Within a few hours of former cabinet minister Miroslav Naidenov alleging that Tsvetan Tsvetanov had been behind illegal eavesdropping on the entire Borissov cabinet, Naidenov had been granted bodyguards and was being interviewed by prosecutors, while on the election battlefield, volleys were being exchanged.
Former prime minister Boiko Borissov defended Tsvetanov, saying that he would not heed calls for Tsvetanov’s resignation as GERB campaign chief, while Tsvetanov continued to deny all wrongdoing and insisted that the eavesdropping controversy had been cooked up as an election stunt.
The Bulgarian Socialist Party, along with GERB’s lesser rivals, already had been calling for Tsvetanov to leave politics, saying that the former interior minister should fulfil his promise to do so if it emerged that there had been illegal eavesdropping while he was in office.
After Naidenov appeared on breakfast television on April 25 to say that Tsvetanov had been behind illegal surveillance of his cabinet colleagues, that even during meetings with President Plevneliev telephones had been left outside rooms to avoid eavesdropping, and that Naidenov had sent his family outside Bulgaria to protect them, the socialists stepped up their calls to saying that both Tsvetanov and Borissov should quit politics and should face prosecution.
Borissov, reacting to the Naidenov allegations, said that Tsvetanov was the “engine of the party”, highly important to everyone and he would not ask for his resignation.
“I would like to ask everyone so insistent on Tsvetanov’s dismissal to pull themselves together,” Borissov said, saying that he supported the continuing investigation by Prosecutor-General Sotir Tsatsarov and was sure “everything will be cleared up”.
Naidenov was the last person who should complain about Tsvetanov, who always had backed him, according to Borissov.
Naidenov withdrew from the list of GERB candidates for parliament in the May 12 2013 after an investigation was opened into alleged wrongdoing by him when in office as agriculture minister.
Tsvetanov, said Borissov, had “sworn on his children” that there had been no illegal eavesdropping.
Tsvetanov said that he would not comment on Naidenov’s allgations. “While I was Interior Minister, I was always led by the supremacy of the law”.
The eavesdropping controversy was part of the election campaign of the Bulgarian Socialist Party, Tsvetanov said.
He said that the anonymous claim about the illegal surveillance had come right at the start of the election campaign. Naidenov’s statements, he said, were in the spirit of the campaign being conducted by some parties.
In power, according to Tsvetanov, GERB had regained trust in Bulgaria among the country’s Euro-Atlantic partners.
Now, our opponents are getting nervous and irritated, because they have nothing to oppose. That is why they started plotting signals like the one with the so-called ‘Buddha case’, which was launched at a moment that was not selected by accident either,” Tsvetanov said.
Everything regarding surveillance had been done in line with the law, for use against organised crime, he said.
A former cabinet minister, Ivailo Moskovski, rejected his former colleague Naidenov’s claims, calling them a “rearguard action”.
Moskovski, among the minority of Borissov’s cabinet ministers who were granted an electable place on parliamentary candidate lists, said that it was unacceptable that while security services around the world had praised Tsvetanov’s fight against organised crime, in Bulgaria the former interior minister was being presented as public enemy number one.
Socialist party leader Sergei Stanishev, whose handing to Prosecutor-General Tsatsarov of documentation claiming that there had been illegal wiretapping of state and political leaders as well as business people prompted the initial investigation, reiterated his call for Tsvetanov to quit politics.
At an impromptu news conference, MEP and parliamentary candidate Iliyana Yotova said that Borissov and Tsvetanov should both immediately quit the election and renounce their immunity from prosecution.
Unless this was done, there would be a question mark over whether the elections would be fair and the future of Bulgaria would be in jeopardy, Yotova said.
Another BSP candidate, Petar Kurumbashev, said that the Naidenov – Tsvetanov episode was a battle between mafia clans in GERB.
Kurumbashev said that it was ultimately Borissov who was behind the illegal wiretapping. At the same time, Kurumbashev said that it appeared that cabinet ministers in Borissov’s GERB government had known that they were subjected to unlawful surveillance but yet had failed to alert prosecutors.
The BSP’s Maya Manolova said that Rossen Plevneliev, formerly a minister in the Borissov government and since January 2012 the President of Bulgaria, should say whether he had been wiretapped in office.
Plevneliev told journalists that it was up to the Prosecutor-General’s office to say whether there was evidence of illegal electronic surveillance.
Asked whether he thought Tsvetanov should resign from all posts he occupied, Plevneliev said that journalists should not expect the head of state to comment on such an issue. “You should not expect a President to give his evaluation of one or another political leader,” Plevneliev said.
Responding to Naidenov’s statements about the meetings held ahead of the formation of the current caretaker cabinet, Plevneliev said that he had held the meetings with various outgoing ministers to be briefed on what had been going on with their portfolios as he prepared to appoint a caretaker administration.
Asked whether telephones had been left outside the rooms where meetings were held, Plevneliev said that he had many meetings every day and customarily did not take his phone into them, as a matter of courtesy.
Lyutvi Mestan, leader of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, said that Tsvetanov was the “ugly face” of GERB.
Mestan, whose party is said by pollsters to be set for the third-largest number of seats after the election of Bulgaria’s 42nd National Assembly, said that Tsvetanov represented the “moral erosion” of GERB.
“There would be nothing more natural than his immediate dismissal as chairperson of the GERB campaign office and even being excluded from the election ticket,” Mestan said.
“However, if it turns out that Borissov is unable to get rid of his deputy, this will confirm suspicions that the Boss is so heavily dependent on his deputy that the two are even about to swop their jobs,” Mestan said.
“The fact that Tsvetan Tsvetanov has been spying, mostly illegally, is a fact. In this sense, Naidenov did not break news today. The news is that a person from inside the party, from the closest circle around the former prime minister, started talking. This shows the nature of the relations inside GERB. These are relations that are characteristic for another type of organisation from the underground, not for the political parties. It is very likely that President and the Prime Minister are wiretapped, too,” the MRF leader said.
When he spoke on television on the morning of April 25, Naidenov said that he hoped that his statements would give other former ministers the “courage” to come forward.
Within a few hours, two former ministers had spoken critically, of whom both had been fired from their posts by Borissov long before the GERB government left office.
Former economy minister Traicho Traikov and former health minister Stefan Konstantinov said that Naidenov’s claims were credible.
Traikov, among those alleged to have been subject to eavesdropping even after his axing from the cabinet in March 2012, said that when he held meetings, he had left his phone outside the room.
According to Traikov, members of the cabinet had joked with each other about the wiretapping, which Traikov described as an “open secret”.
Konstantinov said that after he became minister, Interior Ministry officials had swept his office for bugs. “They told me, no authorised ones. But unauthorised. They laughed,” he said.