Could face three years in prison for espionage

New York, November 18, 2004—George Buhnici, a reporter for the Romanian private television station Pro-TV, was detained yesterday by Bulgarian border police in the northern Bulgarian city of Ruse while he was trying to return to Romania, according to The Associated Press.

The Bulgarian information agency Focus reported that he was arrested for using a hidden camera and microphone while investigating alleged corruption by border officials in a duty-free shop in Ruse, which also serves as a border crossing point with Romania.

Bulgarian officials can detain Buhnici for up to 72 hours while the Ruse Regional Prosecutor’s Office examines the evidence against him to decide whether the journalist should be charged with espionage. In Bulgaria, the use of a hidden camera is illegal and could be used as evidence of espionage. If convicted, Bihnici faces up to three years in prison, a prosecutor’s spokeswoman told Agence France-Presse.

Romanian Prime Minister Adrian Nastase sent a letter to his Bulgarian counterpart, Simeon Saxcoburggotski, today to appeal for Buhnici’s release. He called the journalist’s arrest and allegations of espionage “unacceptable,” The Associated Press reported.

In September, a Pro-TV program exposed Bulgarian customs officers taking bribes from tourists. The report led to the investigation of several officers for corruption, Focus said.

Both Bulgaria and Romania are expected to join the European Union in January 2007.