Bulgaria's PM Concerned over Affiliation of Judges to 'One Party'
While Bulgaria's Prosecuting Authority is independent, the fact that "more and more judges" affiliate themselves to a certain political party is an issue of concern, Prime Minister Boyko Borisov has said.
In an interview with news website Mediapool, he has noted that a number of judges, including high-profile ones such as the head of the Supreme Court ot Cassation (VKS) Lozan Panov, are increasingly showing their links to the Democrats for Strong Bulgaria (DSB) of Radan Kanev.
DSB, a right-wing party, is a member of the Reformist Bloc (RB) coalition which is the junior ally in Borisov's government. Kanev's party, however, announced it was passing into opposition in December (without leaving the RB) over the faiure of Parliament to fully adopt constitutional amendments that would have paved the way, in the words of Kanev, for a comprehensive judicial reform. His decision followed the resignation of Justice Minister Hristo Ivanov after Parliament rejected part of the most disputed amendments.
Some of the judges joined Ivanov and DSB's calls for full judicial reform, protesting against what they call status quo in the judiciary.
In the interview Borisov accuses DSB of trying to take hold of the judiciary in Bulgaria and applying pressure to convince the4 public that the Chief Prosecutor has to be replaced.
He alleges that both VKS and the Sofia City Court are controlled by DSB through their chairmen who are linked to the party.
Since the appointment of Borisov's second government in November of 2014, the judiciary has been under public spotlight, with several scandals related to the random allocation of cases and allegations of corruption among judges and prosecutors. The Reformist Bloc and in particular the DSB have been the staunchest proponents of judicial reform that they believe will help address long-standing deficiencies, but their critics have accused them of simply struggling to appoint their own cadres in the judiciary.
Chief Prosecutor Sotir Tsatsarov in particular has often been portrayed as a figure of overwhelming power that has to be limited through reform and as close to Delyan Peevski, an allegation both he and Borisov dismiss.
Separately Borisov explains his conservative GERB party has alreadly learned to work with coalition partners, unlike its previous (2009-2013) term in office, a feature pushing the opposition to accuse the party of showing "weakness" when it concedes to demands of its allies.
After a period of several weeks in which Borisov surprisingly - and personally - ordered the termination of a number of public tenders (notably those related to Hemus Motorway) won by companies allegedly owned by MP and controversial media mogul Delyan Peevski, Borisov is quoted as saying in a Mediapool interview that he is not aware of any other procurement procedures linked to the lawmaker.
"If I become aware, I will order that they be inspected and stopped," he argues, adding it is difficult to eradicate such practices because of opaque company ownership.
"If I hurt [Peevski] in any way, he can take me to court," Borisov says.
He also makes clear he has "the rare privilege" of never reading "Peevski's media."
Borisov underlines his government's efforts in cracking down on dubious business practices related to the deliveries of gas and medicine.
Fending off accusations of lack of media freedom, he has retorted that, unlike "it is in Turkey at the moment, and in Poland and Hungary as well", in Bulgaria the situation is quite the opposite, with public broadcasters BNT and BNR being openly "anti-government" but with no-one from the cabinet having said to them "even a word" about that.
"The media have full freedom. It is their owners where the problems come from. Each media outlet carries out their own policies to protect their owners."
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