Bulgaria's ex-PM Borissov freed after corruption probe

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Valentina Petrova

A supporter of former Prime Minister Borissov wears a T-shirt with his image with text reading in Bulgarian) "I trust only this man," during a demonstration in front of Bulgarian Parliament, Sofia, Friday, March 18, 2022. Bulgarian ex-Prime Minister Boyko Borissov remained in custody on Friday following corruption investigations by European Union prosecutors as his supporters took to the streets to protest his detention. The Interior Ministry said late Thursday that Borissov was being detained for 24 hours in a nationwide police operation that also targeted other former officials. (AP Photo/Valentina Petrova)

SOFIA – Bulgaria's ex-Prime Minister Boyko Borissov was released from custody on Friday after prosecutors failed to come up with enough evidence to press charges against him.

Prosecution spokesperson Desislava Petrova explained that according to the supervising prosecutors in the investigation an extension of the detention cannot be justified due to lack of evidence and bringing charges now would be a violation of the law.

“There is no obstacle in the further course of the investigation and the collection of sufficient indictment evidence to change this conclusion,” Petrova added.

The Interior Ministry had said Thursday that Borissov was being detained for 24 hours in a nationwide police operation that also targeted other former officials.

Borissov, 62, was taken into custody along with former Finance Minister Vladislav Goranov, and Borissov’s media adviser, Sevdalina Arnaudova, who also have been released.

Borissov’s lawyer, Menko Menkov, said the formal reason for his client’s detention was “extortion,” but added that it was “not clear who was the target of that, when, how, and for what reasons.”

“Brutal, nasty, they brought us back to communism. Last night we had dinner with the children – civilian and uniformed police officers entered. No charges – nothing,” an emotional Borissov said immediately after his release.

“Next time they can kill me,” he added.

Incumbent Finance Minister Assen Vassilev said Friday that authorities were working on a tip from exiled businessman Vassil Bozhkov, whose lucrative lottery business was nationalized in 2020. Based on his tip, financial inspectors had gathered evidence on 556 million leva (280 million euros) that allegedly didn’t go into the state budget under the watch of Borissov and his financial minister.

Borissov is a founding member of the center-right GERB party, which is now in opposition.

Earlier Friday, all of GERB’s lawmakers walked out of a session and joined protesters in front of Bulgaria’s parliament building calling for Borissov’s release. The legislators called on “all Bulgarian citizens who believe in democratic principles” to join the protest.

A former three-time prime minister between 2009 and 2021, Borissov resigned after a newly formed party won last year’s general election pledging to uproot widespread corruption in the EU nation.

Borissov previously has been the subject of corruption allegations several times during his tenure but has denied any wrongdoing and no charges have been filed against him.