Bulgarian prosecutors said on April 18 that the arrest of Dessislava Ivancheva, mayor of Sofia’s Mladost district, was the result of a sting operation involving an alleged bribe of 70 000 euro.
Ivancheva had been under investigation on suspition of soliciting the bribe – allegedly, 500 000 euro for four construction permits – for months, following a tip-off from a real estate developer, the head of Bulgaria’s specialised anti-corruption prosecutor’s office Ivan Geshev told a news conference.
Ivancheva’s highly public arrest on April 17, at a busy intersection in central Sofia, after which the district mayor reportedly spent at least an hour handcuffed and standing in the open, came shortly after she allegedly took possession of the 70 000 euro, which was reportedly the first part of the bribe that prosecutors say she solicited.
Asked about the arrest, Geshev said that the location had not been picked intentionally and that prosecutors were only interested in detaining Ivancheva before she deposited the money. As regards the lengthy period of time she spent at the site of the arrest, he said that this was due to the slow process of recording the serial numbers of the banknotes in the alleged bribe.
Geshev said that prosecutors had collected evidence using special surveillance means, in addition to the testimony of the developer allegedly being pressured into paying the bribe. He said that the raid of Ivancheva’s office at the district municipality found numerous other files that, allegedly, the mayor had intentionally delayed.
Prosecutors planned to press bribery charges and could also add organised crime and money-laudering charges. Given the large amount of the alleged bribe, if convicted, Ivancheva could face a jail term of between 10 and 30 years.
Ivancheva was elected mayor of Mladost, one of Sofia’s more populous boroughs, in November 2016 after taking a lead role in several protests against over-development in the district, already home to numerous high-rise residential buildings.
At a news conference on April 18, the district mayor’s supporters claimed that Ivancheva was the victim of a set-up prompted by her strong opposition to real estate re-development, in particular construction in areas currently designated as green spaces in the district.
(Screengrab of Ivancheva in handcuffs following her arrest on April 17, from Bulgarian National Television.)