SOFIA (Reuters) - Bulgaria's former Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov was sentenced to four years in jail on Thursday for refusing to allow legal wiretapping in a probe against a former senior police official.
Tsvetanov, who is also the second most senior politician in the main opposition GERB party, denied any wrongdoing, saying that in refusing to carry out a judge's ruling to wiretap the former head of a regional organized crime police unit, he had followed the country's laws.
Prosecutors had asked for a 3-year suspended sentence, but a Sofia City Court judge opted for immediate custody, saying that Tsvetanov has abused his power and delayed an investigation against suspected criminals.
However, Tsvetanov will appeal the verdict and will remain free until the legal process is exhausted.
"I am innocent. I have always worked to combat organized crime and restore the trust of European partners to Bulgaria," he told reporters after the court's ruling.
Tsvetanov has also been charged with deliberately allowing employees in his ministry to commit crimes by illegally wiretapping phones and mishandling intelligence equipment.
Brussels has put European Union member Bulgaria under special monitoring due to its failure to effectively combat rampant organized crime and corruption, which also scares away investors and keep it as one of the poorest members of the bloc.
(Reporting By Tsvetelia Tsolova; Editing by Toby Chopra)