With just more than two weeks to go to Bulgaria’s May 12 parliamentary elections, the eavesdropping controversy that is dominating the campaign took a new twist when media were sent recordings purported to be of a conversation between former prime minister and GERB leader Boiko Borissov, ex-agriculture minister Miroslav Naidenov and Sofia city prosecutor Nikolai Kokinov.
The recordings arrived by e-mail at various Bulgarian media offices on April 26, the day after Naidenov was expelled from Borissov’s centre-right GERB party for alleging on live television that everyone in Borissov’s cabinet had been the subject of illegal eavesdropping, including the then-prime minister, and that behind it all was Tsvetan Tsvetanov. Tsvetanov was deputy prime minister and interior minister in Borissov’s government and currently heads GERB’s election campaign.
Tsvetanov has been at the centre of the illegal eavesdropping allegations for weeks, with rival parties, the socialists especially, calling on him to withdraw from politics in line with his promise to do so should investigators establish that there had been illegal wiretapping while he was interior minister.
Tsvetanov has been backed by Borissov. The GERB leadership has said that an initial investigation by prosecutors had said nothing about establishing that there had been unlawful eavesdropping, only that shortcomings in the rules made it theoretically possible.
The recordings that reached the media on April 26 purportedly came from an agent involved in surveillance. The dialogue, peppered with bad language about politicians, journalists and prosecutors – including Prosecutor-General Sotir Tsatsarov, is claimed to have been recorded in April. The caretaker cabinet that took over from Borissov’s administration came into office on March 13.
An e-mail to which the recordings were attached includes the note, “if you think that after February 20, Tsvetan Tsvetanov has stopped listening in on you, you are wrong. But I am pretty certain that you know that. Because I am one of those who eavesdrop on you.”
This is the latest episode in recent weeks involving the leaking of material. Documents pointing to an investigation more than a decade ago into allegations of impropriety against ant-organised crime directorate head Stanimir Florov led to pre-trial proceedings against him and suspension from his post.
The recordings received on April 26 show three voices discussing influencing the course of the investigation, initiated after he left office, into allegations of Naidenov having been involved in corruption and abuse of power.
Borissov reacted by calling on journalists not be “misled and deceived” by what was being distributed for public consumption.
He said that he had “high trust” in the Prosecutor-General and was convinced that Tsatsarov would sift out the weaknesses in the allegations being spread. Borissov said that the alleged recordings were part of a campaign to discredit his party in the run-up to the elections.
According to Borissov, there was a “parallel structure” in the Interior Ministry, conducting eavesdropping, and behind it was Bulgarian Socialist Party leader Sergei Stanishev.
Referring to the earlier investigation by prosecutors having found discrepancies in the records of the use of vehicles equipped with special surveillance devices, with them having been use while the official logs showed them as having been in the garage, Borissov suggested that the people in the “parallel structures” were even able to provide vehicles identical to those used by the Interior Ministry, including having the same equipment.
“It is possible for former officers with the services, who now get low pensions, to have done this for money,” Borissov said.
According to media accompanying Borissov on the campaign trail near Plovdiv, he said that today’s episode showed that the people behind illegal wiretapping went so far as to eavesdrop on his home in Bankya, just outside Sofia.
A recent poll showed that the eavesdropping controversy appeared to be having an impact on the course of the election. GERB, while still showing the largest share of support, had shed some since the controversy started, while – according to the Mediana agency – Tsvetanov’s popularity had dropped by five percentage points, leaving him at 11th place in the popularity rankings of Bulgaria’s politicians.
(Photo of Borissov: Council of the European Union)