Bulgaria's new chief prosecutor appointed despite protests

Bulgaria's president made the appointment despite his own misgivings and against a background of months of protests against the nomination

Bulgaria's President Rumen Radev on Tuesday signed off the controversial appointment of the sole nominee for the role of chief prosecutor, despite his own objections and months of street protests.

Radev had initially refused to rubber-stamp the appointment of the current deputy chief prosecutor Ivan Geshev, arguing that citing the lack of competition in the procedure undermined the candidate's legitimacy.

But the country's Supreme Judicial Council -- the top body responsible for all appointments in the judiciary -- overrode the presidential veto by backing Geshev in a repeat vote earlier this month.

"Today, I signed a decree appointing Ivan Geshev for chief prosecutor," Radev told journalists on Tuesday. Even if doubts around the candidature persisted, he said, "as president, I cannot allow myself to breach the constitution".

Under Bulgaria's constitution the president does not have the right to veto the appointment twice.

The nomination of 48-year-old Geshev had prompted thousands to take to the streets in protest in recent months.

His critics, including several non-governmental judicial reform and rights groups, questioned his professionalism, integrity and independence from shadowy oligarchic circles, who they said might use his position to target political and business opponents.

Geshev has denied all such accusations.

Bulgaria's chief prosecutor is appointed for a seven-year term -- longer than that of the president or the premier.

The chief prosecutor oversees the work of all other prosecutors and can have the final word on whether to launch or start investigations.

The post is one of the most powerful figures in the country, with no other institution able to bring criminal charges against the occupant.

This last issue has been raised as problematic for over a decade now by a range of international organisations. Radev said Tuesday that he was launching a public debate on changing the constitution to improve the chief prosecutor's accountability.

Twelve years after joining the European Union in 2007, Bulgaria remains the bloc's most corrupt member, according to Transparency International's corruption perceptions index.