Two days after Bulgaria’s socialist party-appointed government came to power, the National Assembly approved the first reading of legislation moving the Chief Directorate for Combating Organised Crime into the State Agency for National Security.
The Bulgarian Socialist Party and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms portray the move as a reform for the sake of efficiency and preventing abuse of power, but former ruling party GERB criticise it as – among other things – part of a strategy to isolate President Rossen Plevneliev.
The first reading of the amendments was approved by 114 votes to 83, reflecting the respective proportions of votes held by the BSP-MRF on the one side and GERB on the other.
The Interior Ministry, law enforcement and intelligence structures are an especial target for change by the socialists, as they seek to roll back changes made under the 2009/13 Boiko Borissov government and restore the setup to something closer to the system in use during the 2006/09 socialist-led tripartite governing coalition.
The State Agency for National Security, set up under the previous socialist government, will recover its full investigative powers under the Penal Code.
The head of the agency will be appointed by Parliament, on the recommendation of the Prime Minister.
On May 30, a day before the first-reading vote in the National Assembly, the head of the State Agency for National Security, Konstantin Kazakov, resigned, saying that he wanted to give Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski a free hand to choose the agency’s leadership.
Tsvetan Tsvetanov, who was interior minister in the GERB government and is the party’s deputy leader, said on May 31 that the State Agency for National Security Act Amendment Bill was a “sly move aiming to isolate the President”.
“Let us not return the state into the hands of organised crime. This is what will happen with the moves by the current tripartite coalition,” Tsvetanov said.
He said that such legal amendments required serious analysis and discussions, and noted that neither the Prime Minister nor the Interior Minister were present during the May 31 debate in the National Assembly
GERB MP Krassimir Tsipov said that it seemed as if the amendment bill was written “at the scientific laboratories of the former State Security,” a reference to Bulgaria’s communist-era secret service.
“It bears all models of State Security’s style,” he said, quoted by local news agency Focus.
GERB MP Vesselin Vuchkov said that the amendments created a “departmental Frankenstein” of which the government would itself eventually lose control, and which would be a second Interior Ministry with police investigative functions, not subject to weekly parliamentary scrutiny.
Movement for Rights and Freedoms leader Lyutvi Mestan told Parliament that the amendments providing for the head of the agency to be elected by the National Assembly were intended in order to exert parliamentary control.
“With this amendment we continue the policy of rejecting the possibility for the Interior Ministry to continue acting as a politically repressive body,” Mestan said.
There was a similar message from BSP MP Mladen Chervenyakov, who said that the role for the National Assembly in electing the head of the State Agency for National Security meant putting the agency’s future activities under parliamentary control.
Responding to GERB criticisms that the amendments were intended to destroy the Interior Ministry’s capacity to investigate and act against serious and organised crime while creating a new political police, the BSP and MRF argue that at the time Tsvetanov was interior minister, the ministry was acting as a political police.
Bulgarian media said that Oresharski was naming Vladimir Pisanchev to head the State Agency for National Security. Reports linked Pisanchev to the 2008 “Galeria” controversy, in which the agency allegedly illegally gathered information on individuals, companies and reporters, including phone records.
Pisanchev, deputy head of the agency since April 2012, has denied any wrongdoing in connection with the Galeria case, which involved investigations into leaks of classified information.
An investigation in 2009 by a parliamentary committee found that the then-head of the State Agency for National Security, Petko Sertov, had initiated an investigation without there having been a clear threat to national security, while agents including Alexei Petrov (later to be arrested on allegations of serious organised crime charges) had conducted unlawful interrogations.
(Photo: Clive Leviev-Sawyer)