Bulgarian Bureau for Witness Protection Becomes More Secretive. Protection Gets Weaker.

The Bureau for Witness Protection to the national prosecution will become a state secret and the national prosecutor will have more power regarding the protection of the witnesses. However, the full identity change of the protected witnesses will be canceled, meaning that witnesses in danger will now have less protection. 

These changes were introduced to the Parliament last week by members of the government. They foresee making the Bureau one of the most secretive structures in Bulgaria along with the Special Task Force for Fight Against Organized Crime. Currently, only the identities of the Bureau's employees are a state secret. After the changes, the organizational structure of the institution will also be classified. The members of the Task Force, for instance, are allowed to hide their identity, their address, and their car's ownership. 

Should these changes pass, witnesses will lose the option for a full identity change. They will be granted physical protection, accommodation to a safe location or even a transfer abroad. The motivation for this decision is that attempts on protected witnesses' lives will drop. 

This is an odd decision - Bulgaria has seen the murder of many protected witnesses, even when full identity change was possible. For instance, a key witness for a money laundering scheme by organized crime groups was killed. Instead of explaining why the woman wasn't protected or didn't have her identity change, the prosecution simply stated that they will manage to prove the suspects guilty of the scheme without the witness and that the murder of the woman was further proof that the prosecution has managed to infiltrate the deep levels of organized crime. 

The changes give more power to the state's prosecutor (currently Sotir Tsatsarov). At the moment, the prosecutor can only appoint the chairman of the Bureau but the changes will allow him to appoint employees of the Bureau as well. Currently, the prosecutor has to report once every three months in front of the Council for witness protection. The reformed law foresees a meeting with the Council only twice a year. The prosecutor will also be relieved of the obligation to coordinate the actions of the Bureau with the Supreme Court Council. 

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Vasil Manev

Vasil Manev is a student in Computer Science and an aspiring columnist, studying in Heidelberg, Germany.

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