According to the Interior Ministry, Bulgarian police have arrested former Prime Minister Boyko Borisov in connection with an investigation by the European Public Prosecutor’s Office.

The ministry said a “large-scale operation” related to 120 cases was underway with “searches and seizures conducted at many addresses”, but it did not address the allegations against Borisov.

Borisov, a former bodyguard of communist dictator Todor Zhivkov, was ousted in an election last April after popular protests against corruption during his 12-year rule. He has denied any wrongdoing.

He was detained on Thursday along with other members of his centre-right opposition party Gerb, including a former finance minister, a former head of the parliamentary budget committee and a former head of the government information service.

“No one is above the law,” Prime Minister Kiril Petkov wrote in a Facebook post on Thursday evening.

Petkov was elected in November after two unsuccessful elections last year. In a country where politics has long been tainted by corruption allegations, his centrist We Continue the Change party won broad voter support on the promise of “zero corruption”.

There was no comment from the European Public Prosecutor’s Office in the wake of Borisov’s arrest, but earlier this week it said in a statement: “If no fraud is discovered, there can be no investigation. Thanks to Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov for his determination, leadership and persuasive vision in the fight against corruption.”

In a video appearance on Friday, Petkov said: “We will see in the coming days where the Bulgarian prosecutor’s office is and whether it will finally side with the Bulgarian people”. He added: “No one should be afraid of the truth. Only the untouchables [a nickname for Borisov and his associates] have something to fear. Bulgaria can really change.”

His comments reflect the view that the prosecutor’s office has been reluctant to investigate the activities of Borisov and the Gerb party.

Borisov’s arrest was at the request of the Bulgarian Interior Ministry. His lawyer told reporters that police searched the former prime minister’s residence in the outskirts of Sofia with the permission of the court. “All I saw was the search warrant and the warrant for his 24-hour detention,” Menko Menkov said, adding that no items were taken during the search. He said he did not understand what Borisov was accused of.

Borisov first came to power in 2009 after a landslide election victory and ruled with brief interruptions until last year. In 2020, simmering anger over corruption boiled over after photos surfaced showing a gun and €500 packages on the prime minister’s bedside table. Borisov said the photos had been edited, but the anti-government protests lasted several months.

His Gerb party, however, remained popular with some voters, as he spent a lot of money on infrastructure projects in what is still one of the poorest countries in the EU.

Borisov’s arrest sparked outrage among his supporters, who gathered outside his home and later at the police station where he was taken. Gerb politician and former health minister Kostadin Angelov called for protests against the arrest on Friday.

“Behind us is one of Bulgaria’s modern concentration camps, set up by [the interior minister] to imprison politicians with whom they disagree,” Angelov told a small protest on Thursday, adding that he wanted “a peaceful protest, not a riot”.

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