Bulgaria’s Supreme Judicial Council elected the head of Plovdiv Regional Court Sotir Tsatsarov as the next prosecutor-general on December 20, with 18 votes in favour, three against and three abstentions.
The outcome came as no surprise, given that Tsatsarov was billed as the favourite for the job after drawing glowing plaudits for his work from Prime Minister Boiko Borissov and Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov.
Borissov, the former chief secretary of the Interior Ministry in 2001/05 (the job that catapulted him onto the national political stage), and Tsvetanov – both often critical of Bulgaria’s judiciary for not doing enough to put away criminals – have praised the Plovdiv court’s willingness to work closely with police.
In recent years, Plovdiv Regional Court has emerged as the go-to destination for Bulgarian law enforcement to secure surveillance warrants when other judges denied such requests, Bulgarian media reports said.
It was also more willing to go tough on crime, but that came at a price – human rights lawyer Mihail Ekimdjiev, who often represents Bulgarian plaintiffs in cases brought against the Bulgarian state at the European Court for Human Rights (ECHR), said in an open letter that the Plovdiv court accounted for a disproportionately high ratio of such cases in which the ECHR ruled against the Bulgarian state.
Tsatsarov defended his track record, saying he often met with prosecutors and police in the name of better institutional co-operation, but such meetings were never on specific cases.
Much more damaging were the allegations that in a property purchase several years ago, Tsatsarov’s wife agreed to list a lower sale price than the one actually paid. Tsatsarov has said that the claim was true, but the request was made by the seller and his spouse paid the full tax due on the real price of the purchase – without explaining why tax authorities would accept such a payment without investigating the transaction.
Tsatsarov also said during the hearing that preceded the vote that he had asked to review a slander case brought against Tsvetanov by the former head of Bulgaria’s judges union, Miroslava Todorova, saying it was normal practice. However, the case was due to be heard by a lower-circuit court and was not even assigned a judge when Tsatsarov did so.
Some local observers said that the case was moved to Plovdiv precisely to ensure a more favourable outcome for Tsvetanov by a compliant court (Tsvetanov was acquitted, with the court ruling stirring controversy), but also as a test for Tsatsarov to test his willingness to do the Cabinet’s bidding.
During the hearing, Tsatsarov said that the prosecutor’s office required painful reforms, but “does not need saving, because it is not a sinking ship.” He said that, if elected, he would mandate that a working group of magistrates to analyse the current situation and draft an action plan to redress deficiencies in the work of the prosecution’s office, due no later than April 2013. Implementation of the plan would then be carefully monitored internally and externally.
A key challenge was filling the current vacancies in prosecution offices nationwide, he said, citing statistics that claimed nearly 17 per cent of existing prosecution postings were unoccupied because of a dearth of qualified applicants.
The prosecutor-general is formally appointed by the president, at the suggestion of the Supreme Judicial Council. The president can refuse appointment once, but is required to sign the appointment decree if the council votes the same candidate a second time.
(Sotir Tsatsarov, screengrab from Bulgarian national Television)