Mediapool Weekly: November 7 - November 15

Supreme Judicial Council re-elects Ivan Geshev for Prosecutor General with 20 to 4. Justice Atanaska Disheva and Geshev opposer said he threatened her job

Opinion:

More of the same: The Supreme Judicial Council re-elects Ivan Geshev for Prosecutor General with 20 to 4. Again

The Supreme Judicial Council re-elected the only candidate for Prosecutor General with 20 votes to 4, as it did before. President Roumen Radev vetoed the election last time citing foremost the circumstance of a single candidate as the biggest problem.

The council began with a vote whether to restart the whole procedure or just the vote. In the case of the former, there would have been an option for a second candidate, although it seems unrealistic for those who nominated Geshev and refused to provide an alternative to approach the procedure differently. With 20 votes to 4 the council decided on the latter, which further fortified the notion that the procedure is but a formality. Then the council repeated the vote exactly as last time: with 20 to 4 in favor of Geshev. According to some experts it also leaves the president (who has no more veto power over the matter and must ratify the vote) the option to ask the Constitutional Court if re-voting in a single-candidate race actually satisfies his veto. If not, the procedure must begin again. This is not a very likely scenario; but if it transpires the next procedure will take place after the current Prosecutor General Sotir Tsatsarov leaves office on January 10. He groomed Geshev and is the main force behind securing his nomination.

Tsatsarov announced his full support for Geshev early on. All of his direct subordinates in the council (all the prosecutors) nominated Geshev and then voted for him unanimously twice. His nomination was not a surprise at all, although Geshev told reporters he will “99,99%” not run. But it was hard to believe: for one, he was the face of all the news-candy material the Prosecutor’s Office put out. And second, he was the lead prosecutor in the case for the Corporate Commercial Bank (KTB) collapse case, where he managed to leave out Delyan Peevski – the media mogul, who built his empire through loans from KTB – from the 10’000+ page indictment. For this achievement alone, he deserves the job.

At the time, observers pointed out that while Geshev is the obvious favorite for the job, he would be too crude of a statement to Bulgaria’s EU partners. There will be no room for any speculation left that the country intends to make reforms in the justice system or follow any of the EU’s recommendations regarding the role of the Prosecutor General. Ivan Geshev is not just a continuation of Tsatsarov’s prosecutorial style, he is a much more radical version of it. Those in power would not – observers speculated – double down so plainly, they would at least try to keep pretending to plan on reform.

The whole ordeal cashes in – so to speak – on the power Tsatsarov has managed to acquire during his tenure. The executive branch might very well be against Geshev, but they are powerless against the prosecution. Since the Prosecutor General is in effect above the law, Tsatsarov turned the Prosecutor’s Office into a political instrument to control the branches of power. Tsatsarov’s office engages in a number of lawsuits, which exist only to intimidate and silence opposers, while bluntly ignores evidence of crimes, especially when it comes to corruption and trading in influence.

In this context of cemented certainty, two questions still remain. The first is whether Roumen Radev intends to take the case to the Constitutional Court. If he does, what will it rule but mostly – how long will it take? What would a procedure without Tsatsarov in office look like? Tsatsarov’s hold, apart from informal is also quite literal: he is the prosecutors’ direct superior and this reflects the unanimous collective actions by the prosecutors in the Supreme Judicial Council.

A second point to wonder about is one of irony. Tsatsarov built this all-powerful office and reinforced its unaccountability and relative sovereignty. He directed so much power to the position of Prosecutor General that it is worth thinking about how this office will treat him after he’s left it.

In other news:

Justice Atanaska Disheva said Geshev threatened her job

Atanaska Disheva in one of the four justices, who voted against Geshev in the Supreme Judicial Council. She has voiced her criticism of Geshev openly to the council and the media over the past weeks and months. During the last hearings when Geshev was re-elected with 20 to 4 votes to become the next Prosecutor General, Disheva stated to the council that Geshev threatened her in the hallway during a break.

“Just minutes ago – Disheva told the council – in the hallway outside this chamber, in the presence of Tsatsarov and Cholakov, Ivan Geshev told me ‘I congratulate you, Ms Disheva – you have a brilliant political career before you. You will make a remarkable city council member.’ I asked him if this was a threat. He laughed and replied ‘No, no.’ I state here that I view this as an absolute threat [..] regarding my future as council member and justice. I say this to further support my position that the candidate [Ivan Geshev] lacks professional and ethical merits needed for this post.”

It is interesting that Geshev chose to mention Disheva would make an excellent city council member in particular.

In August of this year Metody Lalov, who was the head of the Sofia District Court resigned citing disgust with the system. He was just sworn in as a city council member, elected with the ballot of the non-parliamentary opposition Democratic Bulgaria. Coincidently, this is the party both PM Boyko Borissov declared as the number-one enemy of GERB after the last local elections. During the press conference after his election, Geshev spoke of “unprecedented political pressure” over the proceedings exercised “by a party, which discontinued their political campaign in order to take part in the protests against my nomination.” Democratic Bulgaria stopped campaigning several days before the local elections to protest. It is noteworthy and worrying that Geshev (sincerely) views any open expression of political views as ‘political pressure’ if they contradict his own.

Justice Minister Danail Kirilov also attacked Disheva with the provocative “Who do you work for.” He also implied the protests against Geshev (which have been ongoing since his nomination, and continued outside the building at the time of the proceedings and the press conference) are paid and ‘some collogues must pay for the timing of the protest outside.’

The head of the Supreme Court of Cassation, another notable member against Geshev told the council that Geshev has “a tendency to take the law into his own hands.” In his words the incident with Disheva only confirms this notion, while “the silence from Tsatsarov and Cholakov after her statement is also just as indicative.”

Later Tsatsarov addressed her and depicted her concern as paranoid. The minister then took offence from her statement, reading it as undervaluing city council members.

Asked about Disheva’s statement during the press brief, Geshev denied his remark was a threat.

“Three members […] – Lozan Panov, Disheva and Kerelska spoke with political arguments, not with legal ones. This is why […] I told Ms Disheva a brilliant political career lies before her,” he told journalists.

And closed: “I suspect if I told her ‘Good day’ she would’ve seen a threat in that as well.”

Sotir Tsatsarov most likely to head the Anticorruption Commission

Prosecutor General Sotir Tsatsarov is most likely to become head of the Anticorruption Commission, Svobodna Evropa reports, citing parliamentary sources. Tsatsarov’s tenure as Prosecutor General will end January 10 but if Parliament votes him in now, he will leave early to take over the commission. In this scenario he will be finishing the former head of the commission, Plamen Georgiev’s tenure, which ends 2024.

Parliament opened the procedure for choosing a replacement last week: over a month pass the legal deadline. Sources have said that that Parliament has been putting off opening the procedure on purpose in order to make it possible for Tsatsarov to apply.

MPs have until next Wednesday to nominate candidates. No nominations have yet been submitted. MP from across the board have refused to go on the record and comment. The official statements from the parties have all been to the effect that the procedure for candidate nominations is still open.

“We haven’t discussed any names for future head of the Anticorruption Commission at the party. We have not yet discussed possible nominees. The procedure is not over [When it is] then you can see who are the nominees,” the leader of the parliamentary group of GERB Daniela Daridkova said.

Hamid Hamid from the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) insisted that first the nominees be known and then “we will comment on them.”

Tsvetan Vassilev on who is DP

The former boss of the collapsed Corporate Commercial Bank (KTB) and main accused in the case for it bankruptcy requested once again to be questioned in the trial. Vassilev has been living in Belgrade, Serbia since his charges were brought. Just before the bank collapsed, he had a falling out with his long-time close ally Delyan Peevski. Over the years Vassilev has given several very detailed interviews as to Peevski’s involvement in extracting KTB funds but no prosecutor has ever opened official proceedings to investigate the claims. Instead the Prosecutor General-elect Ivan Geshev, who was the lead prosecutor in the case produced an over 10’000-page indictment, which barely mentions Peevski. Asked by reporters why, he replied that not only Peevski, but Obama and Putin are also not mentioned in the document. He maintained for a long time that Peevski simply had nothing to do with KTB. He only admitted a few weeks ago that Peevski did take loans but had since paid them, and so his is of no interest in the case.

Vassilev’s lawyers are the only ones in the courtroom uttering Peevski’s name at all.

This week the defense began questioning the main witness for the prosecution, Biser Lazov, who was KTB’s chief accountant. Lazov claims he cannot recall what the initials DP and DP1 stand for in the daily reports he prepared for Vassilev about various financial operations in the bank. The documents contain the initials frequently in these reports across significant sums. In one bundle of such documents, published by the Anticorruption Fund as part of an investigating reporting piece, DP1 owed 575 million leva. Vassilev said DP1 stands for Peevski’s personal loans while DP represents indirect debts and loans issued to his companies.

Vassilev – via a declaration read by his lawyer in court – provided information about Peevski’s debts to the collapsed bank, in order “to jog” Lazov’s memory.

Vassilev claims in the statement (as he has done before in interviews) that the bank’s collapse is a result of an organized and targeted effort. The main architect behind the scheme was Peevski. “[He was] the organizer of the attack and main beneficiary from the embezzlement of [the bank’s] assets,” Vassilev writes.

“This is why the sub-contractors – the prosecution and their nefarious witnesses prepared this absurd indictment with no real proof for any criminal acts from a so-called ‘organized criminal group.’”

According to Vassilev the prosecutors are searching for KTB’s assets very selectively. He listed a number of companies, connected to Peevski, which are far out of the reach of the investigations, although according to Vassilev have received substantial sums from KTB.

Maya Manolova submits request for cancelation of Sofia election results

The independent candidate for Sofia mayor endorsed by the parliamentary opposition the Bulgarian Socialist Party Maya Manolova has submitted papers to request annulation of the election. Manolova lost in the second round by 5% to the candidate for the ruling party GERB Yordanka Fandakova, who was just sworn in for her fourth term as Sofia mayor.

“We are submitting 14 binders with evidence material. We are filing the request for justice, because of a massive manipulation. We are submitting these documents to show that this will no longer stand – that we demand all these manipulations be revealed.” Manolova told the press.

The Bulgarian law provides for annulment in cases of proven violations, which may have altered the end results.

PM Boyko Borissov reacted to the move, saying if Manolova wants annulment, then he will request one for the election of President Roumen Radev, who was endorsed by BSP as well.

The head of the Central Election Commission told reporters he isn’t aware of any violations severe enough to lead to annulment. The Administrative court will rule on the request within a 14-year period.

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