Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov is embroiled in a scandal involving taped phone conversations where he is allegedly heard speaking of the need to "protect" a controversial businessman from customs checks. Dnevnik, EURACTIV's partner in Bulgaria, reports.
Bulgaria is experiencing an avalanche of leaked wiretaps which first targeted the country's interior minister, Tzvetan Tzvetanov (see 'Background'), and now focus on Prime Minister Boyko Borissov.
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 for 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.
"It is war," said Borissov. "It remains to be seen who will withstand."
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.
According to other tapes, other officials from the ruling GERB party speak of protecting businessmen who had been "paying" to stay outside state control. On two tapes, two MPs lobby Tanov to appoint controversial candidates for key customs posts, in what appears to be an attempt to put in place smuggling channels.
Bulgaria was rapped by the European Commission in its monitoring reports for high-level corruption and the use of the proceeds for political purposes, including financing political parties.
Manipulation or genuine tapes?
Borissov said the attacks were a "manipulation" and hinted that the tape in which he issues instructions not to investigate the beer factory owner was a montage. An investigation into the authenticity of the tapes is ongoing.
Borissov also says that the attacks against him are a result of his fight against corruption and his fight against the country's former secret services.
The opposition Socialist Party says Borissov must resign if the tape proves to be genuine. Socialist Party leader Sergei Stanishev also said the prime minister had fallen into his own trap, as under Borissov, wiretapping mobile phone conversations in the country had become a real industry.
Mark Gray, a spokesperson for the European Commission, said the EU executive had asked Bulgaria to provide information on the ongoing wiretap scandal. Bulgaria is subject to a "mechanism for cooperation and verification" (see 'Background'), which allows Brussels to put the EU newcomer under pressure on law-enforcement related issues.
Dimitar Loudjev, an anti-communist leader from the post-1989 period and a former deputy prime minister (1990-1991), said the tapes had revealed the real nature of Borissov, whom he described as "a man from the country's underground".
Borissov is a fireman by training and has worked as bodyguard, including for former Communist leader Todor Zhivkov when he was under house arrest, before becoming the successful owner of a security firm called Ipon.
A woman with whom he lived in the past, Tzvetelina Borislavova, daughter of a low-ranking embassy official, amassed a colossal personal fortune. Recently she sold her stake in the Bulgarian branch of KBC bank for some 70 million euros. Her personal wealth is estimated at over 100 million euros.