Bulgaria’s caretaker government appears poised to approve a series of freedom-of-information requests from the country’s media which are likely to fuel explosive allegations of corruption against former prime minister Boyko Borissov and a group of his business associates, say local journalists.
And the caretaker prime minister, Stefan Yanev, who has been in power for just over a week has been quick to shake up the country’s bureaucracy, making key political appointees in ministries, state agencies and public companies long dominated by people with close ties to Borissov, who was in office for all but two years since 2009.
“The dismantling of Borissov’s State has begun,” proclaimed this week Kapital, an investigative news site credited with major corruption exposes including of the state-owned Bulgarian Development Bank, which restricted loans in recent years to just eight private companies, all of which are tied to business oligarchs connected to Borissov.
Kapital and other news organizations have inundated the caretaker government with freedom-of-information requests and their editors say they are hopeful of approval.
'Armani-clad tough guy'
Borissov has been dogged by allegations of corruption and ties to organized crime since first emerging in politics in the early 2000s, when then U.S. ambassador John Beyrle warned in a diplomatic cable, which was subsequently leaked, that the bodyguard-turned-politician was “implicated in serious criminal activity.”
His predecessor as American envoy to Sofia, James Pardew, dubbed Borissov an “Armani-clad tough guy” in another leaked diplomatic cable.
His three stints as prime minister were roiled by scandals and he was forced from office earlier this month when his conservative GERB party failed to win a majority in parliamentary elections in April and found none of the other parties willing to form a government coalition with him.
His electoral setback is largely put down to the avalanche of corruption allegations that started last year, prompting the rise of major streets protests and the emergence of anti-establishment and anti-corruption parties wanting him gone. Protesters were infuriated when a photograph surfaced showing Borissov in bed with a pistol handy and a stash of 500 euro notes overflowing from a bedside drawer.
Earlier this month the Bulgarian parliament heard testimony from an agri-businessman, Svetoslav Ilchovsky, who claimed sectors of the economy are ruled over by businessmen associated with Borissov and they have turned Bulgaria into a ‘captured state.’
Ilchovsky said he was forced to sell grain and other agricultural products at half-price to those close to GERB, helping to boost their profits. Ilchovsky alleged also that the Borissov associates have been busy embezzling European Union funds. “There is not a single EU-funded project in the agricultural sector where some fraud has not happened,” he told the panel.
“I paid money willingly, I lost money, I did everything so I could buy some time and wait until their time [in office] is over,” Ilchovsky added. He told an investigative commission that ministers had personally threatened to damage his business unless he complied. Other businessmen have stepped forward to add to the allegations.
Bulgaria's president, Rumen Radev, appointed a caretaker government led by Stefan Yanev, a political ally, ahead of rerun parliamentary elections called for July 11. Radev has warned that another inconclusive vote in July risks seeing Bulgaria fall into a “political and constitutional crisis.”
Borissov has said he won’t run to try to lead the next government, saying he doesn’t want to “divide”the nation, although he has hinted he may be a candidate for the presidency in elections slated for later on the year.
Borissov last Thursday dismissed allegations that GERB has extorted money from businesses using threats during its time in power. “They have paid people to stand up and say certain things,” Borissov told a press conference. He denies knowing any of the businessmen who accuse him and his party of extortion and fraud, describing the charges as part of a bigger scheme initiated to discredit his party.
“I know every step they’ll take and I am preparing to respond with even greater force,” Borissov said. He added: “Every single person who has ever attacked me has lost.”
EU officials are taking note of the claims of widespread defrauding of agricultural projects funded by Brussels. How the dismantling of so-called ‘Borissov’s State’ fares could well have repercussions for what conditions they place on the 18.3 billion dollars Bulgaria is scheduled to get the country from COVID recovery funds, an official told VOA.
In March, when congratulating Bulgarians on their National Day, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken stressed that Bulgaria was an enduring friend but emphasized in his remarks the importance of a “commitment to freedom, human rights, democratic and accountable institutions.” In recent weeks the U.S. State Department has focused on the security aspects of its relationship with Bulgaria, a NATO member.
Veronica Anghel of the European University Institute says the Biden administration is likely to seek “to balance security interests and the rule of law in Central and Eastern Europe.”