When Filip Zlatanov was head of the Bulgarian government’s committee on the conflict of interests, he kept notebooks with doodlings, abbreviations of people’s names and well, notes. In July 2013, those notebooks were seized as alleged evidence of wrongdoing involving Zlatanov and possibly others, but now, in November 2014, have gone missing.
Bulgaria’s politicians are in uproar about the case of Zlatanov’s missing notebooks, predictably for different reasons.
The opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party links the purloining of the notebooks to the fact that centre-right GERB has just returned to power. GERB leader and Prime Minister Boiko Borissov links the disappearance to the notebooks being faked, part of a plot to discredit his party and those close to it.
At the time the allegations were first made against Zlatanov, deputy prosecutor-general Borislav Sarafov said that the notes and abbreviations of names suggested that Zlatanov had complied with instructions to suppress or delay investigations.
Media reports of the time suggested that people referred to in Zlatanov’s notebooks included President Rossen Plevneliev, Borissov, GERB deputy leader Tsvetan Tsvetanov, a then-MP for GERB, Iskra Fidossova, and Emil Dimitrov, a former GERB MP who quit the party amid allegations against him.
Those politicians who have commented on the case have denied any wrongdoing, while Zlatanov has said that the jottings simply recorded his own thoughts about cases.
In Parliament on November 12 2014, GERB called for every effort to be made for the whole truth to be exposed about the case of Zlatanov’s notebooks.
GERB MP Tsveta Karayancheva condemned the whole affair as an attempt to manipulate public opinion against the party by cooking up baseless allegations, as had been done before the May 2013 elections with the “Kostinbrod affair” that involved supposedly illegal ballot papers.
BSP MP Kiril Dobrev said that the theft of the notebooks – which reportedly had been entrusted to an official who left them in his car – provided “amnesty” for Zlatanov while the theft also made it impossible to prove who was behind the initials in the notebook.
Radan Kanev, leader of the parliamentary group of the Reformist Bloc, said that the disappearance of the notebooks was a worrying sign, adding that the theft of key evidence at key moments was yet a further example of the need for judicial reform in Bulgaria.
It was announced on November 12 that prosecutors would investigate the actions of the police in the case of the missing notebooks.
Sofia City Prosecutor Hristo Dinev said that the investigation would look into the chain of events linked to the theft.
The official, Stefan Benchev, is said to have reported the theft only on November 6, a day after the notebooks were stolen, along with his leather bag with money and documents.
Prosecutors would check when the report was filed, what the procedures were and why the Interior Ministry had failed to notify prosecutors about the theft of the notebooks.
Also on November 12, Prosecutor-General Sotir Tsatsarov said that the disappearance of the Zlatanov notebooks was a purely criminal act.
Tsatsarov said that the disappearance of the notebooks would not affect the subsequent course of events because the court had certified copies.
He said that he saw no reason for conspiracy theories about the case and said the absence of the notebooks would not be fatal for the work of prosecutors.
Justice Minister Hristo Ivanov said that the case of the missing notebooks, along with recent local media reports casting doubt about the integrity of the system for randomly allocating trials to judges, were serious indicators of problems in the health of the justice system.
Ivanov said that theoretically it was possible for the system of case distribution to go wrong, and theoretically it was possible for notebooks to be stolen, but when both happened in a single day in relation to the most important cases in the country, the court, the Supreme Judicial Council and the prosecution should offer an explanation.
A transcript of a Cabinet meeting showed Prime Minister Borissov expressing concern that the notebooks had been left in the custody of a 60-year-old individual, solely, who had carried them around in Sofia in his car.
Borissov added, “and when we talk about judicial reform, we can do the best in the world, but when material evidence disappears, the process ends, it’s over.” He indicated that the chance had been lost to show that the notebooks had been faked, in the way the “Kostinbrod scandal” had been trumped up out of nothing.
Separately, Reformist Bloc MP Atanas Atanassov said that the case of the notebook was a “trite and staged political scandal”.
He said that several groups would have had an interest in the theft: “The initials have an interest. The defendants also have an interest,” Atanassov said, adding that he did not know which true was true but underlining that those with the greatest interest were people who wanted to bring back negative memories of the previous Borissov administration.
The case was “further evidence of how sick the judicial system in Bulgaria is,” Atanassov said. He added that the case would not be stopped, given that there would be certified copies of the notebooks and that these were not the only evidence.