Desislava Ivancheva, the mayor of the Sofia district of Mladost, and her deputy Bilyana Petrova, were arrested yesterday (17 April) in broad daylight in downtown Sofia by hooded policemen of the newly created anti-corruption body. They were kept for hours in the street, to the benefit of paparazzi who took huge number of photos of them.
The full name of new anti-corruption body, which was inaugurated on 1 February, is “Commission for countering corruption and confiscation of unlawfully obtained property”, by the unpronounceable acronym of KPKONPI. It is led by Plamen Georgiev, and brings together five institutions – the Confiscation Commission, the Anti-Conflict Interests Commission, a unit of the State Agency for National Security (DANS), the National Audit Office and BORKOR, the Center for Prevention and Countering Corruption and Organized Crime.
Ivancheva was surprisingly elected as mayor in a 2016 by-election as a result of her campaign against allowing the construction of buildings in park areas of this area of the capital, which developed in the last decades of communism as a huge residential area of concrete apartment buildings. Her political agenda was to stop construction in the few remaining green areas.
The car of Ivancheva was stopped by special forces at the busy road crossing in front of the Sports Palace (BSFS). Several TV stations happened to be there just in time for the show.
According to unofficial information, Ivancheva was arrested with what allegedly constitutes a bribe of €70,000, a first instalment of what investigators have been quoted as saying is a total bribe of €250,000.
According to unofficial information a third person who played the role of intermediator has also been arrested.
Bilyana Petrova felt bad because of high blood pressure. A photo by Dnevnik depicts her sitting on the pavement and visibly very sick.
Reportedly the policeman counted the money on the street, then took Ivancheva and her deputy inside the Sports Palace for checking if the marked money had left traces on their hands.
Prosecutors were quoted as saying unofficially that Ivancheva has been under surveillance during the last two months with the aim of arresting her with marked bribe money.
Reportedly Ivancheva was allowed to see her lawyer four hours after the arrest.
Facebook and internet forums are overflowing with reactions of Bulgarians, shocked by the heavy-handed methods used by the new anti-corruption body.
Petrova’s lawyer Iren Savova said the episode was worrying because of the law-enforcement authorities making a show out of it. She asked why the car was not taken to the nearest police station for a search, instead of conducting the search in the centre of Sofia with so many TV cameras all around.
“I cannot understand such practices: Two women are not allowed to go to the toilet for hours, they have not been given water”, Savova said.
Iossif Davidov, a retired Bulgarian journalist, wrote in Facebook:
“Today, April 17, 2018, in the capital of our so-called European country, a person was kept on the street for three hours with handcuffs, surrounded by hooded policemen. All around there were many people. I do not care who that person is, what he or she is accused of, but that person is innocent until proven otherwise. What happened is contrary to any ideas about the rule of law, let alone democracy. I ask: Where are the human rights defenders? Where are the relevant committees (for example on human rights) of the European Parliament? Where are the European Commissioners and their boss? Where is the President of the EU Council? Where is the so-called “European civil society”? We can exchange polite or ugly posts on Facebook on everyday or global issues, we can be smart or stupid, but we cannot remain indifferent to the obvious fact that that beautiful 111,000 square km area, which is our homeland, is no longer a normal state. That is why I appeal to Europe to wake up and intervene; to realise that this ally is putting in question its values, and above all, human dignity.”