The Outrageous Option for Chief Prosecutor in Bulgaria
Shameful behaviour from our sole nominee
by Katerina Videva
Bulgaria is facing yet another absurdity, referring to the recent selection for a new Chief Prosecutor, where there was only one candidate, which eliminated the chances for a real competition. It has also raised the question whether the sole nominee would wage a real battle against corruption. The Chief Prosecutor’s office should be a key institution in the investigation of corrupt practices and power abuse. I will also remind you of another fact: Bulgaria had the highest level of corruption amongst the EU member states with an index of 42 points in 2018, our result having worsened from the previous year. Now, it is logical that we take a look at the nominee.
Having served as Deputy Chief Prosecutor until now, Ivan Geshev became more recognisable after the collapse of the corrupt Commercial Trading Bank (KTB), which also raised serious suspicions about the independence of the prosecution. During the investigation there were numerous missed opportunities to investigate puzzling links between the political class and the bank, which were confirmed by numerous bank documents, containing names or initials of prominent politicians. The majority of those documents were destroyed, while the elite figures were not investigated or questioned. Although at first, Geshev stated that he would not accept the nomination for the opening position, he quickly gave up his intentions, becoming the only candidate. Many lawyers and judges started to publicly question his professional qualities and integrity. The nominee has responded with a series of inappropriate comments, including the statement that he does not support the separation of powers, a core democratic principle. He has also been encouraging the publication of evidence of on-going court cases online, which could violate the presumption of innocence or hinder further work of the prosecution.
These events sparked a series of protests at the beginning of this summer against his candidacy and the current legal procedure, under which the appointment was made, demanding the Minister of Justice and the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) to propose a second candidate. Nevertheless, neither the SJC nor the minister suggested another option. However, the protests continued, asking the president to refuse to sign the appointment decree. “The appointment of Chief Prosecutor is an act of extremely high public importance and the procedure under which it is done must create trust, instead of raising doubts,” Rumen Radev stated, when he refused to sign.
All of this was accompanied by multiple, orchestrated counter protests in favour of Geshev. However, according to the latest reportages in the Bulgarian media outlets as well as multiple videos in Facebook profiles, the majority of those people hid their faces and refused to explain why they were supporting him. Why? Because those people are ashamed of themselves and know what they are doing is wrong. Maybe it is because they do not understand the gravity of the situation well enough, but most likely it is because they are not there to protect the virtues of honesty, justice or courage.
Furthermore, the SJC had announced its decision to vote once again for Geshev, long before the president made up his mind, which implies it has completely disregarded the arguments of the presidential institution. As expected, its members approved it again, with 20 in favours and 4 against. Nonetheless, the renewed debates, streamed live online were more than an embarrassing scene. It was a despicable demonstration of lack of respect between colleagues, involving several personal attacks and a very rude overall tone.
The culmination of all this happened during a break, where Judge Atanaska Disheva, who voted against Geshev, was personally threatened by him with the words “You will have a great career as a local councillor”, implying her career in the judiciary will be over soon, making a reference to another ex-colleague Metodi Lalov who no longer serves as a judge. This witty remark was made in the presence of the Minister of Justice Danail Kirilov and the current Chief Prosecutor Tsotir Tsatsarov. Neither of them has denied what happened, with Geshev backing his comment up further by cynically replying: “I would be happy to become a local councillor, once my term ends” and refusing to apologise.
Now the only move the president has is to approach the Constitutional Court, which would need to interpret the constitution in this case, since there are two contradictory laws: the newest version saying the SJC has the final word by re-affirming their choice, and an older version stating a presidential rejection should start a new procedure for appointment with new candidates. This is an issue, which has been previously remarked by the European institutions, but ignored so far.
Nevertheless, despite the ongoing problems, I see hope. I see citizens who are trying to build a strong nation-state despite all the difficulties, worthy of respect. Unfortunately, I also see a corrupt status quo and many disillusioned people who no longer believe in change, thinking their voice does not matter anymore. Many simply do not care and continue complaining without taking action to ameliorate the situation. Others go beyond apathy, mocking everybody who is protesting, saying they have been bribed by the political opposition. Many are scared for their jobs or families. However, one can be brave when scared. It is high time the Bulgarians at home, and abroad expressed strong support for the protests against the oligarchic apparatus, which has taken over the prosecution and has not convicted a single high-ranking political figure for corruption. We must realise choosing a Chief Prosecutor goes beyond any party sympathy. This should be the source of our national justice. I am hoping this message will reach the international community and be met with solidarity.