Eavesdropping controversy: Immunity protects Tsvetanov from criminal charges – for now

Prosecutors allege that Bulgaria’s former interior minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov, currently the campaign chief for Boiko Borissov’s GERB party, committed crimes in connection to unlawful eavesdropping by the ministry – but prosecutors have terminated proceedings because Tsvetanov has statutory immunity as a candidate MP.

After the elections on May 12 2013, should (somewhat improbably, given his place on candidates’ lists) Tsvetanov not win a seat, he could face the prosecution being resumed. If he wins a seat in Parliament, the Prosecutor-General would have to approach the legislature to formally request the lifting of his immunity as an MP.

In a statement on April 30, the Sofia City Prosecution Office said it had found sufficient evidence that while interior minister, Tsvetanov had committed a criminal offence by knowingly allowing subordinates at the Interior Ministry to engage in illegal eavesdropping.

There also was evidence that he had abused his authority.

The Prosecutor’s Office said it was terminating criminal proceedings against interior ministry officials Tsvetan Ivanov, Kamen Kostov, Sergei Katsarov and Radko Dimitrov because of Tsvetanov’s immunity.

On April 23, Katsarov, the head of the operative and technical information specialised directorate of the Interior was charged with abuse of power that has caused major consequences (article 387, paragraph 2 of the Penal Code). His predecessors in office, Kostov and Ivanov, were indicted on the same charge.

The trio failed in their duties to create the necessary guidelines for the use of surveillance equipment, prosecutors said earlier. If found guilty, they could be sentenced to prison terms ranging between one and eight years.

Katsarov also was charged with document fraud under article 311, paragraph 1 of the Penal Code, prosecutors said. That article says that “an official who, within the scope of his duties, draws an official document certifying untrue circumstances or statements with the purpose of using this document as a proof of these circumstances or statements shall be punished by imprisonment of up to five years.”

Dimitrov, the head of a unit at the directorate, was charged with destruction of evidence, an offence that carries a possible sentence ranging between one and five years’ imprisonment, as well as a fine of up to 1000 leva.

The eavesdropping investigation was launched when socialist leader Sergei Stanishev said on March 28 that he had received allegations that a range of government and opposition politicians, business people, members of the judiciary, protest leaders and other public figures had been subjects of illegal surveillance at the orders of former interior minister Tsvetanov.

Stanishev said he received the information on his official e-mail address and passed them on to Prosecutor-General Sotir Tsatsarov. A team of 10 prosecutors investigated the tip-off, reviewing the movements of the alleged surveillance van over the past month and the existing guidelines of the Interior Ministry for using eavesdropping equipment.

The review found that illegal eavesdropping could be carried out, given the lack of written regulations concerning training exercises and the results of such operations, as well as the lack of proper oversight over the use of surveillance equipment by the employees of the operative and technical information specialised directorate of the ministry.






The Sofia Globe staff

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