March 27, 2019 / 4:55 PM / 4 months ago

Deputy leader of Bulgaria's ruling party quits parliament over apartment scandal

SOFIA, March 27 (Reuters) - The deputy leader of Bulgaria’s ruling GERB party quit parliament on Wednesday in a scandal over purchases of luxury apartments at favourable prices which has already led to the resignations of three other senior politicians.

Tsvetan Tsvetanov, who heads the center-right party’s parliament group, said he had not done anything wrong but he wanted to end speculation that he might use his powers to thwart any investigation.

“I have nothing to be ashamed of,” Tsvetanov told reporters upon his return from a business trip to the United States and a meeting with Prime Minister Boyko Borissov.

“I have never, under any circumstances, breached the laws.”

Bulgaria’s justice minister and two deputy ministers have already resigned following reports they had bought spacious apartments in an upmarket Sofia suburb at prices seriously below the market ones from the same real estate developer last year.

All have denied any wrongdoing.

The news broke after investigations by the non-governmental Anti-Corruption Fund (ACF) and the Bulgarian unit of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and investigative website Bivol and was picked up by other Bulgarian media outlets.

The state Anti-Corruption Commission has launched a probe into the deals and has said it would also look into all the sales of the real estate developer in the past four years.

The opposition Socialists, who have boycotted parliament since the middle of February, have reiterated their calls for early election, accusing Borissov’s government of failing to combat high-level graft.

Tsvetanov said he would stay as GERB’s deputy leader and take charge of its campaign for the EU Parliament election set for May 26.

Despite pledges by successive governments to uproot graft, Bulgaria ranks as the most corrupt EU member state, according to anti-corruption group Transparency International. It has not yet put a senior official behind bars on corruption charges.

Analysts say high-level corruption is the main obstacle to Bulgaria’s ambitions of attracting more foreign investment and joining the EU’s Schengen free travel zone. (Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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