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Cablegate: Interior Minister Resigns Under Mounting Pressure

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PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHSF #0229/01 1061425
ZNY CCCCC ZZH(CCY ADDED ADDEES AD0080B934/MSI6780 510)
P 151425Z APR 08
FM AMEMBASSY SOFIA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 4930
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RUCNFB/DIR FBI WASHDC
RUEHNSC/NSC WASHINGTON DC
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC

C O N F I D E N T I A L SOFIA 000229

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

C O R R E C T E D COPY (ADDEES ADDED ONLY)
E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/15/2018
TAGS: PREL PGOV KCRM KCOR BU
SUBJECT: INTERIOR MINISTER RESIGNS UNDER MOUNTING PRESSURE

REF: SOFIA 0192

Classified By: ambassador Beyrle for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

1. (C) SUMMARY: PM Stanishev forced Interior Minister
Petkov,s hand into a resignation after two weeks of a
deepening scandal that had trashed Bulgaria,s international
image and fed domestic cynicism over government collusion
with criminals. Intense international pressure made the
difference in Stanishev,s calculations, but the Bulgarian
media also showed some welcome teeth in taking on a
dangerously powerful figure. The Prime Minister emerges as a
net winner, patiently outlasting hardline Socialist party
stalwarts protecting Petkov. He has promised a thorough
shakeup of the cabinet, and overhaul of a clearly
dysfunctional ministry. The intelligence service (DANS) that
the PM fought to establish as independent of MOI saw its
first "internal" action, and was generally praised.
President Parvanov comes out looking weak, in first
supporting and ultimately abandoning a longtime confidante
and protege. The Socialists, coalition partner NMSS
exploited the scandal to force action against its own cabinet
ministers who have run afoul of ex-PM King Simeon. The Prime
Minister now has a brief window to try to rebuild some public
confidence in government integrity, and to lead real reform
of the deeply corrupt Interior Ministry. To that end, the
PM,s National Security advisor has requested consultation
and advice from U.S. experts. We should move fast to say
yes. END SUMMARY

EXTERNAL REALITY-CHECK
----------------------

2. (C) Interior Minister Petkov battled for two weeks
against an ever more damaging scandal regarding his
leadership. He sought out the U.S., UK and Dutch ambassadors
in an effort to defend himself, but our blunt, private answer
(ref A) was that he had to go for the good of the country.
The EU steadily reinforced that message with harsh public
warnings and private pressure. A PM adviser told us
Stanishev received at least two phone calls from Brussels
threatening to invoke the safeguard clause against Bulgaria
if Petkov were not removed. According to another insider,
such a harsh sanction -- enough to topple the government --
gave Stanishev the necessary leverage within his Bulgarian
Socialist Party to remove Petkov. The end, in the end, came
more quickly than even the PM,s closest advisors predicted.


GROWING DOMESTIC PRESSURE
-------------------------

3. (C) With at least two investigations opened by
prosecutors against Petkov, and his other MOI allies arrested
or close to it, the embattled Interior Minister found himself
under unceasing domestic assault. While key BSP figures and
even President Parvanov initially rallied to his defense,
they backed away as more revelations came to light. Pressure
mounted when Petkov's own 50-page report, which the BSP hoped
would defuse the crisis, depicted a corrupt and paralyzed law
enforcement system. Parliament's Domestic Security Committee
issued a brutal report April 10, criticizing the MOI's
failure to investigate crimes due to the leak of information
to suspects and lack of cooperation with other law
enforcement agencies. Based on data from the newly
established State Agency for National Security (DANS) and
hearings of ex-MOI officials, the report concluded that drug
seizures had fallen after Interior Ministry officials passed
classified information to crime groups trading in synthetic
drugs, profits from which were partly used to fund terrorist
organizations.

4. (C) Most damaging of all was the weekly journal
Kapital's April 11 publication of a leaked confidential
transcript of the Domestic Security Committee's hearing. The
transcript exposed a ministry in chaos and helpless in
dealing with organized crime groups supported from high
government levels. The most shocking revelation was the
admission of Gen. Vanyu Tanov, the former chief of the MOI
organized crime unit GDBOP, that every single GDBOP operation
over the past two years had been compromised due to leaked
information. Tanov told the Committee that every operation
against the gray economy revealed the involvement of
politicians, MPs, government officials, employees of the
customs office or tax authorities. As if to underscore the
extent of the ministry's incompetence, last week four more
prominent execution-style killings took place in Bulgaria,
further raising public tension. A poll released just before
Petkov,s resignation indicated that 59 percent of Bulgarians
wanted Petkov to resign, with 44 percent believing he was

personally involved in criminal activities.

PRESSURE FROM PARTNERS - MORE CABINET CHANGES?
--------------------------------------------- -

5. (SBU) Early in the scandal junior coalition partner NMSS
called publicly on Petkov to step down, the most vocal public
disagreement between the NMSS and BSP since the coalition was
formed. Though the government predictably won a
no-confidence vote on April 11, NMSS parliamentarians
abstained rather than vote to support their own coalition.
Deputy PM Vulchev from NMSS told the Ambassador the
abstention was aimed at signaling unhappiness with Petkov,
but that was not the whole story: ex-king and NMSS leader
Simeon used the tactic to press the PM to make a wider
government reshuffle that would also replace NMSS ministers
who had dissented against him, including Deputy Prime
Minister Vulchev, Defense Minister Bliznakov, and State
Administration Minister Vassilev. The PM announced he would
begin discussions on cabinet changes with the coalition
partners this week.

COMMENT
-------

6. (C) Bulgarians reacted with relief to Petkov's removal.
While clear U.S. messages and a sharp EU threat were likely
decisive, the government also faced domestic and media
pressure to clean house. Still, Petkov's resilience, even
likely survival as an MP and BSP administrator, shows the
depth and breadth of corruption within the government and
BSP.

7. (C) Stanishev is a clear winner, though he would have
looked even stronger had he acted earlier. He had long
wanted to reduce Petkov's influence, much of which was based
on his MOI position and access to "kompromat." Stanishev's
creation of DANS was clearly aimed at weakening Petkov by
stripping him of a key investigatory tool. President
Parvanov, Stanishev's rival for party influence, has suffered
embarrassment for his early and strong public support for his
ally Petkov.

8. (C) The coming months will test Stanishev's ability to
remake the BSP and the coalition. Choosing a technocrat to
succeed Petkov would indicate Stanishev's strength and
resolve and would be a hopeful sign for real reform. A
replacement chosen from the BSP old guard would indicate that
the party accepted Petkov's removal only as a face-saving
gesture and the MOI will return to business as usual. As for
the NMSS, Stanishev will likely strike a bargain over the
cabinet positions. Bulgaria has a weak bench as it is, and
with barely 14 months until the next general election, the PM
will need to drive any reform vigorously. Stanishev-Parvanov
tensions can only grow sharper, and will bear watching for
the future of the BSP as the PM looks to his political future
and the President to his legacy.

9. (C) Even as Stanishev looks to revamp the cabinet, he
must also overhaul the MOI to restore public trust, rebuild
law enforcement capacity and shore up morale. It,s a
massive job. New legislation was already planned to account
for different responsibilities and authorities since DANS was
created. A key Stanishev advisor has reached out to us
seeking input from U.S. experts as the PM tries to build a
new structure for the Interior Ministry that is effective,
modern, and above suspicion. We should seize this offer,
which represents a strong signal from the Prime Minister of
his commitment to an even closer U.S.-Bulgarian relationship.
We doubt he,s made the same request to the Russians. END
COMMENT.


Beyrle

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