Plovdiv businessman and Bulgarian Socialist Party strongman in that city, Georgi Gergov, resigned from the BSP leadership body at a special national council meeting on April 22, following pressure for him to quit over his reported role in mediating a meeting between Prosecutor-General Sotir Tsatsarov and Overgas owner Sasho Donchev.
Gergov earlier had insisted that he had no reason to resign, but a few hours into the meeting, stepped down. The night before, BSP leader Kornelia Ninova had said that unless Gergov left the BSP executive bureau, she would resign as party leader.
In the face of Gergov’s earlier refusal to resign, Ninova called the Saturday meeting of the national council in a bid to vote him out of the leadership.
At the start of the discussion on Gergov, Ninova said that he should be dismissed because of his involvement in events that had aroused interest among the public and the media and had caused many questions to be put to the party.
She said that as a member of the party leadership, Gergov was a political figure.
“I do not accept a regular political person participating in such events,” she said, referring to reports about the Tsatsarov-Donchev meeting.
After Ninova’s opening remarks, reporters were asked to leave the BSP national council’s meeting room – a request that was immediately challenged by Gergov, who said: “I have nothing to be ashamed of or to hide”.
Ninova responded: “We are not hiding anything…our discussions always have been closed and then we always inform about them”.
Later, after it emerged that Gergov in fact had resigned from the party leadership, he said that he had done so, so as “not to create confrontation in the BSP”.
The reports that caused the controversy were about an alleged occasion in which Tsatsarov met Donchev and allegedly threatened him. This incident is said to have taken place on March 21, a few days before Bulgaria’s early parliamentary elections.
Emerging from a recording of a meeting that Donchev addressed, the reports claimed that the Prosecutor-General had questioned Donchev about whether he was funding Hristo Ivanov’s pro-judicial reform Yes Bulgaria party, and television station BiT. Issues related to the gas industry also allegedly were discussed, and it was claimed that Donchev may be subject to special surveillance.
The Prosecutor’s Office has issued a blanket denial about the allegations.
“Allegations about pressure exerted on Mr Donchev are false and speculative,” the statement, issued on April 20, said. “Never, in any way, has the Prosecutor-General made personal or institutional threats to Mr Donchev”.
The statement said that there had been a meeting, but it had been with Donchev in his capacity as representing the interests of one of the officially-recognised employers’ organisations in Bulgaria. It had not been the first meeting with Donchev, according to the statement.
The Prosecutor’s statement alleged that during the meeting, Tsatsarov was asked to exert influence on supervising prosecutors in their investigation into the independent regulator regarding the delivery and sale of natural gas. “Such intervention was categorically refused,” the statement said.
“The Prosecutor-General believes that any attempt to put pressure on the work of the prosecution and investigation authorities is unacceptable,” the statement said, adding that Tsatsarov said that there would continue to be zero tolerance towards any politician or businessman who tries to put themselves or their commercial interests above the law and the public interest.
In a television interview on April 21, Ninova said that of the views expressed by both sides, she respected the position of the Prosecutor-General about this zero tolerance approach. “I cannot bear responsibility for businessmen, but I can bear it for politicians and have to bear it”.
Ninova said in the television interview that Gergov had been invited by her to a conversation to ask for his resignation but he had refused.
She said that if Gergov did not go, she would resign as BSP leader. “If I lose the support of the National Council – I will leave with dignity, I will not allow the name of BSP to be involved in this scandal.”
Donchev, meanwhile, had praised Gergov as a “person with a good heart”. Although they were not friends, he knew Gergov to be someone who brought people together to resolve their differences, he said.
Gergov has been well-known for his business ownerships, including of Tzum, Slunchev Den, Plovdiv’s Hotel Sankt Peterburg, Putishta Plovdiv and other commercial interests from sugar to animal feed, as well as his shareholding in International Fair Plovdiv. Long prominent in the BSP Plovdiv, he is a former mayoral candidate. More than once, he has sought but failed to be elected BSP party leader.
Given allegations about statements regarding the media owned by Donchev – the publisher of daily Sega, which daily features the work of award-winning cartoonist Hristo Komarnitski – a special meeting of the Bulgarian Union of Publishers held after the parliamentary elections had decided to approach President Roumen Radev about the matter.
According to Donchev, a letter had been sent to Radev, on April 5. So far, there had been no response, Donchev said.