Bulgarian prosecutors start criminal proceedings against senior officials in eavesdropping scandal

Three senior officials at Bulgaria’s Specialist Directorate for Operational and Technical Operations face criminal proceedings following an investigation by a team of prosecutors into alleged illegal use of electronic eavesdropping, Prosecutor-General Sotir Tsatsarov told a news conference in Sofia on April 15 2013.

The development comes weeks away from Bulgaria’s ahead-of-term national parliamentary elections and was certain to be seized on by Bulgarian Socialist Party leader Sergei Stanishev, who reported the allegations to the Prosecutor-General, having received a document claiming that the Interior Ministry under then-interior minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov engaged in illegal surveillance.

Among revelations made by Tsatsarov at the news conference was that a vehicle specially-equipped for surveillance had been in use in the streets of Sofia while official records showed it as having been garaged. This had happened on March 15, 16 and 26.

“We have ascertained a series of violations in the everyday work with the use of the specialised vehicle. There are certain shocking discrepancies in the road book with the route notes,” he said.

Tsatsarov told the news conference that an official had broken off his 50th birthday party to go, along with other officials, to destroy evidence after the investigation was announced.

The official, Radko Dimitrov, had the following day deleted data, an action which he was not authorised to take.

The news conference was told that one of the priorities now for prosecutors was to seek to recover information that had been deleted.

During the investigation there was also an attempt to mislead the team in charge of the check about the detailed possibilities and functions of the equipment used, Tsatsarov said.

Deputy Prosecutor General Borislav Sarafov said that during the check the authorities had required all legal documents.

“At the moment we have the entire information on the number and job specification of all officers. Twenty-two people were interrogated. An inquiry was worked out on the technical characteristics of the equipment over a preliminary investigation file. The entire set of documents about the equipment was required, too. A vehicle, unofficially designed for operation and technical service, was confiscated. We also required data from the Sofia Police Directorate concerning the use of the vehicle in question.

“The Specialist Directorate for Operational and Technical Operations does not have a written regulation for assigning tasks to each of the team [members], neither is there a regulation on the organisation of the so-called training courses and written results on their organisation,” Sarafov remarked.

“The check also ascertained lack of control on the exploitation of this equipment on behalf of officials. There are preconditions for illegal use of this equipment.”

Deputy Sofia City Prosecutor Roman Vassilev said that Tsvetanov had told investigators that he had represented the political leadership of the ministry and was not responsible for the technical work of the department.

Sofia City Prosecutor Nikolai Kokinov has ordered criminal proceedings against three officials, all directors at the specialist directorate.

Tsvetan Ivanov and Kamen Kostov face prosecution for dereliction of duty and failing to “provide the necessary conditions” for the use of specialist surveillance equipment, which led to serious consequences that undermined the prestige of the Interior Ministry, Kokinov said. Dereliction of duty charges also are being laid against Sergei Katsarov.

Radko Dimitrov will face criminal charges for destroying records of information from the maps of the vehicle equipped for surveillance.

“The list of people found responsible is not restricted with the abovementioned, as more people will be identified during the investigation,” Kokinov said.

The April 15 news conference was told that prosecutors examined closed-circuit television records from Sofia over a period of a month to track the movement of vehicles equipped with surveillance devices.

Prosecutors found that at the directorate, there were no regulations governing the carrying out of so-called “training trips” nor for written reports of these trips.

Tsatsarov said that as soon as the next Parliament was elected, he would propose that it approve new legislation reforming control of the use of interception and monitoring.

On March 28, socialist leader Stanishev, announcing that he had received a document making allegations about illegal surveillance, said that those who had been subjected to illegal surveillance included former president Georgi Purvanov, at the time that the then head of state launched his abortive ABV “civic movement”.

Current head of state, President Rossen Plevneliev – who came to office in January 2012 after election on a GERB ticket – had been the subject of illegal eavesdropping at the time that Plevneliev had been working on forming the current caretaker cabinet, Stanishev said.

Ahmed Dogan, current honorary president and long-time leader of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, had been eavesdropped on while his involvement in the Tsankov Kamuk hydro project was being investigated, according to the socialist leader.

Others who had been tapped, allegedly, included former finance minister Simeon Dyankov, who quit Borissov’s government just before Borissov announced his resignation.

So had ultra-nationalist Ataka party leader Volen Siderov after Siderov fell out with the Borissov government, and so had minority right-wing Democrats for a Strong Bulgaria party leader Ivan Kostov after he criticised Tsvetanov, Stanishev said.

Bulgaria’s European Commissioner, Kristalina Georgieva, had been the subject of illegal surveillance during visits to Bulgaria. Stanishev said that the list of those illegally tapped included his own name, several times.

Also on the list, according to Stanishev, were Neli Kutskova, a former chairperson of the Bulgarian Judges Association; and business people Ivo Prokopiev, Grisha Ganchev, Tsvetelina Borislavova and Georgi Gergov. Prokopiev owns a Bulgarian-language media outlet, Ganchev is a Lovetch-based business person with a number of interests including the Bulgarian manufacturing operation of Great Wall cars, Borislavova is arguably best-known as chief of Bulgarian-American Credit Bank and for having had a long-standing relationship with Borissov and Plovdiv-born Gergov business interests include the International Fair Plovdiv, Tsum and hospitality industry properties in Plovdiv.

A day earlier, Meglena Kouneva’s Bulgaria for Citizens party said that it was approaching Prosecutor-General Sotir Tsatsarov about alleged illegal eavesdropping on politicians and journalists.

Tsvetanov told public broadcaster Bulgarian National Television on March 28 that “parties that had nothing to offer the voters” were alleging that GERB was behind unlawful eavesdropping on politicians and journalists.

“Never in any way were the services used to track political opponents,” Tsvetanov said.

On April 15, prosecutor Vassilev said that as far as the people mentioned in the signal [filed by Stanishev] were concerned, there had been no official orders for surveillance and tapping.

Asked whether the vehicle equipped with surveillance equipment had passed along the streets where the people mentioned in the allegations were living, Vassilev said: “We know the routes of the vehicle.”

“In some of the training missions done with the vehicles, as stated in the road books with the routes, it was said that the vehicles were not in motion but at the same time the same vehicles were detected by the video surveillance system in capital city Sofia,” Vassilev said.

“I can hardly assume that the officers, who were operating with the concrete vehicle and equipment, have carried out independent missions. Some of the officers said they have never gone on missions for training purpose, while other said that training missions were constantly organised,” Tsatsarov said.

(Photograph of Tsatsarov: BNT)




The Sofia Globe staff

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