Bulgaria Min: Let's Judge after Chief Prosecutor's First 100 Days
Bulgaria’s Justice Minister Diana Kovacheva (right) is pictured here during the top juridical body’s Thursday session, when Sotir Tsatsarov was elected as the next chief prosecutor. Photo by Sofia Photo Agency
Bulgaria's justice minister has vehemently defended the controversial election of a new chief prosecutor, which opponents claim was orchestrated by the ruling party.
"The hearing, which continued for ten hours, proved that three highly qualified candidates ran in the race and there was a clash of concepts," Minister Diana Kovacheva told the national TV channel late on Friday.
She firmly denied accusations that the race was a set-up and the winner was known in advance.
"That was not a set-up contest, none of the candidates was fake," the justice minister assured and called for patience.
"When prosecutor generals come into office, they have approximately 100 days to show what they are made of. Let's give Sotir Tsatsarov that and judge him by his actions."
Bulgaria's highest juridical body elected on Thursday Sotir Tsatsarov to be the new chief prosecutor in a hghly predictable move, believed to be orchestrated by the ruling GERB party.
Tsatsarov, up to now head of the Plovdiv District Court, won the position at the first round, with 18 votes "for", 3 "against" and 3 abstentions. He will serve a 7-year term.
The selection process for the next chief prosecutor has been denounced by civic groups, while Internet forums in Bulgaria are overflowing with strong criticism and angry reactions.
His two opponents Thursday were Galina Toneva, Deputy Chief Prosecutor, and Borislav Sarafov, head of the Specialized Appellate Prosecutor's Office.
In a scandalous move, Justice Minister Diana Kovacheva closed the council session before putting to the vote the noninations of Galina Toneva and Borislav Sarafov.
What makes the case even more intriguing is that the nominations of the other two candidates were supported by 5 council members each, most of whom decided at the end to cast a vote for Tsatsarov.
According to the justice minister some of the magistrates abandoned their own nominees because they changed their minds in favor of Tsatsarov during the hearing.
Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev hurriedly signed late on Frday a decree officially appointing controversially elected chief prosecutor Sotir Tsatsarov.
The President has thus defied calls made by oppositional parties to block Tsatsarov's appointment.
The opposition had argued that his election by the Supreme Judicial Council on Thursday was non-transparent and orchestrated by the ruling centrist-right GERB of Prime Minister Boyko Borisov and Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov.
Among concerns voiced by various sides after the initial announcement of Tsatsarov's nomination was his alleged closeness to the executive, in particular to Minister of Interior Tsvetan Tsvetanov.
Bulgarian PM Boyko Borisov has also spoken positively of Tsatsarov's candidacy.
In addition, the investigative site Bivol.bg claimed Thursday that Tsatsarov made misleading statements regarding his financial circumstances during a prior hearing.
Those concerns were recalled during the discussion at the Supreme Judicial Council Thursday by council member Kalin Kalpakchiev.
Other critics have brought attention to the exceedingly high number of convicting sentences in trials heard by Tsatsarov as a judge.
The election of a new Chief Prosecutor for the country is seen as a key test for the newly constituted Supreme Judicial Council.
In particular, the European Commission has stated it is keeping close track on the procedure as part of its work on the so-called Co-Operation and Verification Mechanism on corruption and organized crime.
On Friday, the European Commission declared that it follows closely Bulgaria's judiciary and home affairs, with a new Co-operation and Verification Mechanism report possible at any time.
Meanwhile, Bulgaria's largest human rights group has quit the civic council with the Supreme Judicial Council in the wake of the controversial election.
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