Political controversy in Bulgaria over Interior Ministry restructuring

Political controversy in Bulgaria over Interior Ministry restructuring

 

By Clive Leviev-Sawyer of The Sofia Globe

Far-reaching changes to Bulgaria’s law enforcement and intelligence structures, along with the dismissal of several police chiefs, by the new socialist government are the source of political controversy.

The former ruling party, which won the largest single share of votes in Bulgaria’s May 12 national parliamentary elections but had no allies in the National Assembly to enable it to return to power, has accused the new government of political purges and restructuring law enforcement in a way that would be a risk to Bulgaria and the European Union as a whole.

On June 3, the Interior Ministry announced that Sofia police chief Senior Commissioner Valeri Yordanov as well as the police directors of five regions in the country were being fired for what an official statement called “poor performance”.

In the specific case of Yordanov, according to Interior Minister Tsvetlin Yovchev, the resignation had been requested after a Bulgarian-language newspaper ran a report alleging that police in the capital city stood around idly watching while people sold contraband cigarettes in the street.

Even before the dismissal of the senior police officers, the socialist government had moved fast to restructure the Interior Ministry and other bodies to revert to the system in use when the socialists previously were in power, from 2005 to 2009.

The directorate for combating organised crime, in terms of amendment legislation being moved through Parliament as quickly as possible, is being removed from the Interior Ministry and placed within the State Agency for National Security. The State Agency for National Security, which also will have a new boss, now that Konstantin Kazakov – appointed under the 2009/13 Boiko Borissov government – has stepped aside.

This latter agency, created under the previous socialist government, will revert to being the powerful body it was originally envisioned to be.

Other services, such as firefighting, also will be removed from the Interior Ministry. According to the socialists, the idea is to change the ministry from what they see as the all-powerful monster that it became under Tsvetan Tsvetanov, who was interior minister and deputy prime ministers in the Borissov government.

Yovchev also has told Bulgarian-language media of his plan for a “civil guard” recruited from civilians to reduce crimes against property.

These instant constables will undergo special training and must meet Interior Ministry requirements, according to Yovchev, so as to serve in the civil guard units that will be set up countrywide.

“We will rely on citizens and informants to prevent crime plots and other such activities,” daily Standart quoted Yovchev as saying.

He also intended putting an end to the practice of the Interior Ministry accepting donations, a matter that was a subject of controversy while Tsvetanov was interior ministry and which Tsvetanov promised to bring under control and reform to stave off suggestions of illicit trade-offs.

The Interior Ministry should stick to the budget voted by Parliament and donations, whether from a private or state company, distorted this principle, according to Yovchev.

On June 3, Tsvetanov said that the reorganisation in the special services in Bulgaria might pose a risk not only to Bulgaria’s security but also of to the security of the EU.

According to Tsvetanov, the dismissal of high-ranking officials with the Interior Ministry was an unjustified political purge.

“These are people, who are the face of the ministry in the concrete directorates. They have never been involved in political causes. My evaluation on them was based on their professional skills and I am proud of having the chance to work with all these directors. All of them were active officers. The greater part of them has undergone additional training and qualification programmes in the law-enforcement agencies of our European and Atlantic partners. They enjoyed the needed respect and trust and that is why we had successful results,” Tsvetanov said.

Ahead of his meeting with representatives of the European People’s Party today Tsvetan Tsvetanov said that the EPP and the European Commission (EC) were following closely the prosecution office’s check on the illegal tapping scandal in Bulgaria.

Allegations that the previous government conducted unlawful eavesdropping on senior state and political leaders and a number of business people dominated the campaign ahead of the May 12 elections.

Tsvetanov, whom prosecutors allege knowingly allowed senior subordinates to act improperly regarding covert surveillance, said that he did not expect to be arrested when he returned to Bulgaria. A formal request has been submitted to Parliament by prosecutors to remove his immunity as an MP from prosecution.

 

(Photo of Interior Minister Tsvetlin Yovchev: Interior Ministry)