Wave of government resignations over Bulgaria property scandal


Sofia (AFP)

The parliamentary group chief of Bulgaria's ruling GERB party resigned from parliament Wednesday, following three other government members who have already stepped down over a scandal involving purchases of luxury property.

"I will continue as GERB deputy chairman and election campaign chief," Tsvetan Tsvetanov told journalists on Wednesday as he announced his departure from parliament, insisting that the decision was "not dramatic".

Tsvetanov has been a powerful figure within GERB ever since its formation in December 2006 and is widely seen as the right-hand man of conservative premier Boyko Borisov.

Tsvetanov insisted that he was a "victim" of the property scandal which revolves around the purchase of luxurious apartments at well below market prices by him and several other officials.

"I can't be held responsible for the price that was offered. These are relations between buyer and seller," said Tsvetanov.

He allegedly bought the apartment in question at a price equalling 630 euros ($710) per square metre, while other flats in the same building start at 2,600 euros per square metre.

Justice Minister Tsetska Tsacheva and two deputy ministers -- for energy and for youth and sports -- had already tabled their resignations over the past week after similar revelations over the purchases.

Tax authorities and the anti-corruption commission have opened probes into the deals.

Abuse of power, nepotism, corruption and the lifestyle of politicians are sensitive topics in Bulgaria, which remains the EU's poorest and most graft-prone member, twelve years after joining the bloc.

The scandal attracted huge attention both in traditional media and online, threatening to undermine support for GERB ahead of May's EU parliament elections.

A recent poll by the Trend institute in early March showed the main opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) on 30.4 percent, edging closer to GERB, which stood on 33.6 percent.

But political analyst Hristo Panchugov commented that the scandal would most probably lead to fewer people turning out to vote rather than decreasing GERB's lead.