Bulgarian prosecutors allege accused gambling boss is paying for protests

Written by on July 14, 2020 in Bulgaria - Comments Off on Bulgarian prosecutors allege accused gambling boss is paying for protests

Bulgaria’s Prosecutor-General’s office released on July 14 recordings that it alleges show that gambling boss Vassil Bozhkov, who is out of the country while facing numerous serious criminal charges, is financing the large-scale public protests demanding the resignation of the Prosecutor-General and the government.

The authenticity of the recordings has not been independently confirmed.

The release of the recordings came after the fifth night on which several thousand Bulgarians in capital city Sofia and other cities and towns took part in protests demanding the resignation of Prosecutor-General Ivan Geshev and Prime Minister Boiko Borissov’s government, while also demanding early parliamentary elections and the rule of law.

The protests, which followed a number of high-profile controversies, have seen supporters of various anti-government extra-parliamentary parties, participating, carrying posters lampooning and insulting Borissov, Geshev and controversial figures such as Delyan Peevski, while chanting: “resign!” and “mafia!”.

Borissov and a number of his Cabinet ministers repeatedly have insisted that the government will not resign.

The events of recent days also have seen bitter exchanges between Geshev and President Roumen Radev.

The recordings released on July 14 also include one purportedly between Bozhkov and MP Alexander Paunov. Following the release, Bulgarian Socialist Party leader Kornelia Ninova said that Paunov was leaving the BSP parliamentary group but would remain an MP. She emphasised that Paunov was not a BSP member, but leader of a BSP coalition partner, the Bulgarian Communist Party.

The Prosecutor’s Office said on Tuesday that it was initiating a new investigation into Bozhkov, who already faces numerous charges including leading an organised crime group, money laundering, extortion, bribery and murder. The new investigation is said by the Prosecutor’s Office to be in connection with criminal association with journalists and politicians with the purpose of committing crimes against the Republic. The statement did not specify what the crime or crimes were.

Geshev also reacted to a statement posted on the website of the United States embassy in Sofia, which said that it was supporting the Bulgarian people “as you peacefully advocate for increased faith in your democratic system and promote the rule of law in Bulgaria”.

“Every nation deserves a judicial system that is non-partisan and accountable to the rule of law. We support the Bulgarian people as you peacefully advocate for increased faith in your democratic system and promote the rule of law in Bulgaria. No one is above the law,” the embassy said, in a message that several Bulgarian-language media interpreted as implicit support of the protests.

Geshev, however, saw the US embassy’s message in a strikingly different light, thanking the embassy for its support.

In a post on Twitter, accompanied by a photograph of the US, Bulgarian and Nato flags, Geshev said: “Thank you to our partners from the United States and its embassy in Bulgaria for the supporter for the rule of law and the uncompromising actions of the Prosecution. Truly – no one of us is above the law! Let us show that to all Bulgarians for the latest time!”.

Bulgarian National Radio reported on July 14 that, asked to comment on recent events in Bulgaria, European Commission spokesperson Christian Wiegand said that the EU always held that peaceful protests were a fundamental right in any democracy.

Asked to respond to the US embassy statement, EC press service head Eric Mamer said: “In the EU we have our own positions and we do not react because of positions expressed by others”.

“We have a clear position on the rule of law and we have pointed this out on the occasion of the events in Bulgaria, Mamer said, according to BNR.

At a briefing on July 14, the deputy head of the Sofia regional directorate of the Interior Ministry, Senior Commissioner Anton Zlatanov, said that the materials published by the Prosecutor’s Office were “disturbing”, confirming the information of law enforcement agencies in recent days, that “certain groups are trying to control the peaceful protest by citizens, there is evidence of organisation”.

He said that police had removed from the protests people identified by the protesters as provocateurs.

Photo: Bulgaria’s Interior Ministry press centre.

“Last night we were asked for help by random people from the protest, who recognised people in their ranks who were trying to provoke tension, and we were asked to remove such people,” Zlatanov said.

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