SOFIA, Bulgaria — The head of the Bulgarian police's organized crime unit is being investigated on suspicion of receiving bribes by prosecutors who asked the Interior Ministry on Friday to suspend him from his post.
Graft and organized crime still blight Bulgaria 20 years after the end of communist rule, deterring investors, hindering growth and delaying its entry into the European Union's Schengen zone of borderless travel. Brussels keeps the justice system under special monitoring.
The issue helped trigger protests against low living standards in the EU's poorest country in February, prompting the right-leaning government to resign.
A new election is being held on May 12 and the investigation into Stanimir Florov, coupled with a inquiry into Interior Ministry wiretaps, could put corruption center stage once more.
Sofia prosecutors said the investigation started after they and some local media received leaked classified documents showing the secret services had investigated Florov in 1999 and 2002 for offering protection and receiving bribes from suspected criminals involved in drug trafficking and smuggling.
After confirming the authenticity of the leaked documents and other sources of information, prosecutors said that there was enough evidence to conclude that Florov — who was appointed head of the police unit combating organized crime in 2009 — had been involved in large-scale bribery.
"Sofia City Prosecutors launched a pre-trial investigation against Florov on Friday," the office said in a statement, adding it had informed the interior minister and proposed Florov — whose unit works against drug trafficking, smuggling and other crimes - be suspended during the probe.
Florov, who is yet to be officially accused and charged, could not immediately be reached for comment.
An Interior Ministry spokeswoman declined to comment on whether Florov would be suspended from his post but said that a decision would probably be announced later on Friday.
The investigation comes just a week after prosecutors found discrepancies in the way the Interior Ministry was handling wiretapping data and equipment, saying it may have resulted in illegal bugging of businessmen and politicians.
With less than a month until the election, the two probes could further sully the image of the center-right GERB party, which leads in opinion polls even after it resigned from government in February. Florov is an associate of Tsvetan Tsvetanov, a senior GERB politician and interior minister until February.
Protesters have failed to unite as a single political force and analysts say the lack of a credible alternative to GERB is helping to keep its lead.
Many people remain undecided and fraud could be an issue, with a survey showing on Friday that 11 percent of Bulgarians were willing to sell their vote, a long-running issue in the Balkan country's elections.
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