Bulgarian ex-minister indicted over illegal wiretaps

Former Bulgarian interior minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov was indicted Wednesday in connection with a scandal over the irregular wiretapping of top politicians and businessmen, sources said.

"We were handed an indictment for Mr Tsvetanov," the former minister's defence lawyer Menko Menkov told journalists, without elaborating, as he left Sofia's courthouse with his client.

The prosecution also refused to specify the charges, but state BNR radio reported that the indictment was for "unexercised control over the use of special surveillance means".

Prosecutors say Tsvetanov's feeble control over his ministry's surveillance and wiretaps unit allowed the illegal bugging of political opponents, businessmen and journalists during his time in office between 2009 and February 2013.

Last month, he signed away his immunity as deputy for the conservative GERB party.

If found guilty, Tsvetanov -- the right-hand man of ousted premier Boyko Borisov -- faces between one and eight years in jail.

Initially, four surveillance unit chiefs were indicted in the scandal, but prosecutors later found evidence that Tsvetanov knew what his subordinates were doing.

Witness reports said he even personally ordered the wiretaps, which Tsvetanov has repeatedly denied.

"There is no proof for illegal use of special surveillance means. My client is innocent," Menkov insisted Wednesday.

He also protested that the prosecution had presented him no evidence collected so far.

The wiretap scandal broke in April as Tsvetanov was managing GERB's campaign ahead of snap elections in May.

Borisov, whose government had been ousted in February by anti-poverty street protests, won the vote with his party but failed to form a government and remains in opposition.

Formerly communist Bulgaria has often been criticised for the huge number of warrants for wiretaps and surveillance authorised every year. Last year, there were more than 12,000, according to official data.

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

The new Socialist-backed government has said it now plans to separate the surveillance unit from the interior ministry and put it under the council of ministers to prevent wrongdoing.