Bulgaria protests decision to free ex-PM with no charges

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Former PM Boyko Borissov walks out of the police department where he was detained for 24 hours, in Sofia, Bulgaria, Friday, March 18, 2022. Bulgarian ex-Prime Minister Borissov was released from custody on Friday after prosecutors failed to come up with enough evidence to press charges against him. (Milena Stoykova/Bulfoto via AP)

SOFIA – A prosecutor’s decision to release Bulgaria's former Prime Minister Boyko Borissov from custody without pressing any corruption charges against him prompted sharp criticism Saturday from Bulgaria’s government.

“We are faced with just the next sabotage on the part of the prosecution headed by (Chief Prosecutor) Ivan Geshev,” Prime Minister Kiril Petkov said at a briefing after midnight on Saturday.

The angry reaction came after the prosecution announced that it had found procedural flaws and Borissov’s detention could not be extended due to lack of evidence.

Police had detained Borissov, 62, on Thursday for 24 hours for an initial probe into allegations of extortion. He was taken into custody along with former Finance Minister Vladislav Goranov and Borissov’s media adviser, Sevdalina Arnaudova. All three were released without charge.

“Brutal, nasty, they brought us back to communism,” an emotional Borissov said immediately after his release from police custody to the loud cheers of supporters.

Finance Minister Assen Vassilev said Friday that authorities were working on a tip from fugitive businessman Vassil Bozhkov, who is currently on the run in Dubai and whose lucrative lottery business was nationalized in 2020. Based on his tip, financial inspectors had gathered evidence about 556 million leva (280 million euros) that allegedly didn’t go into the state budget under the watch of Borissov and his financial minister, who allegedly received more than 30 million euros in return.

Petkov was highly critical about the efforts of Bulgaria's prosecutors.

“Documents are being concealed that would lead to charges, which we can easily get hold of. Information provided by the extorted individual is also being withheld and ignored, to prevent a lawful investigation,” Petkov said. “The prosecuting magistracy has once again acted like a lawyer, when people charged with corruption are involved."

The case is also being probed by prosecutors for the European Union.

Interior Minister Boyko Rashkov said the prosecuting magistracy was doing everything possible to destroy the work done by police and to “probably never shed light on whether any of them have committed crimes.”

Borissov, a former three-time prime minister between 2009 and 2021, resigned after a newly formed party won last year’s general election pledging to uproot the corruption that is widespread in the EU nation of nearly 7 million people.

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