Bulgaria’s eavesdropping controversy deepens as former minister says whole cabinet was wiretapped

The controversy in Bulgaria about allegations of illegal eavesdropping by the previous government took a new turn when former minister Miroslav Naidenov said that the entire cabinet had been subjected to surveillance and hinted that the orders had come from then-interior minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov.

Naidenov, currently the subject of an investigation into alleged impropriety while in office as agriculture minister – allegations he denies – sharply hit out at Tsvetanov, formerly interior minister and deputy prime minister in Boiko Borissov’s centre-right GERB government, in a April 25 2013 interview with bTV.

The Naidenov interview coincided with the publication in Bulgarian-language daily Trud of the results of a poll by Mediana agency suggesting that the eavesdropping controversy had damaged GERB’s electoral chances, although Borissov’s party still had a small lead over the socialists.

The eavesdropping controversy began when Bulgarian Socialist Party leader Sergei Stanishev said that he had received documentation alleging that there had been illegal eavesdropping on a number of state leaders and politicians, as well as business people. A two-week initial investigation by a special team led by Prosecutor-General Sotir Tsatsarov found “prerequisites” for illegal eavesdropping.

The initial investigation, which did not find evidence of illegal eavesdropping, resulted in criminal charges against three officials in the department in charge of surveillance, and against an official who allegedly tried to obstruct the prosecutors’ investigation.

The investigation led to the socialists and other parties that are rivals to GERB in the May 12 2013 parliamentary elections to call on Tsvetanov, election campaign chief for Borissov’s party, to keep his pledge to withdraw from politics should evidence be found of illegal wiretapping while he was interior minister. Tsvetanov has declined to do so and denies any wrongdoing.

Naidenov, who withdrew from the GERB parliamentary candidates list after an investigation into his alleged wrongdoing was opened, was summoned by prosecutors for questioning after his bTV interview. The questioning was to be in connection with the case against the four Interior Ministry officials, prosecutors said.

Naidenov said that he felt that he was being wiretapped “because there were certain cases and situations which hinted at something like that”.

He said that the entire cabinet of the Borissov government had been listened in on with the knowledge of Tsvetanov.

Naidenov called on Tsvetanov to quit politics. The former interior minister should “come down from the stage otherwise the outrage will continue,” Naidenov said.

“Someone had to clearly come out and say, the emperor has no clothes,” the former agriculture minister said.

Naidenov alleged that President Rossen Plevneliev was aware of the situation. At a meeting before the formation by the head of state of the current caretaker cabinet, phones were left outside, Naidenov said.

He said that he hoped that now he had spoken openly about the issue, other former cabinet colleagues would have the courage to do the same.

Naidenov said that he had sent his family out of Bulgaria, saying that he was concerned about their peace, “not to say their lives”. He did not want his family to see how Interior Ministry operatives were subjecting him to surveillance, which he also described as an attempt at intimidation.

He said that Tsvetanov had “captured the party” and Naidenov said that he made a distinction between Borissov and Tsvetanov.

Naidenov said that the socialists may have been behind the idea of putting him under surveillance with the eventual aim of discrediting him, but the opposition party had no power to order “anything technical”.

This, according to Naidenov, had to come from someone above his cabinet rank – the prime minister, deputy prime ministers, Speaker of Parliament, the President.

By process of elimination, Naidenov said, the list shrank to deputy prime ministers and “I personally do not think that it was Simeon Dyankov”.

Borissov’s 2009/13 cabinet had two deputy prime ministers. One was finance minister Dyankov and the other was interior minister Tsvetanov.

Meanwhile, the results of the first opinion poll to have been done after allegations of illegal eavesdropping were directed against the former government show GERB as having lost support in the run-up to the May 12 national parliamentary elections.

On April 25, a poll by the Mediana agency showed GERB at 23 per cent support, down from the 26.4 per cent shown by Mediana in results announced on April 12. At the same time, however, support for the socialists also had dropped, to 21 per cent from 23.7 per cent on April 12.

At the same time, the impact of the eavesdropping controversy was not the only thing to potentially give GERB cause to worry.

The Mediana poll showed that a significant part of the electorate that previously voted for GERB were “wobbly” about whether they would go to vote on May 12. Twenty-eight per cent of GERB’s previous electorate, according to Mediana, could possibly consider voting for another party. The socialists’ electorate showed a higher determination to vote.

According to an article in Trud on April 25, the reason for GERB having been shown to shed support was not only the eavesdropping controversy, or the controversy surrounding the now-suspended head of Bulgaria’s anti-organised crime directorate because of allegations surfacing from an investigation a decade ago into his alleged illicit links with organised crime figures, or cost-of-living issues such as electricity bills, but in a cumulative combination of all of these.

One in six Bulgarians worried that free expression of political views would lead to problems. One in five believed that the government was listening in to their mobile phone conversations. Only one in three believed that the elections would be fair and honest.

Meanwhile, at EU level, an attempt by MEPs and European parliamentary groups opposed to GERB to have the eavesdropping controversy discussed at the European Parliament appears to have been staved off.

The issue of alleged illegal eavesdropping in Bulgaria and whether it should be put on the agenda of the European Parliament’s civil liberties, justice and home affairs was due to be discussed behind closed doors by the committee on April 24, but a decision has been postponed until a meeting just before the May 12 elections, meaning that any discussion, if agreed to, would be held only after the elections.

(Photo of Naidenov: mzh.government.bg)




The Sofia Globe staff

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