Bulgaria’s SJC votes to sack Prosecutor-General Geshev

Bulgaria’s Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) voted on June 12 to dismiss Ivan Geshev as Prosecutor-General, with 16 votes in favour and four opposed on a motion that Geshev brought the judiciary into disrepute. However, a legal challenge could still keep him in office for some time.

The decision came after the council deliberated for nearly 24 hours, in a sitting that started on June 8 and concluded on June 12, with Geshev and his legal representative in attendance for most of that time.

He was not present at the time of the vote, having left in the afternoon on June 12, citing travel arrangements for meetings with members of European Parliament scheduled for June 13 and 14.

Geshev was subject of two motions of dismissal, the one for bringing the judiciary into disrepute, as well as a motion that he interfered with the investigation into the detonation of an explosive device near his car on May 1.

The SJC voted to dismiss the interference motion early in its sitting on June 8, but proceed with the disrepute motion.

The motion, tabled by four members of the prosecutors college in the SJC, accused Geshev of breaching the ethics code of Bulgarian magistrates on May 15, during a news conference in which he accused politicians of interfering in the work of the prosecutor’s office.

On that occasion, Geshev referred to “political rubbish in the National Assembly” and vowed to “sweep the rubbish out.”

Since then, the prosecutor’s office has made a number of announcements about progress in investigations, some of which have been in holding pattern for years and others that had previously been ended.

Geshev’s words and the increase in activity of the prosecutor’s office raised doubts about the impartiality of the institution, proponents of his dismissal said during the hearings.

Geshev’s defence throughout the proceedings was that the words were uttered in a state of affect, after receiving what he described as a threatening letter on May 14, a day before the news conference where he spoke about “political rubbish.”

He also appeared to repeatedly attempt to delay a vote by procedural means, asking for witnesses to be heard concerning his emotional state (which the SJC granted) and additional assessments as to the impact of his words on public perception of the prosecutor’s office (which the SJC did not grant).

The 16-4 majority in favour of dismissing Geshev, however, may be insufficient to dislodge the incumbent prosecutor-general, who is half-way through his seven-year term, having been sworn into office in December 2019.

Under recent amendments to the Judiciary Act, passed by Parliament on May 26, a simple majority of 13 members of the SJC is sufficient to dismiss the prosecutor-general, bringing down the threshold from the two-thirds qualified majority of 17.

Geshev has indicated that he intends to challenge the amendments in the Constitutional Court. Separately, media reports said that Geshev will table a constitutional court challenge arguing that the SJC does not have the right to dismiss him because its members’ five-year term expired in 2022 and the council remains in place until Parliament elects new members.

Additionally, the prosecutor-general is formally dismissed by presidential decree and two close allies of President Roumen Radev said at the weekend that Radev has the grounds, based on those upcoming constitutional challenges, to hold off signing the decree until the court issues its rulings.

Geshev previously survived two motions to dismiss him, tabled by justice ministers Yanaki Stoilov in 2021 and Nadezhda Yordanova in 2022, both tabled on the same grounds that he breached the ethics code and brought the judiciary into disrepute through his actions.

(Photo: Clive Leviev-Sawyer)

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