Bulgaria used covert surveillance illegally against ‘inconvenient’ politicians, judges and journalists, official says

There have been cases of the illegal use of covert surveillance equipment against “inconvenient” politicians, members of the judiciary and journalists, the head of Bulgaria’s national bureau for oversight of eavesdropping, Boiko Rashkov, said in a television interview.

Rashkov did not disclose further details, but said that the Prosecutor’s Office and the State Agency for National Security – which he likened to Bulgaria’s communist-era secret service State Security – wanted all control over secret surveillance methods removed.

In an interview with Nova Televizia, Rashkov, asked if there was illegal eavesdropping intended to exercise pressure, intimidation or blackmail, said: “Every year, the bureau prepares a report that we present to Parliament, and there are many interesting findings”.

In 2016, the bureau identified five cases of the unlawful use of covert electronic surveillance, according to its annual report.

One was against investigator Boiko Atanassov, who alleged last year that the Prosecutor’s Office had a “spitz commando” that carried out political orders. That allegation was denied by the Prosecutor’s Office.

According to the annual report, there were 81 requests for surveillance. Five involved MPs from the previous Parliament, 13 members of the judiciary and nine lawyers.

In 2015, the bureau identified 10 cases of illegal covert electronic surveillance. In 2014, there were four.

The Bulgarian state already has been ordered to pay 4000 leva (about 2000 euro) damages to former customs officer Metodi Mitovski for illegally subjecting him to eavesdropping. The bureau found that the surveillance of Mitovski had begun after a court order, but in connection with offences for which the law does not permit the use of covert electronic surveillance.

Rashkov commented on the case of his deputy at the bureau, Georgi Gatev, who had his access to classified information withdrawn after it emerged that he had assisted suspects and accused to write requests to the bureau as to whether they were subject to surveillance.

Gatev’s access was withdrawn following a request by the Prosecutor’s Office. He denies wrongdoing.

Rashkov said that in the past three years, the bureau had done about 300 check-ups. As a result of the increased control, the number of cases of covert electronic surveillance being applied had dropped sharply.

He said that he saw nothing wrong with a member of the bureau showing someone how to write a request for a check-up. In the television interview, he said that he had done the same.

Rashkov said that Gatev’s candidacy to be the deputy head of the bureau had been put forward by the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, and he saw a connection between the removal of Gatev and rumours that the Prosecutor’s Office was planning action against that party.

Rashkov said that he would not be surprised if the arrest of an MRF leader was being prepared. A report on August 15 by Bulgarian-language daily Sega said that there had been rumours about this for days in connection with Ahmed Dogan, the founder and honorary president of the MRF.

Separately, Dogan was quoted by a Bulgarian-language website as saying, “why do they involve me in all the problems of the state, for five years I have not been involved in daily politics. Who thought up this stuff? What should I be arrested for? What should I be investigated about?”.



The Sofia Globe staff

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