350,000 illegal ballot papers seized in Bulgaria ahead of elections

350,000 illegal ballot papers seized in Bulgaria ahead of elections

SOFIA - Agence France-Presse
350,000 illegal ballot papers seized in Bulgaria ahead of elections

A man pushes a woman and a boy in a wheelchair next to election posters of Bulgarian Socialist Party candidate Petar Kurumbashev(R) and former EU Commissioner for consumer protection Meglena Kuneva in Sofia on May 11. AFP photo

Bulgarian authorities said May 11 they seized 350,000 illegal ballot papers a day before parliamentary elections, deepening concerns about irregularities in the vote in the former communist country.

The papers were found at the privately owned printing company Multiprint in Kostinbrod, 15 kilometres (10 miles) northwest of Sofia, that exceeded the number that the firm was under contract to print.

Multiprint had "completed its responsibilities under the contract... and delivered the ballots to district administrations across the country," prosecutors said in a statement.

"The ballots found on the night of May 10 were outside the ordered amounts," they added. The operation was carried out by agents of Bulgaria's State Agency for National Security (DANS) and prosecutors, the statement said.

Bulgaria's state BNR radio said that Multiprint's owner was close to one of Bulgaria's key political parties, and that the interior ministry was deliberately excluded from the operation. Private BGNES news agency named the party as the ousted conservative GERB of ex-premier Boyko Borisov, whose deputy leader Tsvetan Tsvetanov headed the interior ministry until GERB's ousting from power in end-February.

The prosecution did not comment on this information. The allegations come at an awkward time for Tsvetanov, already embroiled in late April in a scandal about alleged illegal wiretapping of the party's opponents and businesspeople.

Vote-buying and other election fraud concerns have prompted the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to dispatch its biggest monitoring mission to Bulgaria since 1990 for Sunday's vote.

Five parties - but not GERB - have also ordered an independent parallel vote count, prompting analysts to fear that Bulgaria might see its vote results challenged for the first time since 1990.