Bulgarian PM calls confidence vote after wiretap scandal

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Boyko Borissov's minority government faces a confidence vote in parliament today (19 January) following a wiretap scandal in which he is personally involved. Dnevnik, EURACTIV's partner in Bulgaria, reports.

Borrisov's intention to call a confidence vote was revealed in a press release by the ruling party GERB (Citizens for the European Development of Bulgaria) made public late on Tuesday (18 January).

Borissov will ask parliament to support GERB for the government's overall activities. The decision was taken unanimously by the GERB leadership, the party said in a statement.

The move seems partly aimed at taking the Socialist opposition by surprise. Earlier, the Socialists said they would start consulting with other parliamentary parties on organising a no-confidence vote following the wiretap scandal.

In recent days, Bulgaria has experienced an avalanche of leaked wiretaps which first targeted the country's interior minister, Tzvetan Tzvetanov, but then focused on Prime Minister Boyko Borissov.

In one of those tapes, Borissov is allegedly heard speaking of the need to "protect" a controversial businessman from customs checks.

The wiretaps were apparently made by DANS, the country's national security agency, but were then leaked to Galeria, a tabloid with connections to Alexei Petrov, a controversial figure described by many as Borissov's most powerful enemy.

In an interview with EURACTIV in February 2010, Borissov said his government was at war with the mafia, dramatically adding that the outcome of a high-profile anti-mafia operation in his country, dubbed 'Octopus', was still uncertain.

The most prominent personality arrested at the time for being part of an organised criminal group was Alexei Petrov, a former special forces member who infiltrated mafia circles, made a fortune there and apparently became a powerful political player. Petrov is currently under house arrest.

According to one of the tapes, Borissov instructs the country's customs chief, Vanio Tanov, to stop investigating a controversial businessman who owns a beer factory, stating he had "made commitments" not to harass him.

In other tapes, officials from the ruling GERB party speak of protecting businessmen who had been "paying" to stay outside state control.

The European Commission expressed its concern over the scandal and asked the Bulgarian authorities for information as to whether the wiretaps were made legally.

Asked by EURACTIV whether Brussels was concerned about the fact that secret documents in Bulgaria were leaked to the press, a Commission spokesperson declined to comment.

Borissov leads a minority government, but has until now enjoyed the support of Ataka, a nationalist party, and of the Blue Coalition, a smaller centre-right political group (see 'Background').

Members of the Facebook group "EC Must Reveal Bulgaria's Tanovgate Response" sent emails around the EU institutions claiming that the Bulgarian Justice Ministry, at the request of the European Commission, sent information to Brussels about the "scandalous" wiretaps.

(Editor's note: Tanov is the name of the customs chief who was speaking to the prime minister on the most scandalous tape.)

In the email, which was also received by EURACTIV, they call on EU civil servants with access to the confidential document to leak it to a specialised whistle-blowing site like Brusselsleaks.com and/or Balkanleaks.eu, or to the Bulgarian media.

Asked by EURACTIV to comment on earlier reports that the Bulgarian government had replied to the European Commission's request for clarification on the procedure used in the eavesdropping case, European Commission spokesperson Mark Gray said on 20 January that Bulgaria had sent information about the steps that were taken by the prosecution office after the scandal erupted.

"This was done quickly," he said.

He explained that the Commission was not going to make an assessment, because that was up to the Bulgarian prosecution authorities.

Bulgarian national radio reported in the meantime that a number of MEPs from the liberal ALDE group were considering calling a debate on the issue of the Bulgarian wiretap scandal, possibly during the next plenary session (2-3 February).

Bulgarian ALDE MEPs Antonia Parvanova, Stanimir Ilchev and Metin Kazak, as well as several colleagues from other countries, had reportedly sent the Commission a written question asking if the indiscriminate use of eavesdropping devices, in their terms, was a blow to human rights in Bulgaria.

Vanio Tanov, the customs chief who appears on most of the tapes released, said he had been tapped by the country's secret services "illegally". He also indicated that the most controversial tape was a montage.

In the meantime, "sources" quoted by various media reported that the original tapes had been destroyed, making impossible any assessment of the authenticity of the tapes released.

Boyko Borissov came to power after the 2009 elections and leads a minority government. His centre-right GERB party obtained 117 seats in parliament, falling short of an absolute majority. 

Borrisov's minority government is tacitly supported by Ataka, a xenophobic, nationalist and homophobic party, and by a smaller group called the 'Blue Coalition'. The latter brings together leaders from the former anti-Communist Union of Democratic Forces (SDS) and its rival party, the Democrats for a Strong Bulgaria (DSB).

Ataka has 21 MPs out of 240 in the Bulgarian Parliament. The Blue Coalition has 14 MPs.

The main opposition in Bulgaria consists of the Socialist Party (40 MPs and six MEPs) and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF), a party harbouring the country's Turkish minority, with 37 (click here for more).

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