SOFIA (Reuters) – Over 1,000 Bulgarians marched in central Sofia on Wednesday in protest against the only candidate for the post of chief prosecutor, questioning whether the nominee Ivan Geshev would wage a genuine war on high-level corruption.
Bulgaria’s top judicial body, the Supreme Judicial Council is expected to elect Geshev, currently a deputy chief prosecutor, on Thursday for a 7-year term. The powerful position is key to combating graft in the European Union country.
Bulgaria ranks as the EU’s most corrupt member state in Transparency International’s corruption perception index.
Geshev, 49, has been unanimously nominated for the post by all the prosecutors at the Council. The lack of competition for the high position has angered protesters who see his election as pre-determined.
Geshev has denied their allegations and said in July that he only accepted the nomination because of the trust invested in him by his colleagues.
Chanting “Geshev is disgrace” and “Freedom” protesters, who have staged a series of demonstrations against him over recent months,alleged graft-prone political elites and oligarchs collaborated behind Geshev’s nomination to ensure their wrongdoings would not be investigated.
On Tuesday, the European Union Commission said Sofia has made enough progress on pledges to overhaul its judiciary and combat graft to allow it to recommend an end to special monitoring imposed on Sofia since 2007. It stressed however that Bulgaria needs to make sure reforms will be irreversible and deliver results.
Despite declared political will, Bulgaria is yet to convict a high-level official on corruption charges.
Failure to deliver results on fighting graft is keeping the country outside the EU’s Schengen passport free travel zone, curbs much needed foreign investment and is one of the obstacles of the country towards adopting the euro currency.
The chief prosecutor is one of the most powerful positions in Bulgaria with wide powers to launch and stop investigations.
The top prosecutor however is not easy to be hold to account as he oversees the work of all prosecutors. Sofia is yet to adopt legal changes to ensure his accountability.
Prosecutors, police and investigators have praised Geshev’s successes in cracking down on crime gangs involved in banking card scams, migrant trafficking and cigarette smuggling in recent years and his zeal in chasing offenders.
But protesters say the support for his nomination by the current chief prosecutor and the silent backing by political leaders across the spectrum except for a small liberal party, indicated he would not go after powerful elites.
(Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)