At a closed session of the European Parliament in Brussels on Thursday, new Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov said twenty people led a deeply entrenched system of graft in the country. But he named only one of them.
The Prime Minister, who took office a month and a half ago, came to Brussels to attend a meeting of the Rule of Law and Fundamental Rights Monitoring Group (DRFMG) at the European Parliament’s civil liberties committee. This parliamentary body gained prominence highlighting corruption in Slovakia and Malta.
Regarding Bulgaria, work by the DRFMG contributed to the predicament of former Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, who lost power in 2020 following months of protests demanding his and Chief Prosecutor Ivan Geshev’s resignation.
This time both Geshev and Petkov were invited to answer questions on the rule of law.
Geshev told journalists afterwards that the rule of law situation in Bulgaria has seriously deteriorated in recent months, and that he had pleaded for the EU’s Rule of Law mechanism to be applied in the country.
The Chief Prosecutor is still under pressure to resign, but this time from the government itself, which he interprets as a significant breach of the separation of powers. Government representatives point to what they say is a lack of results from his work and continue to urge his to resign.
After questioning, Petkov told journalists that he was pleased to see the MEPs trust in his cabinet’s readiness for change.
Asked how he felt about the Prosecutor General’s request to use the new European rule of law mechanism to apply enhanced monitoring in Bulgaria, he said that he “would be very happy to have as much monitoring as possible. The more, the better”.
“It is clear to everyone that the prosecutor’s office is not working well. Whatever language you use, just seeing the facts shows that it doesn’t work, full stop”, he said, adding, “there is no way you can fool the European institutions with nice words; people are smart enough to realise if something is fake”.
According to Petkov, Bulgaria has proposed in its National Plan for Reconstruction and Development that the chief prosecutor should not have “only God above his head”, but would be subject to oversight by a judge who will temporarily act as a prosecutor.
He also said the ruling coalition intends to change the role of the chief prosecutor entirely by turning this role into an “administrator” rather than a supremo.
“It’s only a matter of time. We need patience; we hope that all our voters are not going to be frustrated; we took over only a month and a half ago,” he said.
Asked whether MEPs had raised the issue of Delyan Peevski and US sanctions under the Magnitsky Act, Petkov said the issue had not been directly addressed.
Peevski is an ‘oligarch’ and MP from the Movement of Rights and Freedoms (Renew-affiliated) who, according to the US Treasury, has “regularly engaged in corruption, using influence peddling and bribes to protect himself from public scrutiny and exert control over key institutions and sectors in Bulgarian society.”
Additionally, Peevski “negotiated with politicians to provide them with political support and positive media coverage in return for receiving protection from criminal investigations” during the 2019 municipal elections, the US claims.
Asked why it is possible for Peevski, although under US sanctions, to be able to sell properties for millions, Petkov said, “this, for me too, is a huge surprise.”
Regarding the Bulgarian secret services, he said there were problems with staff on all levels, and that deep reforms would be forthcoming.
MEP Elena Yoncheva, the only Bulgarian MEP member of the monitoring group, expressed satisfaction with the dialogue.
Yoncheva added that the European Parliament has very high expectations from the new Bulgarian government, explaining that it was difficult for MEPs to understand the magnitude of corruption in Bulgaria.