Wiretap scandal hits Bulgaria's ex-PM ahead of vote

A scandal about alleged wiretapping of political opponents of incumbent Bulgarian premier Boyko Borisov is starting to hurt his re-election chances in May, analysts and opinion polls suggested Friday.

Adding to his troubles, Sofia's chief prosecutor Nikolay Kokinov also resigned Friday after leaked wiretaps showed he discussed a bribery probe against ex-farming minister Miroslav Naydenov with Borisov and Naydenov himself.

According to pollsters Mediana, Borisov's right-wing GERB party, although still in first place, has slipped from a score of 26.4 percent in early April to 23.3 percent last weekend.

GERB's cabinet resigned on February 20 after large anti-poverty protests, opening the way to snap elections on May 12 that are expected to return a highly fragmented parliament.

"A third of GERB voters intend to withdraw their support," said Vasil Tonchev, head of the Sova-Harris institute, while Andrey Raychev of Gallup even went as far as to predict defeat for Borisov's party "following this scandal".

The opposition Socialists, who claimed they were among the main victims of the massive wiretapping, have failed to benefit, however. Their score has fallen too, although by less than GERB, from 23.7 percent to 21.4 percent, according to Mediana.

Prosecutors opened a probe last month after an anonymous report said that a former president, a former finance minister, European Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva, businesspeople and the heads of smaller parties had been bugged.

Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov has been denied ordering the surveillance.

The accusations come at an awkward time for him since he is Borisov's election campaign manager.

Following the wiretap leak that led to Kokinov's resignation on Friday however, Borisov went on the offensive, accusing the Socialists of bugging his home and setting up "a parallel structure" for surveillance, separate from the one in the interior ministry.

"The worst is that they wiretapped prosecutors, which creates prerequisites for destabilisation of the state," Borisov said.

The wiretap scandal has engulfed his entire party, with Naydenov saying in a television interview Thursday that Tsvetanov had wiretapped all members of the government, something Tsvetanov has repeatedly denied.

Naydenov was ejected from GERB the same day.

Meanwhile on Tuesday, four senior interior ministry officials including the head of the surveillance unit and two predecessors were indicted for allegedly facilitating unregulated wiretapping dating back to 2009.

Use of surveillance techniques may come as less of a surprise to Bulgarian voters than in other countries however, having been used extensively during the communist era and in the two decades since.