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Bulgarian Prosecutor-General moves against foundation allegedly linked to Mestan's DOST party

Bulgarian Prosecutor-General moves against foundation allegedly linked to Mestan's DOST party
Bulgarian Prosecutor-General Sotir Tsatsarov had lodged an application in the district court in the southern city of Kurdhzali to shut down the Batu Platform Association, an NGO that prosecutors allege illegally funded Lyutvi Mestan's DOST party campaign in the May early parliamentary elections.

In those elections, the breakaway party led by the former leader of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms fell below the four per cent threshold for winning seats in the National Assembly, getting 100 479 votes, about 2.86 per cent.

There was controversy in the elections because DOST was allegedly strongly backed by Ankara. Mestan had been ousted from his posts in the MRF after taking the side of Turkey in its late 2015 dispute with Russia.

In a statement on October 20, the Prosecutor's Office said that in the course of an investigation into a crime against citizens' political rights, the Dobrich District Prosecutor's Office had found that the Batu association had received a transfer of 100 000 euro via a Turkish bank.

Prosecutors said that the Batu association had used the money to buy food products, including sugar, flour, rice and macaroni, which had been put into packages each worth 30 leva (about 15 euro).

According to prosecutors, these packages were distributed to several cities and towns in Bulgaria. The distribution, receipt and storage had been done by Batu with the "active co-operation" of members and supporters of DOST.

Prosecutors alleged that the packages had been handed free-of-charge to Bulgarian citizens of the Muslim faith to induce them to vote for DOST.

The Prosecutor's Office said that receiving funds from an anonymous source from a foreign state and spending the money on election campaigning was a violation of the Bulgarian constitution.

The Batu association's activities were against the Electoral Code and the Penal Code, prosecutors said.

Responding, DOST said on October 20 that the party had nothing to do with the Batu Platform Association.

The only food products, the distribution of which was stopped by police during the election campaign, had been bought with DOST funds to the amount of 8431.20 leva, the party said, showing an invoice from a supplier in Kurdhzali.

"If the foundation in question had any activity in Bulgaria, then this activity is not relevant to the DOST party," DOST said.

DOST said that it had never had any relationship with any foundation, including the Batu Platform Foundation.

The party formerly led by Mestan won seats in the May elections, to become the fourth-largest group in the National Assembly. Seeking to re-brand itself as a patriotic organisation, after years of being dubbed the "Turkish party", its outlook is much more positive towards Russia than previously.

The MRF, which has been part of a number of governing coalitions in Bulgaria, this time said that it would not be part in government but would heed the signal from voters that it should be in opposition.

GERB leader Boiko Borissov formed a coalition government after the May elections consisting of his GERB party and the United Patriots, the latter a grouping of nationalist and far-right parties. The MRF frequently has raised objections to the presence of ultra-nationalists in Bulgaria's government.

At the head of his third government, Borissov appears to be seeking more conciliatory relations with Moscow, after his first two governments annoyed the Kremlin with moves including the shutting down of the Russian-linked Belene nuclear power station and other energy projects, and shifted the business of MiG engine overhauls from Russia to Poland.

More recently, however, the MiG business has in effect gone back to Russia. Borissov's office has worked with that of President Roumen Radev on plans for a visit by Russian president Vladimir Putin to Bulgaria in March 2018 for the country's national day - at a time when Bulgaria will be hosting the EU Presidency. Recently, however, there have been reports that the Putin visit, while still going ahead, will be after the EU Presidency is over.

As to relations with Turkey, matters became very tense between Sofia and Ankara amid the furore about alleged backing by Ankara for DOST during the May election campaign. Relations between Bulgaria and Turkey subsequently have eased though they remain complex for reasons of history and geopolitics, including at the level of relations between Turkey and the EU of which Bulgaria will hold the presidency in 2018.../IBNA

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