Sofia city prosecutors questioned Bulgaria’s former interior minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov for close to five hours on April 23 in connection with Stanimir Florov, recently suspended as head of the national directorate against organised crime after documents allegedly linking Florov to illict dealings with people involved in corruption, illegal drug dealing and smuggling.
Tsvetanov, head of the election campaign for centre-right former ruling party GERB in the May 12 2013 ahead-of-term national parliamentary elections, made few comments after the questioning, which led to the scrapping of his involvement in scheduled election campaign events on Tuesday.
He said that he could not speak about classified information involved in the investigation because he had signed a declaration that he would not do so.
However, he said that he found it “strange” that he had to recall everything connected with his childhood and still-enduring friendship with Florov: “actually, since 1973, from the block of flats where we and Florov’s family lived; for how long have we been family friends. Actually we have been good family friends since then,” Tsvetanov said.
He stood by Florov, describing him as a “worthy Bulgarian” who had made a significant contribution to the work of the directorate against organised crime in the past four years.
Tsvetanov was interior minister after GERB’s victory in the 2009 elections until Boiko Borissov’s resignation as prime minister took effect in March 2013.
Bulgaria’s Prosecutor’s Office said on April 19 that it had opened an investigation into allegations of bribery against Florov.
The probe came only days after Bulgarian media were emailed copies of confidential reports showing that Florov had been the target of investigations by Bulgarian intelligence services on suspicion of accepting bribes in exchange for alerting alleged criminals of investigations against them.
According to the anonymous tip-off, Florov allegedly agreed to do so in exchange for 20 000 Deutsche Marks. The unidentified author of the tip-off, who claimed to be a long-standing employee of Bulgaria’s intelligence services, also warned that plans were being made to falsify the outcome of the May 12 elections.
The Prosecutor’s Office said that it had reviewed the information and ascertained that the copies were genuine and referred to four separate investigations.
“From the contents of these investigations, as well as other sources of evidence, the conclusion was made that there is sufficient evidence that Stanimir Florov committed a crime under art. 302a,” the prosecution statement said.
The Penal Code article referred by the statement is on “a bribe of particularly large size, representing a particularly serious case” and envisions a jail sentence ranging between 10 and 30 years, a fine of up to 30 000 leva and confiscation of assets.
The prosecution said it was also going to investigate the case to see if any unlawful disclosure of confidential information occurred, the statement said, without specifying whether the target was Florov or the anonymous mole.
The investigation will be carried out by Sofia City Prosecutor’s Office. Sofia city prosecutor Nikolai Kokinov has already notified caretaker Interior Minister Petya Purvanova of the investigation, asking that Florov is removed from his position.
Speaking to public broadcaster Bulgarian National Television at the time, Florov said that he was surprised by the prosecution’s findings, but had not been subpoenaed to appear in front of prosecutors, nor did he know any details of the investigation against him.
Florov is seen as one of the closest allies in the Interior Ministry’s civil service of Tsvetanov, himself under scrutiny this week following allegations that the ministry might have carried out unlawful eavesdropping during his term in office.
On April 23, the media were alerted to the questioning of Tsvetanov by an anonymous e-mail saying that the former minister was being called for questioning in connection with the allegations of illegal electronic eavesdropping while he was interior minister.
Both President Rossen Plevneliev and caretaker Prime Minister Marin Raykov have spoken in favour of a thorough and fair investigation of the allegations against Florov.
(Photo of Tsvetanov: gerb.bg)