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The storm in the upper echelons of the prosecutor’s office in Bulgaria signals a crisis of statehood

Ivan Geshev
Photo: BTA

The week started in this country with a veritable storm in the upper echelons of the state. This time the epicenter of the storm was the prosecutor’s office, whose administrative leader, Prosecutor General Ivan Geshev called a special press conference after his return from a visit to the US. Before presenting, in monologue form, the facts and circumstances of the resignation that is being demanded of him, he melodramatically threw the pen he was expected to sign the resignation with onto the table, and then tore up the piece of paper on which it was written and threw the pieces to the floor. 

He then said he was going to complete his term of office and went on to complain of political pressure.

Though some analysts describe his performance as a histrionic outburst, there are some who see in it a disturbing signal:

“Obviously, relations inside the state institutions have escalated to such a degree that they risk embroiling the institutions they represent in a war with one another. That is a great danger,” explains lawyer Peter Slavov. “What we are now seeing is a crisis of statehood, because, reading between the lines of what the prosecutor general said, the bias in the appointments within the judicial system is laid bare, as are the “informal relationships” that are maintained between the executive, the judiciary, the prosecutor’s office. Not only is the separation of powers laid down by the Constitution as a fundamental principle of the rule of law brushed aside, it is trampled upon.”

And though he expresses doubts regarding the allegations Ivan Geshev made, Peter Slavov says that even if half of what he said is true, it would be prudent to consider scrapping the position of prosecutor general altogether.

Ivan Geshev has no future at the head of the prosecutor’s office, says lawyer Nikolay Hadjigenov who was one of the figures at the head of the mass protests against the government and the prosecutor general that broke out in the summer of 2020:

“The fact that Geshev is brawling with the people who appointed him is, perhaps, a good thing for us, the public. As you know, it is the political parties that are in power that appoint the prosecutor general, and he starts running errands for them. It was no different with Ivan Geshev,” Nikolay Hadjigenov says. “The prosecutor’s office, in its present form, must be eradicated, the same holds good of the National Investigative Service which is attached to it, the Interior Ministry and the special services. They must all be rebuilt from scratch.”

One of the principal causes of the state of affairs within the judiciary is the rigid centralization inside the prosecutor’s office, explains Dimitar Markov from the Law Programme at the Center for the Study of Democracy. “That is something that works for the prosecutor general when things are going smoothly, but when the system gets shaken up, that same centralization turns against its leader. Dismantling that centralization is a key factor for reforming the system,” he says.

“What we are now seeing is that the political parties are jostling with one another to demonstrate who is a truer fighter for judicial reform and for Geshev’s resignation, but it is now time for some specifics,” political analyst Hristo Panchugov says. “Now is the time to start submitting bills to the National Assembly, to form the parliamentary committees, and around this, to hold the conversation on the future of the legal system. It is the only chance of a political change in Bulgaria, and if this chance is missed, if we keep talking only of the figure of Ivan Geshev, that is not going to change anything and that segment of society which wants to see a functioning judiciary never will.”

Borislav Sarafov
Meanwhile, a few hours after Ivan Geshev gave his press conference, one of his deputies Borislav Sarafov also gave a briefing, in which he revealed flagrant violations committed by Ivan Geshev as prosecutor general, and disclosed details of how the prosecutor general has been using real estate belonging to the prosecutor’s office for his own private use.  

Lawyer Mincho Spasov says that one of the things Ivan Geshev aimed to convey is probably that the role of prosecutor general is not enough for him, and that he is now eyeing at the political domain from which, in his own words he has to “throw out the political garbage”.

“If it is to act within the bounds of the law, the Supreme Judicial Council should remove all three “heroes” of this drama from office immediately (Ivan Geshev and his deputies Borislav Sarafov and Yasen Todorov – editorial note). It is obvious that they are all making use of the positions they hold for exerting pressure on other magistrates and maintaining contacts with politicians etc. – things they have been accusing each other of. The same standards should be applied to all three magistrates, whatever the outcome of the investigation. And if that doesn’t happen, that would mean that the move of the puppet masters is the right one.”

Translated from the Bulgarian and posted by Milena Daynova

Photos: BTA

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