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FILE PHOTO: Veselin Mareshki, leader of Will party, reacts at the opening of his petrol station in Sofia, Bulgaria, March 15, 2017. REUTERS/Dimitar Kyosemarliev

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SOFIA (Reuters) - Bulgaria's deputy speaker of parliament was charged with extortion on Thursday, with prosecutors saying he threatened seven pharmacy owners with damage to their outlets if they did not transfer part of their business to him or halt operations.

Prosecutors said Veselin Mareshki, who owns a chain of pharmacies and petrol stations, carried out the threats between 2012 and 2015.

Mareshki, a self-described Bulgarian Donald Trump who leads the populist Will party, denied wrongdoing, adding he was the victim of political repression by the prosecutor's office.

"How it is possible that in December last year the prosecutors closed the probe against me with a clear guidance that there was no evidence of any crime ... and a few months later, without any additional investigation, they took the files out of the drawer and charged me?" Mareshki told reporters in parliament.

Mareshki, one of five deputy parliament speakers, faces up to eight years and prison if found guilty.

Mareshki, 50, gained prominence in politics last year with a pledge to "sweep away corrupt elites". Two months ago he gave up his parliamentary immunity so prosecutors could investigate him.

The Will party won 12 seats in parliament in an early election in March.

(Reporting by Angel Krasimirov; Editing by Alison Williams)

Reuters