A European Parliament sub-committee discussed corruption in Bulgaria on Friday (28 August) in the presence of top Bulgarian officials, after more than 50 days of protests in the EU’s poorest country. A journalist who took part in the session as a speaker provided insight to EURACTIV into what appears to have been a heated discussion.
The closed session of the Democracy, Rule of Law and Fundamental Rights Monitoring Group was dedicated to the situation in Bulgaria, amid media reports of large-scale corruption endorsed at the highest political level.
Friday was the 51st day of protests, where people in the streets demand the resignation of Prime Minister Boyko Borissov and Prosecutor General Ivan Geshev.
The DRFMG, chaired by Dutch liberal MEP Sophie in ‘t Veld, had invited Borissov and Geshev to the closed session but they were ultimately represented by Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva and Deputy Chief Prosecutor Krassimira Filipova.
The European Commission was represented by Julien Mousnier, head of the ‘Citizens, Equality, Democracy and the Rule of Law’ unit. The Council of Europe was also represented.
DRFMG, under the LIBE Committee, is the EP’s most secretive group, having previously dealt with the mafia murders of journalists Daphne Caruana Galizia in Malta and Jan Kuciak and his fiancée in Slovakia. It has 14 members, none of them from Bulgaria.
“Our group will follow-up on corruption in Bulgaria and we will send additional questions to many of the participants because we did not have time to go into details,” in‘t Veld said. after the four-hour session.
Asked what the follow-up will be, she said that recommendations would feed in other formats discussing the rule of law. “Next month, the European Commission will present its first annual report on the rule of law in all member states. There will be other reasons to return to the subject,” she told EURACTIV.
Bulgarian journalist Dimitar Stoyanov from the investigative website Bivol was invited as one of the speakers, representing civil society, and participated online from Sofia. Unlike the MEPs, who didn’t want to divulge details, Stoyanov, who has experience with EP meetings, said the discussion was particularly straightforward.
According to him, the representatives of the EU institutions made it clear that they don’t trust the Bulgarian authorities when it comes to discussing corruption.
He said Zaharieva had “stepped on a mine” when, in response to a question about corruption, she started enumerating the government’s successes in combating the smuggling of goods.
Her boss Borissov, when addressing the Bulgarian audience, often substitutes the issues of corruption and smuggling of goods, which he says the government has curbed.
But according to Stoyanov, the European Parliament did not accept this leaving Zaharieva embarrassed.
Asked if the MEPs had asked about the recently leaked embarrassing voice recordings, photos and tapes, some of which show Borissov’s bedroom with drawers full of bundles of €500 notes, Stoyanov confirmed that this had been discussed.
According to Stoyanov, Zaharieva pretended not to understand a question about threats Borissov allegedly made against a Bulgarian journalist, which were audible in one of the leaked recordings.
In the recording leaked in June, a voice sounding like Borissov can be heard saying that he wants journalist Elena Yoncheva “burnt”. The recording had been made in April 2019, when Yoncheva was a journalist. She was later elected an MEP on the opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party’s ticket.
In the meantime, Yoncheva has obtained from a Western laboratory conclusive proof that the recording is genuine and the voice is Borissov’s.
Borissov has dismissed the accusations as attacks against him. He has also said that there is ‘an impersonator’ who imitates his voice well.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]