Bulgaria’s eavesdropping row: 875 numbers tapped by police without court order
Bulgaria’s Prosecutor-General Sotir Tsatsarov said on September 19 that investigators found 875 phone numbers had been tapped by the police without court authorisation during Tsvetan Tsvetanov’s term as interior minister.
Tsatsarov said that the list had been collated by sifting through the notebooks of the employees of the specialised operative and technical operations directorate of the Interior Ministry, the unit that until recently was tasked with carrying out all eavesdropping.
He said that investigators recognised some of the phone numbers, but were currently waiting for the country’s phone carriers to identify all the people who had been eavesdropped on without court order.
The eavesdropping controversy in Bulgaria broke out in spring, as the country was gearing for snap parliamentary elections in May, when socialist leader Sergei Stanishev said he received an anonymous tip-off with allegations that there had been illegal electronic surveillance, at the orders of then-interior minister Tsvetanov. (The list allegedly included a range of government and opposition politicians, business people, members of the judiciary, leaders of protests in February and other public figures including Bulgaria’s European Commissioner.)
An investigation by prosecutors found that lax controls over police eavesdropping created an environment ripe for abuse, but no evidence that such abuse had been carried out, as claimed by the anonymous tip-off.
Four current and former employees of the operative and technical information specialised directorate of the Interior Ministry have been formally charged as a result of the prosecution office’s investigation into allegations of illegal eavesdropping, the prosecutor’s office said on April 23.
On June 12, Tsvetanov, who was interior minister in the Boiko Borissov’s centre-right government that resigned in February, was formally charged with failure to exercise oversight over the use wiretaps by the Interior Ministry during his time in office – namely creating the necessary guidelines for the use of surveillance equipment. If convicted, he could be sentenced to a prison term ranging between one and eight years – the same penalty faced by the specialised directorate’s employees.
A day after Tsvetanov was indicted, Bulgaria’s Parliament passed at first reading amendments to the Special Intelligence Means Act, which would set up a State Agency for Technical Operations subordinated to the Cabinet, replacing the Interior Ministry’s specialised operative and technical operations directorate.
(Bulgaria’s Prosecutor-General Sotir Tsatsarov. Screengrab from Bulgarian National Television)