Saturday

19th Aug 2017

Sofia bomb highlights EU corruption, border security fears

  • Operation Octopus was an attempt to showcase Bulgaria's anti-corruption efforts (Photo: Adam Polselli)

Brussels has asked for a full investigation into a bomb at a Sofia-based magazine, after it published wiretaps linked to the anti-graft Operation Octopus with the potential to harm Bulgaria's Schengen entry bid.

A whirlwind of speculation began on Thursday (10 February) when 400 grams of TNT seriously damaged a building hosting the headquarters of Galeria, a magazine which in recent weeks has published a series of wiretaps on alleged nepotism and corruption among high-ranking officials, including the country's prime minister, Boyko Borisov.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now and get 40% off for an annual subscription. Sale ends soon.

  1. €90 per year. Use discount code EUOBS40%
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

"We are aware of the explosion, but not about the circumstances behind it. We expect Bulgarian authorities to investigate this fully and bring those responsible to justice," EU commission spokeswoman Pia Ahrenskilde Hansen said during a press briefing in Brussels.

The bomb went off just a few hours before four EU commissioners, including EU home affairs chief Cecilia Malmstrom, were due to arrive in the city. But the commission spokeswoman said the trip would go ahead as normal.

Galeria's editor-in-chief, Kristina Patrashkova, believes the blast was a "political act aiming to intimidate us." "It is obvious that our newspaper is the most critical of the government," she told Horizont newspaper.

Ms Patrashkova recently published material from the so-called Tapegate wiretaps in which Prime Minister Borisov seems to be heard asking for one of his footballing buddies to be re-appointed as a customs official at Sofia airport.

The scandal led to a confidence vote in parliament which nearly cost Mr Borisov his job.

It also shows Bulgaria's border security standards in a negative light amid a frantic lobbying campaign by Bulgaria and neighbouring Romania to show that they are fit to join the EU's passport-free Schengen zone. Both countries were due to join in March. But France and Germany are keen to delay entry for as long as two years due to Tapegate-type issues.

For his part, Mr Borisov, made a sort of joke about the explosion.

"I am at least glad that the bomb was placed professionally so that no people were hurt," he said during a joint briefing with EU health commissioner John Dalli, as quoted by the Novinite news agency.

"At the same time, I am not the least worried by this incident occurring on a day when four EU commissioners are coming to Bulgaria because it is clear to everyone in Europe that my government inherited a country rife with organised crime and corruption, and that we have done a lot in the past months to tackle them."

Tentacles everywhere

The Tapegate wiretaps came out of a high-profile anti-corruption sting in 2010 called "Operation Octopus."

The operation was designed to showcase Bulgaria's crime-busting efforts in a move relevant not just to its Schegen bid, but also to Brussels' more broader bi-annual report on the country's fight against organised crime. The next edition of the report is due in a few weeks' time.

A Bulgarian experts said both Brussels and Sofia have an overly "bureaucratic" approach to the problem.

"Bureaucrats write reports in Brussels and say that what has been done is not sufficient, while Bulgarian bureaucrats are in turn promising to do more. But nothing happens," Ognyan Minchev, from the Institute for Regional and International Studies, a Sofia-based think-tank, said. The EU is confounded by the level of "penetration of criminal figures in politics and secret services" and is a passive observer of the "mafia-type action movies" unfolding in his country, he added.

In a fine irony, Mr Minchev noted that the anti-corruption effort risks damaging the rule of law in Bulgaria. He said Mr Borisov has "good intentions" but does not always use democratic means to reach his ends.

A recent investigation by the Dnevnik newspaper showed that a 2010 law enabling electronic wiretapping has given rise to at least 10,000 such probes, most of them without a court warrant. Loopholes allow prosecutors to ask directly for people's private traffic data from internet and phone providers without a judge being involved.

On top of the bomb query, the EU commission is keen to ensure that phone and computer snooping follows due process and that the judiciary works in an independent way.

Bulgaria fails to adopt key anti-corruption law

Bulgaria’s parliament has failed to approve a key piece of legislation to fight high-level corruption in a setback for the government of centre-right prime minister Boiko Borisov.

Analysis

Visegrad lobby makes food quality an EU issue

Fico convinced the EU commission chief to take action in the perceived problem of discriminatory food practices, even though the evidence for the phenomenon is anecdotal.

EU Commission sets red lines for Poland on Article 7

The EU executive expects Warsaw to halt the judiciary reform and address concerns over the rule of law, and not to force out supreme court judges, or else the sanctions procedure will start.

EU Commission to act on Poland

The EU executive is likely to issue a new set of rule of law recommendations to Poland and start legal probes once the controversial pieces of legislation have been published.

Opinion

Setting course for strong and focused EU

From strengthening the internal market to completing the energy union, the prime ministers of Denmark, the Netherlands and Finland set out their vision for the EU.

News in Brief

  1. Macedonia sacks top prosecutor over wiretap scandal
  2. ECB concerned stronger euro could derail economic recovery
  3. Mixed Irish reactions to post-Brexit border proposal
  4. European Union returns to 2 percent growth
  5. Russian power most feared in Europe
  6. Ireland continues to refuse €13 billion in back taxes from Apple
  7. UK unemployment lowest since 1975
  8. Europe facing 'explosive cocktail' in its backyard, report warns

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceDoes Genetics Explain Why So Few of Us Have an Ideal Cardiovascular Health?
  2. EU2017EEFuture-Themed Digital Painting Competition Welcomes Artists - Deadline 31 Aug
  3. ACCABusinesses Must Grip Ethics and Trust in the Digital Age
  4. European Jewish CongressEJC Welcomes European Court of Justice's Decision to Keep Hamas on Terror List
  5. UNICEFReport: Children on the Move From Africa Do Not First Aim to Go to Europe
  6. Centre Maurits CoppietersWe Need Democratic and Transparent Free Trade Agreements Says MEP Jordi Solé
  7. Counter BalanceOut for Summer, Ep. 2: EIB Promoting Development in Egypt - At What Cost?
  8. EU2017EELocal Leaders Push for Local and Regional Targets to Address Climate Change
  9. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceMore Women Than Men Have Died From Heart Disease in Past 30 Years
  10. European Jewish CongressJean-Marie Le Pen Faces Trial for Oven Comments About Jewish Singer
  11. ACCAAnnounces Belt & Road Research at Shanghai Conference
  12. ECPAFood Waste in the Field Can Double Without Crop Protection. #WithOrWithout #Pesticides