Bulgaria appoints new chief prosecutor amid protests

Sofia (AFP) –


Bulgaria on Thursday appointed a new chief prosecutor despite months-long protests against the sole nominee for the post.

After an all-day hearing, the 25-member Supreme Judicial Council, the country's top judicial body, voted in Ivan Geshev for a seven-year term with 20 votes in favour and 4 against.

The 48-year-old, who was until now deputy chief prosecutor, was the sole candidate.

The process of his nomination drew recurrent street protests over the past months, gathering thousands.

The demonstrators, backed by non-governmental judiciary reform and human rights groups, questioned Geshev's professionalism, integrity and independence from behind-the-scenes oligarchic circles that they claimed could influence his decisions as chief prosecutor.

Geshev has denied the allegations and refused to back down to pressure to withdraw.

Protesters were denied access early Thursday outside the judicial council headquarters in downtown Sofia with police cordoning off the building.

They instead blocked a key downtown intersection for hours, carrying posters that read "Shame, mafia, choice among one?" and shouting "Mafia!" and "Geshev is disgrace."

Groups supporting Geshev were allowed in front of the judicial council headquarters, where they staged a small rally shouting his name and holding posters saying "Geshev, the sheriff of the people" and "Geshev, the worthy chief prosecutor".

The chief prosecutor is one of the most powerful figures in Bulgaria who oversees the work of all other prosecutors and has the final word on whether to launch or stop a probe.

Bulgaria's legislature cannot bring criminal charges against the chief prosecutor -- an issue raised as problematic by international organisations like the European Court of Human Rights, the Council of Europe's Venice Commission and the European Commission.

In its latest report on Bulgaria's judiciary reforms, the European Union's executive arm praised progress but urged Sofia to translate commitments to pursue anti-corruption reforms into results.

The commission said the government should live up to its pledges "to put in place procedures concerning the accountability of the prosecutor general, including safeguarding judicial independence".

Twelve years after joining the European Union in 2007, Bulgaria remains the block's most corrupt member, according to Transparency International's corruption perceptions index.