The Predetermined Outcome of the Scandal with Falsified Personal Data in Political Parties’ Electoral Petitions

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The scandal with personal data of party supporters in electoral petitions brought to light abuses that are not a new phenomenon. Three years ago, the Prosecution launched pre-trial proceedings in a particularly large-scale identity theft and forgery of signatures committed by the associated with TIM (the Varna-based alleged organized crime group – editor’s note) political party “Movement Our City.” The actions of the state prosecution in this case are a litmus test for what will happen now.

Personal Data from TIM’s Retirement Funds

The participation of “Our Town” in local elections in 2011 became questionable when on August 9 the Central Electoral Commission (CEC) deleted its registration due to an insufficient number of supporters. CEC’s verification established 5 867 correct entries of voters supporting the party. According to Article 89, Paragraph 3, Section 11 of the Electoral Code, at least 7 000 voters are needed for a party to run in elections.

Following an appeal in the Supreme Administrative Court, CEC gave “Our Town” until 5 pm on August 18 to submit the missing voters’ signatures. They managed to gather the signatures and on August 23 CEC restored the registration of “Our Town.”

The signatures, collected in the course of just several days, were forged by the use of citizens’ data from the registers of the retirement fund “Sila” (Power), which is managed by TIM. The prosecution was approached by a witness who informed that the lists were merged and this is how the initial probe begun. It was established subsequently that indeed there was evidence of crime – compilation of false documents, which calls for a penalty of up to two years in prison .

The probe of the Varna Regional Prosecutor’s Office was launched on October 27, 2011, while CEC provided the prosecution with the original lists used for the registration of the Political Party “Movement Our City.”

By a decree of a prosecutor at the Varna District Prosecutor’s Office from May 8, 2012, pre-trial proceeding162/2012 was launched against an unknown perpetrator of a crime under Article 309, Paragraph 1 of the penal Code. And so far, two years after the start, the proceeding is pending because

The prosecution questioned 15 000 witnesses

“In the course of the investigation, Retirement Fund “Sila” was requested to provide electronic records of all individuals registered as insured through the Fund. The above was undertaken in order to compare them with the lists, used in the registration of Political Party “Movement Our City,”  by preparing an expert report. Such report was subsequently commissioned. Given the legal and factual complexity of the investigation and pursuant to Article 194, Paragraph 1, item 4 of the Criminal Penal Code, on November 19, 2012, a proposal was made by the administrative head of the Varna District Prosecutor’s Office to the administrative head of the Supreme Administrative Prosecutor’s Office to assign the case to an investigator. Upon acceptance of the proposal, on November 23, 2012, the investigation has been assigned to an investigator at the Regional Investigation Unit of the Varna District Prosecutor’s Office,” is written in the information provided to Bivol by the spokesman of the Varna District Prosecutor’s Office in March 2013.

“Until now, many witnesses have been questioned and comparative samples of handwriting and signatures have been taken from the majority of them. Data about 15 000 persons, listed in the electoral petition, was requested in order to establish their identity and summon them for questioning,” our prosecution specified then.

It is important to emphasize that the Bulgarian Penal Code criminalizes not only the act of forging documents, but also the use of false documents. No responsible persons from the party that has used forged petitions, participated in the elections and won municipal councilors’ seats have been charged until now.

Separately, the prosecution should have approached the Commission for Personal Data Protection and the Financial Supervision Commission, which regulates the operation of retirement funds, for abuse of citizens’ personal data, listed without their knowledge as supporting the registration of the “party of TIM.”

Bivol never received an explanation from the Varna Prosecutor’s Office why, after it established evidence of the crime under Article 309, Paragraph 1 of the Penal Code, it has not approached CEC, which by law must in turn approach the court to cancel the party’s registration.

Today Bivol sought again information about the progress of this case, but so far there has been no response from the Varna District Prosecutor’s Office.

Scandal with predetermined outcome

As the current option, given to Bulgarian voters to check online their signatures in party electoral petitions as supporters, revealed drastic identity theft and forgery of signatures, CEC announced that it intends to conduct a joint meeting between its representatives, prosecutors and experts from the Commission for Personal Data Protection. The Commission also recommended to citizens to seek their individual rights.

The precedent with the petition of Political Party “Movement Our City”, however, clearly shows what is going to happen: the investigation will drag on for years; there will be questioning of thousands of witnesses and victims, but the parties that abused people’s personal data will benefit from this offense without incurring sanctions.

The conclusion is that parties can safely continue to steal personal data and to fake signatures as this will not affect in any way their current registration and participation in elections. The negatives remain only for citizens whose personal data is misused, which makes the question why do we need such petition exercise particularly relevant.

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