Prosecutor general Ivan Geshev orders ‘full’ investigation of ‘entire’ post-communist privatization process

The idea is so all-encompassing it could mean investigating everything and nothing. Knowing Geshev, this is no surprise

Prosecutor General Ivan Geshev

Prosecutor Genеral Ivan Geshev, who has not gone more than a few days without announcing some major investigation, special operation or flashy arrest since he took office in December – ordered the State Agency for National Security to do a ‘full’ check of the ‘entire’ privatization process.

The announcement produced a lot of criticism from observers and experts and praise from the ruling coalition. A lot of the criticism was not without some very comical remarks. Understandably so: such an investigation is so unrealistic, it is plain impossible. The privatization process involves thousands upon thousands of deals, most of whose statute of limitation has expired. During communism, the economy was state-owned and managed. Private property was controlled at a certain threshold. After the fall of communism, a process to liberalize the economy began. The privatization includes every type of asset ranging from banks and other major state companies and production factories to agricultural land and tourist sites, breweries and just about any other type of production establishment out there. Looking into all of them is not ambitious – it is just ridiculous.

At least two questions come to mind as to why Geshev made such a juvenile order. In Geshev’s own view, is such an investigation actually realistic? If so, the problems facing the Prosecutor's Office have to do with basic understanding of the role and scope of the office. But the move is likely not a delusional one. Which brings us to the question of what he is really trying to achieve. And while trying to suppose the rationale behind the move, is by nature speculation, the fact that the move is a political one is, well – just that: a fact. As head of a branch of the justice system, Geshev should at least say what he means and mean what he says. It should come with the job. Playing around with messages and using your power of office to gain traction outside (and very far from) the courtroom could only be a political act and more specifically – a PR one.

It is very much worth noting and keeping in mind that Geshev acts as a politician rather than a lawyer. His actions make much more sense from a political perspective. So, from this point of view – again – what is the objective here.

By the way, this is not the first Prosecutor General or high-ranking politician to go after the privatization, be it not on the all-inclusive scale as Geshev has. A number of investigations have been announced or pledged to by two former Prosecutor Generals (including Geshev’s predecessor and mentor Sotir Tsatsarov), or by PM Boyko Borissov and members of his cabinets in 2016. In a nutshell these events have all gone in a similar fashion. Some commotion around the announcement is produced, after which actual investigation inevitably shrinks and sinks to some classified report, which no one knows anything about.

One possibility is for Geshev’s investigation to end as the others: with an anticlimactic secret document tucked away in some archive and not a single different consequence, and for it to turn out to be a regular stunt, no more different than his others. But Geshev’s approach till now has been an amplified of his predecessors’ worse moments, and it is worth considering a darker scenario.

If the State Agency for National Security goes along with the order and this ‘investigation’ elevates to some officiality, it will have the potential to become a sort of a justification platform for Geshev to take investigative actions promptly against any individual, connected in some way to the privatization process. Such a sample of individuals would compose a rather wide pool of many different people: some connected or dependent on the government, some opposed, others – who have managed to stay very much away from the complex relationships of Bulgaria’s post-communist public-private dynamics.

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