IMPUNITY & ARROGANCE

by Anthony Georgieff; photography by BTA

Boyko Borisov concedes serious wrongdoing, but nothing happens

boyko borisov_2.jpg

Prime Minister Boyko Borisov has admitted on camera that he ordered Bulgaria's customs to terminate a probe into the doings of an allegedly dubious entrepreneur. Yet nothing has happened, indicating that GERB's sworn policy of fighting organised crime and applying the law equally to everyone is nothing but propaganda designed to fool both the EU and Bulgaria's own citizens into believing that something is being done to implement legal and law enforcement reforms.

To get to the bottom of the current scandal, and to see why Boyko Borisov and his GERB government are able to get away with it - even when they tell the television cameras that they have done something that would normally result in a jail sentence - one needs to consider the background and the details of what will probably go down in Bulgarian history as the most flagrant political scandal of the 2010s.

Unlike most other events in Bulgarian politics and society, this one is pretty straightforward and needs little explanation beyond listing the facts.

In January 2011 a Bulgarian newspaper, Galeriya, known for its critical attitude to the GERB establishment, carried the transcripts of several telephone conversations in which Prime Minister Boyko Borisov was heard ordering the chief of customs, Vanyo Tanov, to terminate a probe into the activities of Mihail "Beer" Mihov, an entrepreneur with various business activities including brewing, which had earned him his nickname. Borisov also made phone calls to the management of Sofia Airport telling them not to fire an employee who happened to be a football mate.

The transcribed conversations revealed the huge discrepancy between what the prime minister was telling both the West and his own voters about his self-proclaimed "fight" against organised crime, transparency in the civil service and the administration of law and order, and his own conduct which fitted almost literally into the pattern of behaviour he claimed to oppose. In short, Boyko Borisov emerged as someone who had obstructed justice by encouraging the illegal production of alcohol instead of terminating it.

Three more ministers were also present at the interview

Three more ministers were also present at the interview

The editors of Galeriya resisted tremendous pressure from the government and its lieutenants, and never revealed how they had obtained the taped conversations in the first place, indicating only that they had been given to them on a flash memory stick by an anonymous official, a "Deep Throat" in Bulgarian dimensions. The similarities with Watergate were so obvious and so many that the media were quick to dub the affair "Tanov-gate."

Initially, Boyko Borisov, Tsvetan Tsvetanov and their clique vehemently rejected the authenticity of the tapes, but Galeriya sent the recordings to independent experts in France, the Lispadon criminology laboratory, who eventually pronounced them genuine. The expert tests revealed the tapes had obviously been recorded using standard Bulgarian police equipment, which indicated the mobile phones of either Tanov or Boyko Borisov had been tapped.

The Bulgarian prosecutors were left with little choice but to start an investigation of their own.

Significantly, it focused on how the police recordings had ended up outside the SRS, or Special Investigative Means department of the Counter-Organised Crime Unit of the Interior Ministry, rather than on what Prime Minister Boyko Borisov was heard saying.

Tanov-gate was slowly receding into obscurity when Boyko Borisov's press office, in July 2012, sent a threatening letter to the editors of an Internet site, www.politikat.net, which had devised a "Boykometre," a tool to assess what proportion of the prime minister's public promises had been fulfilled, what were in the process of being fulfilled, and what had been just empty talk that GERB had no intention of trying to fulfil. Until late 2011 the site had been funded by the US Trust for Civil Society in Central and Eastern Europe.

Bloggers Asen Genov (left) and Konstantin Pavlov streamed the interview, it became an instant hit

Bloggers Asen Genov (left) and Konstantin Pavlov streamed the interview, it became an instant hit

It is a matter of speculation what the intention of Borisov's publicists really were. They might have wanted to get some answers from Asen Genov and Konstantin Pavlov, the www.politikat.net proprietors, about "what methodology they had used to term what the prime minister said a 'promise." Or were they being intimidated by indicating they were being watched?

However, that official letter was posted on the Internet within seconds, which may have come as a surprise to those in power. It multiplied thousands of times on Facebook, causing a huge uproar about the quality of democracy in a state where the prime minister could threaten reporters and bloggers who had been at least unkind to him.

Boyko Borisov acted with lightning speed. He invited the two bloggers to his Council of Ministers office to sit down for a "chat." His closest crony, Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov, was also present, as were Finance Minister Simeon Dyankov and Economy Minister Delyan Dobrev. The meeting was videoed by the bloggers themselves, and streamed on the Internet.

Media analysts in Bulgaria instantly noticed the obvious. The meeting had been carefully orchestrated to make the prime minister and his men look authoritative, while the bloggers, wearing T-shirts, were made to sit on a low, uncomfortable sofa. They were also asked to set up their own video equipment, even though the Council of Ministers, where the meeting took place, has a fully equipped TV broadcasting studio.

The interview contained little outside the usual platitudes about fiscal discipline and fighting organised crime. As was to be expected, Boyko Borisov stole the show with his usual outpourings. Included were statements varying from "You can always manipulate the chief secretary of the Interior Ministry any way you like" to "I am the most democratic prime minister this country has ever had, and will probably ever have."

However, towards the end of the meeting, when the prime minister and his retinue were about to leave for a GERB event, the bloggers posed the question about Tanov-gate.

It is difficult to produce a verbatim translation of what Boyko Borisov had to say because the editorial notes and explanations of who the players being referred to are would take up a lot of space and would probably require further explanations to clarify the relationships between them. Another difficulty is posed by the quirkiness of Boyko Borisov's grammar. Here is the essence of his reply.

Boyko Borisov

Yes, I did make those telephone talks. I did it realising that I shouldn't have done. I did it because former President Georgi Parvanov had called me the previous day and had asked me to do it. This is just the way I am: when I take on a commitment, I can't refuse. I did call Tanov, well knowing that his mobile phone was being tapped. Yes, I do know Misho "Beer" Mihov because I call him by his first name.

Whether the Bulgarian prosecutors will react to the new evidence produced by the prime minister and whether Tanov-gate will ever reach the Bulgarian courts is unclear.

Misho "Beer" Mihov died in a hotel room in Pravets shortly the first press reports about his relationship with the prime minister. The cause of death was given as "heart attack." His widow died in May 2012, presumably from stress brought on by the scandal.

Vanyo Tanov is still chief of customs, and Boyko Borisov is still prime minister.

It remains to be seen what other "commitments" for "favours" like this the prime minister has undertaken - and to whom. If he is to be trusted, he will live up to them.

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