The End of an Experiment: Borissov’s Specialized Criminal Courts

On 14 April 2022, Bulgaria’s Parliament adopted amendments to the Law on Judiciary and related legislation to permanently dissolve a parallel court system built during Boyko Borissov’s first term as Prime Minister – the Specialized Criminal Court, acting as a first and second instance, and the Specialized Prosecutor’s Office supposed to fight corruption and organized crime. Even before these institutions started working, one could see that they would be politicized and used for harassment of inconvenient people. This is primarily due to the fact that they are a misplaced legal transplant – they were transplanted in a justice system with severe structural problems which remained unattended, without consideration for the specifics of the local legal culture and without evidence that they would be successful at fighting corruption. Unsurprisingly, this parallel court system established a strong record of ignoring basic principles of criminal law and violating human rights, too. Unfortunately, these troublesome developments were encouraged by the European Commission via the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) under which Bulgaria’s rule of law has been monitored since the country’s accession to the EU.

Last month, I was invited to write a commentary on the rise and fall of specialized criminal justice in Bulgaria for the Verfassungsblog – you can read my article “Bulgaria’s Failed Specialized Criminal Justice Experiment” in full here. Also, since the failure of the CVM is a long-standing research interest of mine, I am sharing my academic article ‘Threats to the Rule of Law: The Pitfalls of the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism” published in European Public Law (Kluwer), in case you want to learn more about the European Commission’s mistakes and omissions in the process.

Николина Ангелкова – участник в мисията по спасяване на Делян Пеевски от санкции в САЩ?

През юни 2021 г. Делян Пеевски беше санкциониран от американските власти по глобалния закон “Магнитски” за корупция. Мнозина се чудят защо тези санкции закъсняха толкова дълго, след като жалбата на Цветан Василев по този закон е от 2017 г., а на вложителите в КТБ – от 2018 г. Отговорът е ясен – в един момент цялата държавна машина беше впрегната да брани Делян Пеевски от санкции в САЩ. За тези действия на правителството на Борисов и на неговата партия има редица преки и косвени доказателства. Голяма част от тях са в Интернет пространството. Днес ще ви разкажа за усилията на Николина Ангелкова, министър на туризма в Борисов-3, да промотира туризма в България като се среща с хора и организации, специализирани в глобалния закон “Магнитски”.

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Ivan Geshev’s Impunity

Bulgaria’s Supreme Judicial Council has been resorting to creative procedural tricks to avoid examining two requests by two Ministers of Justice for the dismissal of controversial General Prosecutor Ivan Geshev for actions and omissions in office undermining the prestige of the judiciary. Earlier this month, I wrote an article for the Verfassungsblog discussing why the Supreme Judicial Council is among the main reasons why a sitting General Prosecutor of Bulgaria can abuse his office or commit other crimes with impunity. Essentially, this body is one of the main threats to the rule of law in Bulgaria. You can read my article “Impunity: The Unbearable Difficulty of Dismissing a General Prosecutor for Abuses of Office and Other Crimes” here.

The question of Ivan Geshev’s dismissal became even more pertinent in light of the refusal of the Prosecutor’s Office to raise charges against former Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, who was arrested earlier in March, despite evidence gathered by Bulgaria’s Ministry of Interior. Last week, I spoke to the Finnish political magazine Suomen Kuvalehti about the corruption of Bulgaria’s Prosecutor’s Office and why it transpires that the current Chief European Prosecutor Laura Kövesi is helping to expose it. You can read their detailed article with some quotes from me here. Bulgaria’s rule of law decay is not just visible from Finland – German media critical of Angela Merkel’s CDU are also concerned about Borissov’s corruption which is being shielded by Ivan Geshev. You can read the coverage of Borissov’s arrest and its implications by Jungle World with some quotes by me here.

КОЙ? Николай Стайков и Силвия Великова държат ключ към разгадаването на част от пъзела “КТБ”

През последните седмици добре познати факти за погрома над КТБ през 2014 г. бяха припомнени от сдружение “БОЕЦ” във връзка с нови разкрития за ролята на Иван Гешев в изкуствения фалит на банката. Видимата част на атаката срещу КТБ започва на 13-и юни 2014 г., петък, с прочутото “убийство” на Делян Пеевски. Прокуратурата арестува трима невинни души по неотложност с абсурдно основание, че предовратява убийство през май 2014 г. (ретроактивно!), вдига медиен шум и обискира офиси. Действията на прокуратурата и придружаващите ги медийни фойерверки всяват паника сред вложителите на банката – така започват масови тегления.

Отдавна се знае, че няма никакви доказателства за подготвяне на такова убийство. Българският съд прецени, че няма доказателства за обосновано предположение за готвено убийство, а на 18 юни 2014 г. Сотир Цацаров се извини с половин уста, че е направил “грешка”. Наскоро един от набедените даже успешно осъди и МВР, и прокуратурата за незаконните действия срещу себе си.

От новите стряскащи разкрития на “БОЕЦ” става ясно, обаче, че друг набеден за мнимото покушение срещу Делян Пеевски, измислено от прокуратурата, е семеен приятел на Иван Гешев – от “БОЕЦ” твърдят, че имат и доказателства, че Иван Гешев лично е “натопил” приятеля си, извършвайки по този начин престъпление срещу правосъдието. Следва естественият извод, че същият човек, който е част от комплота за изкуствения фалит на КТБ, разследва този фалит и благодарение на “постиженията” си по разследването е избран за главен прокурор!

“БОЕЦ” не са единствените представители на гражданското общество, които разполагат с важна информация, която може да е полезна за разобличаването на Иван Гешев и разкриването на заговора за фалита на КТБ. Борци срещу статуквото, които волно или неволно са станали пешки в сценария на Иван Гешев – Николай Стайков и Силвия Великова – имат ключ към разгадаването на други важни части на пъзела. Дойде време и аз да задам въпроса: “Кой?”. В случая имам късмет, че адресати на питането ми са хора с добра репутация, които, на терория, като будни граждани, би трябвало да имат интерес да се разкрие обективната истина за фалита на КТБ.

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So, What Happened in Bulgaria Last Thursday?

The arrest of Boyko Borissov, former Prime Minister of Bulgaria, made international headlines and came to the surprise of many. But was it really that surprising? In my latest commentary for New Eastern Europe, I explain in context what happened on Thursday (17 March 2022) and what the stakes are. Bulgaria’s new government is relying on creative means to expose the FrankenState built by Borissov. The former PM built a state within the state to shield his corruption and to harass his opponents. You can read my article “Bulgaria’s institutional wars” here.

Yellow Light for Disciplining Inconvenient Judges by the ECtHR?

In my latest article for the Verfassungsblog, I analyze the implications of the recent ECtHR judgement on the disciplinary proceedings against judge Miroslava Todorova (Todorova v Bulgaria). Unfortunately, the ECtHR decided in favor of Bulgaria on the two most worrisome issues – violations of the right to a fair trial and the right to private life. In her application, judge Todorova attempted to raise awareness of systemic issues of Bulgaria’s justice system. However, the Court downgraded the harassment against her to an isolated case linked to her role in a professional organization and merely found a violation of her right to free speech. In this way, the ECtHR may have limited access to relief for other judges in similar circumstances. You can read my article ‘Yellow Light for Disciplining Inconvenient Judges? The ECtHR’s Ambivalent Judgment in Todorova v Bulgaria‘ here.

Лозан Панов и “смачкването” на делата срещу отнемането на лиценза на КТБ от ВАС

Съдия, който се е опълчил на мафията, трябва да бъде подкрепен. Председател на Върховен касационен съд, който призовава магистрати да не ги е страх, който публично разкрива тормоза, на който той и други магистрати са подложени, който информира институции относно разпада на върховенството на правото в България, безспорно отстоява честта на тогата и се бори за независимост на съдебната система. Такива магистрати, за съжаление, са изключение.

Но когато такъв съдия влиза в политиката, както самият Лозан Панов казва, “нещата изглеждат по различен начин”. Наскоро г-н Панов се кандидатира за президент на Република България. В серия интервюта той изпраща политически послания и – нещо, което е съвсем естествено – дава аргументи в полза на своята кандидатура. Основното послание, изведено от БНР от последната му изява там, е: “Не участвам в сделки, нямам цена и в съдебната система бях в ролята на ничий”. Освен това, г-н Панов е изключително критичен към настоящия президент Румен Радев, тъй като, според него, Радев изживял “конституционния си катарзис” след като “преторианската гвардия” на Иван Гешев е почукала на вратата му.

Думите на Панов създават високи очаквания сред мнозина избиратели. В този план, е добре той да разсее някои съмнения и да даде отговор на някои въпроси относно събития и странни съвпадения в периода декември 2014 г.- февруари 2015 г., една година преди да каже публично “Не на страха”, защото, както казва самият Панов, “мълчанието ни превръща в страхливци”.

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Can You Navigate Bulgaria’s Media Jungle?

Earlier this summer, I was invited to share my thoughts on media freedom in Bulgaria as part of a project promoting free speech in Eastern Europe. I am very grateful for this opportunity because sharing your opinion without censorship is a luxury and a privilege which many people do not have these days. This is especially valid when you talk about media.

I was hesitating how best to approach the topic as there are so many clichés floating around to which I do not subscribe at all. I believe that many reports on Bulgaria are biased because they do not pinpoint the very core and origin of the problem. At the end, I decided to merely paint the picture that I see. No sugar-coated, misinformed reports, no euphemisms, no quick fix solutions. You can read my commentary “Bulgaria’s media jungle: the good, the bad, and the ugly” for New Eastern Europe here.

On Elections and Political Suicide

Shortly after the snap parliamentary elections in July, I shared my thoughts on Bulgaria’s future with New Eastern Europe. It appears that one of the parties, which many hoped to provide an alternative to the current dire state of affairs, may have been hijacked by Bulgaria’s deep state. As a result, instead of cooperating with other opposition parties like many expected, it indulges in disruptive behavior. It seems that not only it does not mind committing political suicide in the process, but also hopes that other opposition parties do the same.

In Bulgaria, we usually use the term ‘deep state’ to refer to the network built by Bulgaria’s communist secret services (Darzahvna sigurnost) which was never dismantled because full lustration – disclosing the names of all agents of this network and their activities – was not implemented. Darzhavna sigurnost had become a state within the state, essentially governing the country in the final stages of communism. This network may have evolved and adapted to the post-communist reality, but its values have remained the same.

Dismantling Borissov’s autocracy is surely what many players behind the curtain hope to avoid.

You can read my article ‘Snap elections in Bulgaria: who is ready for political suicide?’ here.

The Implications of Bulgaria’s Wiretapping Scandal

Earlier this month, I was invited to write a commentary about the raid which the Prosecutor’s Office orchestrated against the Ministry of Interior. The Prosecutor’s Office attacked the ministry shortly after the Minister of Interior Boyko Rashkov made public statements that the opposition had been illegally wiretapped after the start of mass protests in 2020, which, in essence, exposes the criminal activity of the Prosecutor’s Office.

I was compelled to tell the very sad tale of what Bulgarians who are inconvenient for the Prosecutor’s Office or the status quo endure. Framing, raiding, tampering with evidence, criminalizing facts which cannot constitute a crime, etc. are signature practices of the Prosecutor’s Office which flourished under General Prosecutor Ivan Geshev. At this stage, the reality in Bulgaria is truly Kafkaesque.

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The Short-Lived 45th Bulgarian National Assembly

Believe it or not, many foreign scholars and civil society members are also interested in the abuses of Bulgaria’s General Prosecutor Ivan Geshev. The mass protests against him and Borissov’s third government in 2020 made more people aware of the rule of law decay in Bulgaria.

Unsurprisingly, when the 45th Bulgarian National Assembly started functioning in April 2021, I received an email from a colleague asking me if it were true that Ivan Geshev would be removed from office.

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Elections and Drama

In my latest article for New Eastern Europe published shortly after the parliamentary elections which took place on April 4th, 2021, I discuss the importance of these specific elections, the likely scenarios, and the reluctance with which Boyko Borissov will eventually transfer power.

Even before the Parliament was convened, I argued: “In parallel, the opposition is fragmented, so while preferable, they may not be able to form a government either. This means that the most likely scenario is a caretaker government and new parliamentary elections this year.” I also contended: “The future may be uncertain at this stage, but the election results are actually a massive victory for Bulgaria’s civil society.”

You can read the full text of my article ‘Dramatic parliamentary elections in Bulgaria: will Borissov transfer power peacefully?’ here.

Parliamentary Elections in Bulgaria

On 4 April 2021 or in 4 days, Bulgarian citizens will vote for a new Parliament. Unusual elections, considering Bulgarians have been protesting against Boyko Borissov’s government for 8 months and Borissov did everything possible to avoid early elections, which means these are the first parliamentary elections organized by a government led by Boyko Borissov. I have written an article for Res Publica about the incredibly high stakes which was published earlier today. I republish it here with the permission of the editors.

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Колосалният БВП в предизборната кошница на ГЕРБ

Предизборните кошници често са пълни с привидно вкусни плодове, които след избори се оказват кисели или даже – отровни. Днес ще ви разкажа за колосалния БВП от предизборната кошница на ГЕРБ.

Когато медии с претенции повтарят пропагандни послания без грам критика – noblesse oblige, както казват във Франция.

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Sexism and Violence against Women in Bulgaria

At the beginning of this year, I was invited to write an article about women’s rights for a project promoting independent digital media in the Central and East European region funded by the National Endowment for Democracy and coordinated by Notes from Poland.

My article titled “Sexism and violence against women. Will this nightmare in Bulgaria end?” focuses on the discrepancy between the promises of Boyko Borissov’s government to protect women from violence and the reality on the ground. Sexist attitudes, often deemed at the core of violence against women, prevail even at the highest ranks of government. Meanwhile, Bulgarian legislation provides very little protection for victims of such abuses.

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COVID-19 in Autocratic Bulgaria

At the end of 2020, I was invited to write a country report on Bulgaria about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on democracy in the past year. The report is part of a project facilitated by Democracy Reporting International, Horizon-2020 RECONNECT, and the Verfassungsblog which focuses on more than 70 jurisdictions.

My conclusions are rather grim. I argue that “the elections on 4 April 2021 are of pivotal importance for Bulgaria’s rule of law” since “Borissov has built a framework for abusing the COVID-19 challenges for political benefits”. I also make that case that “if he remains in power, he will surely take advantage of [the framework he has built]”.

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The Struggle for the Rule of Law in Bulgaria: My Interview for the Global Liberty Alliance

In February this year, Mr. Jason Poblete, President of the Global Liberty Alliance, a non-governmental organization in the USA which defends human rights, invited me for an interview. He was interested to learn more about the rule of law decay and human rights abuses in Bulgaria, including how and why I started my journey in defending human rights.

We scheduled the interview for March, but as it turns out, the timing was perfect because on the day of the interview, the Chairman and Vice-Chairman of the US Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee issued an unprecedented joint statement emphasizing that “…persistent corruption, declining media freedom, politicization of the judiciary, and other threats to the rule of law pose[d] serious challenges to the U.S.-Bulgaria bilateral relationship.”

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