SOFIA -- Bulgaria's Supreme Judicial Council has overwhelmingly approved Ivan Geshev as the country’s new chief prosecutor despite months of protests against his nomination, including a demonstration that blocked the streets of the capital as the meeting took place.
The Southeastern European country's top judicial body voted 20-4 to approve Geshev, the only nominee for the seven-year term, following 10 hours of hearings, which were disrupted by a hoax bomb threat.
The 48-year-old Geshev's appointment must still be approved by Bulgarian President Rumen Radev.
Opponents, including judiciary-reform and human rights groups, expressed concerns about Geshev's professionalism, integrity, independence, and links to oligarchs.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on October 17 raised concern over Geshev's appointment, saying he had recently "made extremely scathing comments about media outlets that are not to his liking, raising fears about possible reprisals."
"Without regard to procedure, without evidence, and in violation of his duty to be impartial and principled, Geshev has expressed himself in terms that suggest that Bulgarian democracy is in great danger," RSF said.
Geshev, currently the deputy chief prosecutor, has denied the allegations and has rejected pressure to withdraw. He holds a law degree from a police academy and has been a prosecutor since 2006.
He has won praise from prosecutors, police, and investigators for successes in cracking down on crime gangs, migrant trafficking, and smuggling.
Geshev told the hearing that he will remain free of outside influence in the chief prosecutor role. "I will not allow media, political, or economic circles to indicate who is to be charged and what is more, on what charges," he said before the vote.
The position is one of the most powerful in Bulgaria, overseeing the work of all other prosecutors and holding the final say on whether to initiate or end an investigation.
The European Court of Human Rights, the Council of Europe's Venice Commission, and the European Commission have all raised concerns that the Bulgarian legislature cannot bring criminal charges against the chief prosecutor.
The EU Commission, in its latest report on Bulgarian judiciary reform, noted progress made by Bulgaria but it urged Sofia to put promised reforms into practice and to step up anti-corruption actions.
The government should "put in place procedures concerning the accountability of the prosecutor general, including safeguarding judicial independence," the report.
Bulgaria, which joined the EU in 2007, remains the bloc's most corrupt member, according to Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index.
While the Judicial Council was meeting, protesters blocked two major roads in Sofia for hours after they were not allowed near the council building.
Counterprotesters were also at the site, holding up banners declaring "Geshev -- the people's sheriff" and "Worthy chief prosecutor."
Inside, council members voted to ignore a bomb threat, which proved to be a hoax, and to continue the hearing.
Bulgaria Overwhelmingly Approves Chief Prosecutor Nominee Amid Protests