Bulgarian ex-minister gives up immunity over wiretaps

Bulgaria's former interior minister Tsvetan Tsvetaeva signed away his parliamentary immunity Wednesday to fight charges over a major scandal involving the alleged wiretapping of his party's political opponents.

"I know that I am not guilty... I have never, on any occasion ordered or even thought I could order illegal wiretapping," Tsvetanov told journalists.

"I have never used the interior ministry for political purposes."

Tsvetanov was minister in the right-wing government of premier Boyko Borisov that resigned in February after mass anti-poverty protests, losing power to the Socialists in elections on May 12.

Prosecutors opened legal proceedings over the scandal in April, initially indicting four interior ministry officials for having bugged politicians, businessmen and journalists since 2009.

With Tsvetanov an MP but no longer a minister, prosecutors last week called for his immunity to be lifted, saying they have evidence he knew what his subordinates were doing. Witness reports said he had even personally ordered them.

The charges against Tsvetanov will be for "inaction that allowed his subordinates to commit a crime," chief prosecutor Sotir Tsatsarov said last week.

If found guilty, he faces between one and eight years in prison.

The wiretapping scandal became a major issue in the election campaign, taking attention away from falling standards of living in the European Union's poorest member state and further angering voters.

The new government of Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski plans legislative changes to separate the surveillance and wiretaps directorate from the interior ministry and put it under direct government control.

Former communist Bulgaria has long been criticised for the huge number of authorised wiretaps and surveillance warrants, which numbered over 12,000 last year, according to official data.

Up to 95 percent of the information collected was never used as evidence in court, raising fears that it could be used to blackmail politicians and businessmen.