Bulgaria's anti-corruption chief resigns as government seeks reforms

Anti-government protest in Sofia
Demonstrators take part in an anti-government protest in Sofia, Bulgaria, July 13, 2020. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov

SOFIA, Jan 17 (Reuters) - The head of Bulgaria's anti-corruption agency, Sotir Tsatsarov, has tendered his resignation as the new centrist government seeks legislative changes to kick-start the fight against widespread graft, a parliament spokesperson said on Monday.

The coalition government led by Prime Minister Kiril Petkov, which took office last month pledging zero tolerance for corruption, plans to overhaul the agency as a first step to end a climate of impunity in the Balkan country.

Bulgaria, ranked as the most corrupt European Union member state by anti-graft group Transparency International, is yet to convict a senior official on graft charges.

Analysts say high-level corruption is a serious obstacle to Bulgaria's ambitions of attracting more foreign investment and joining the EU’s Schengen free travel zone and the euro zone.

Tsatsarov, a former chief prosecutor who took over the anti-corruption agency in 2019, has said he wants to step down from March 1 and will reveal his reasons when lawmakers vote on his resignation.

Prime Minister Petkov said on Friday the National Security Service had revoked Tsatsarov's access to classified information following an extensive investigation as part of a control of reliability procedure.

"The lack of really serious corruption cases against high level officials shows absolutely clearly that the agency has not done the job that all Bulgarians had hoped to be done. My assessment is strongly negative," Petkov told private BTV television.

Tsatsarov said in a statement the revocation was a result of government pressure on the secret services and denied any link with his plans to resign.

The ruling coalition is holding a meeting later on Monday to discuss legislative changes that will empower the anti-corruption agency to investigate high-level graft and enhance controls over the country's powerful chief prosecutor.

Petkov's PP party as well as the justice minister have called on current Chief Prosecutor Ivan Geshev to resign, an option he has repeatedly refused.

Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova, editing by Ed Osmond

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