Former Bulgarian PM Boyko Borisov was released on Friday after extortion probe arrest

Former Bulgarian PM Boyko Borisov was released on Friday after extortion probe arrest

Police released Bulgaria's ex-prime minister Boyko Borisov on Friday a day after arresting him as part of a probe into suspected extortion and possible misuse of EU funds.

The 62-year-old and several other members of his party were detained on Thursday in what the interior ministry said was an initial probe into allegations of extortion that was also matched by EU prosecutors.

"They came into my home while we were having dinner," Borisov said after his release in comments broadcast on television.

Searching his home, authorities "did not find anything and when I thought they were leaving, they told me: 'We have to arrest you," he added.

"It was brutal and disgusting. We have returned to the time of communism."

He said he had not been charged. Two other members of his party were also released without charge.

Prosecutors found procedural flaws with the police probe and lack of enough evidence to file an indictment, Sofia City Prosecution spokeswoman Desislava Petrova said.

The announcement prompted an angry reaction from Bulgaria's new anti-graft Prime Minister Kiril Petkov and Interior Minister Boyko Rashkov.

"We are faced with just the next sabotage on the part of the prosecution headed by (Chief Prosecutor) Ivan Geshev," Petkov said at a midnight briefing.

Thousands of Bulgarians had taken to the streets for months on end in 2020 to protest Borisov's government's perceived corruption and to demand Geshev's resignation.

They accused the chief prosecutor of shielding those in power and subverting efforts to reveal and punish graft.

"In Bulgaria, there is no independent prosecution... But they have a problem here as this case is also probed by the European prosecution," Petkov said Friday without providing further details.

"The battle won't be short but the battle has begun," he added.

Borisov's arrest was ordered by the interior ministry, bypassing Geshev.

It came on the heels of a two-day visit this week to Sofia of European Chief Prosecutor Laura Kovesi, who hailed Petkov's "determination", while her office added in a tweet that she had paid only "a courtesy visit" to the chief prosecutor.

Contacted by AFP, the Luxembourg-based European Public Prosecutor's Office refused to comment on whether it had indeed opened a parallel investigation.

Rashkov, the interior minister, said that the Bulgarian investigation concerned accusations by now exiled lottery king Vasil Bozhkov about racketeering and pressure from the premier and his affiliates that he said had sought to rob him of his business.

The tycoon also alleged he paid as much as 30 million euros ($33 million) in a slush fund to Borisov and his finance minister, Vladislav Goranov, who was also among those arrested.

Rashkov defended the police operation and insisted that the probe, even at such an early stage, had presented enough evidence to back up investigators' demands to keep Borisov in detention and press charges.

"Does the prosecution want to reveal the crimes... including those perpetrated by high-ranking officials or does it protect them?" he asked, accusing prosecutors of torpedoing the new government's anti-corruption drive.

Fifteen years in the EU, Bulgaria remains the bloc's most graft-ridden member state, according to Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index.

Borisov has been the highest ranking Bulgarian official detained, even if only for a day, after ex-communist Dictator Todor Zhivkov was arrested and put on trial when his regime fell in 1989.

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