SOFIA: Bulgaria’s former Prime Minister Boyko Borissov and two members of his GERB party were released without charges late on Friday (Mar 18) after spending over 20 hours in custody as part of a police investigation into alleged blackmail dating back to 2014-2019.
The decade-long rule of Borissov, 62, ended last spring when he lost an election that showed popular anger over high-level corruption in the European Union’s poorest member state. He remains leader of centre-right GERB, the largest opposition party.
A new centrist coalition government took office in December, pledging zero tolerance for graft in Bulgaria, which is ranked as the EU’s most corrupt member state by Transparency International.
“This was brutal and nasty,” Borissov told a cheering crowd of GERB activists upon his release. “There are no charges, nothing”.
Former finance minister Vladislav Goranov and GERB’s media adviser Sevdalina Arnaudova were also not charged due to lack of sufficient evidence pointing to a crime, the spokesperson for Sofia City prosecutors said.
“Based on the collected materials, the supervising prosecutors decided that an eventual raising of charges would be in breach of the law,” the spokesperson told reporters, adding that the probe is ongoing.
The interior ministry said on Thursday the arrests were part of an operation linked to some 120 investigations by the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO), which investigates large-scale fraud with EU funds, in Bulgaria.
However, prosecutors said earlier on Friday that the fact that police had informed them of the blackmail allegations suggested the case did not come under the mandate of EPPO.
Prosecutors said Prime Minister Kiril Petkov was questioned in the probe and had explained that he discussed with EU fraud prosecutor Laura Kovesi during her visit in Sofia on Wednesday the public allegations made by fugitive gambling tycoon Vassil Bozhkov in June 2020 that he had been extorted by Borissov’s government.
Bozhkov, who has fled the country to escape criminal charges ranging from tax evasion to extortion in early 2020, has claimed that he had paid more than 60 million levs ($33.78 million) in cash to Borissov and Goranov from 2017 to 2019.
Both Borissov and Goranov have denied any wrongdoing.
The GERB party has decried the arrests, labelling them a political “repression” and called for early elections. Hundreds of GERB activists protested for hours in front of the government building.
Earlier on Friday, Prime Minister Petkov welcomed the probe and said police have shown that no one was above the law.