November 14, 2019 / 2:52 PM / a month ago

Bulgaria confirms chief prosecutor appointment despite anti-graft protests

FILE PHOTO: Protesters take part in a demonstration against the only nomination for a new chief prosecutor in Sofia, Bulgaria, October 8, 2019. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov/File Photo

SOFIA (Reuters) - Bulgaria’s top judicial body voted again on Thursday to appoint Ivan Geshev as the next chief prosecutor, overriding a request from the president to reconsider after popular protests that the move will do little to tackle high-level corruption.

Top magistrates voted 20-4 for Geshev, 48, currently a deputy chief prosecutor, who was the only candidate for the powerful seven-year post. Their decision obliges President Rumen Radev to sign papers sealing his appointment.

Last week Radev held up Geshev’s appointment and asked the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) to review its choice, saying the lack of competition for the job had caused widespread doubt and could deprive Geshev of “prestige and legitimacy”.

The chief prosecutor’s role is pivotal to combating graft in Bulgaria, ranked as the most corrupt member state in the European Union by the watchdog Transparency International. The top prosecutor has wide powers to begin and halt investigations.

Most of the top magistrates reiterated that Geshev, who was nominated by all prosecutors on the council, was best suited for the top job, citing his successes in cracking down on crime gangs involved in migrant trafficking and cigarette smuggling.

The SJC first elected Geshev by a 20-4 margin last month, despite spates of street protests amid concerns over whether he would wage a genuine war on corruption.

Protesters had argued that Geshev’s election was the pre-determined outcome of a deal between graft-prone political elites and local business oligarchs.

Despite a declared political will to uproot graft, Sofia has yet to see a single conviction and jailing of a high-ranking official for corruption.

Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova and Angel Krasimirov; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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