Bulgarian prosecutors investigating allegations by socialist leader Sergei Stanishev of illegal electronic surveillance have found that lax controls over police eavesdropping created an environment ripe for abuse. At a news conference on April 15, the prosecutors said that they also found evidence of an attempted cover-up.
On March 28, Stanishev said that he received the allegations that a range of government and opposition politicians, business people, members of the judiciary, protest leaders and other public figures had been subjects of illegal surveillance at the orders of former interior minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov. Stanishev said he received the information on his official e-mail address and passed them on to Prosecutor-General Sotir Tsatsarov.
A team of 10 prosecutors investigated the tip-off, reviewing the movements of the alleged surveillance van over the past month and the existing guidelines of the Interior Ministry for using eavesdropping equipment.
The review found that illegal eavesdropping could be carried out, given the lack of written regulations concerning training exercises and the results of such operations, as well as the lack of proper oversight over the use of surveillance equipment by the employees of the operative and technical information specialised directorate of the ministry.
The prosecutors also found evidence of an attempted cover-up. Radko Dimitrov, the head of a unit at the directorate, is now under investigation for destruction of evidence. Dimitrov is said to have been celebrating his 50th birthday with colleagues on March 28, but left the proceedings along with several colleagues when the news broke that prosecutors would be investigating Stanishev’s allegations, Deputy Prosecutor-General Borislav Sarafov told reporters on April 15.
Later the same day, they attempted to take apart the surveillance equipment looking for the hard-drive, but were unable to find it. The next day, Dimitrov erased the surveillance data even though he was not authorised to do so. During the investigation, he also attempted to mislead prosecutors regarding the technical specifications of the equipment, Sarafov said.
Prosecutors were now trying to recover the deleted information, Prosecutor-General Sotir Tsatsarov said. “Until we recover this data, we cannot confirm or deny whether the surveillance was ordered or at the initiative of these employees,” he said.
The team that carried out the surveillance missions were never told who they were eavesdropping on, merely handed telephone numbers, Tsatsarov said.
Stanishev said that the allegations he received spoke of an extensive operation (for a full list of people allegedly eavesdropped on, read The Sofia Globe report here).
Tsvetan Tsvetanov, a deputy prime minister in the previous cabinet led by Boiko Borissov, who now heads the electoral headquarters of Borissov’s party GERB – the main rival to Stanishev’s socialists in the parliamentary elections scheduled for May 12 – described the allegations as “ridiculous” at the time. “Never in any way were the services used to track political opponents,” he said.
Tsvetanov, who said he would quit politics if he were found to have been involved in the affair, was one of 22 people questioned by prosecutors. He said, reportedly, that the technical activities of the ministry were under the direct oversight of other ministry officials, not himself as the head of the political cabinet at the time.
The prosecutors have opened four investigations against individual employees of the Interior Ministry’s operative and technical information specialised directorate. Dimitrov was investigated for destruction of evidence, while the department’s director Sergei Katsarov – for failing in his duties to create the necessary guidelines for the use of surveillance equipment. Tsvetan Ivanov and Kamen Kostov were facing the same charges as Katsarov.
Tsatsarov said that prosecutors would also be preparing a package of legislative proposals for the next Parliament concerning the use of surveillance equipment. He said that such activities should not be handled by the Interior Ministry or the State Agency for National Security, rather by an agency independent of those institutions.
(Prosecutor-General Sotir Tsatsarov. Screenshot from Bulgarian National Television)