Gougousheva, nominated by the Union of Democratic Forces (UDF), said that she was confident that the investigations would find nothing untoward, but was nevertheless dropping out because “it would contribute to the quicker resolution of the institutional crisis and reducing the tension in the media.”

Prior to her withdrawal, she was due to attend a special session of the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) alongside Plovdiv lawyer Petar Vanev, who, in a letter to Parliament last week, said that numerous transactions carried out by Gougousheva’s son created doubts of possible money laundering and covert commercial activity by Gougousheva (as The Sofia Globe reported at the time).

Gougousheva also lost the support of ruling party GERB, whose MPs said late on December 10 that the developing media row around Gougousheva made her nomination untenable. However, GERB still planned to back a future nominee by UDF when a new round of nomination is held in January, in line with the promise made by Prime Minister Boiko Borissov last month.

UDF leader Emil Kabaivanov, for his part, said that his party would not make any new nominations unless the process for nominating and confirming Constitutional Court judges is changed.

Three judges took the oath last month, but the court still has one vacant seat (to be filled by Parliament) after the first nominee, Veneta Markovska, was prevented from being sworn in by President Rossen Plevneliev, who left the ceremony early, citing his unwillingness to see the court’s reputation tarnished by the appointment of a candidate accused of conflict of interest and corruption.

Markovska later tendered her resignation from the judiciary, having previously resolutely said that she would not give up her seat on the court. Unlike her, Gougousheva dropped out early, before the public row was given an opportunity to escalate further.

She asked, in a letter sent to Parliament’s legal affairs committee on December 10, to be investigated as quickly as possible, before her nomination was due to be voted on by Parliament on December 19. Separate investigations are to be carried out y the SJC inspectorate and the National Revenue Agency.

Gougousheva herself was not UDF’s first choice, but former president Petar Stoyanov declined the nomination citing international commitments after UDF MPs rebelled against party leadership, saying that the party should avoid playing into GERB’s hands.

As no other nominations were made in this round, the process is expected to be resumed after Parliament returns from its winter break. “It would be best if each parliamentary group put forth a nominee, but if no political party wishes to do so, then we will put forth our own,” GERB parliamentary floor leader Krassimir Velchev said.

The ruling party successfully elected its deputy speaker Anastas Anastassov to the court, a nomination that had its own detractors who pointed out Anastassov’s underwhelming judiciary career, alongside Markovska. Two other nominees put forth by opposition parties did not win enough support to be elected.

This time, the opposition said that they did not want to participate in GERB’s “charade” and declined to make any nominations.

On December 11, the opposition Bulgaria for Citizens party of former European commissioner Meglena Kouneva (which is outside Parliament but expected to handily clear the electoral threshold when elections are held next year) said that the next nominations should be put forth by a council made of NGOs and the country’s law schools.

(Photo: Jason Morisson/sxc.hu)



Alex Bivol

Alex Bivol is the Deputy Editor-in-Chief of The Sofia Globe.