THE Untouchable

Editorial |Author: Milena Hristova | February 15, 2011, Tuesday // 14:47|  views

That could have been Bulgaria's first and most earnest reckoning with its corrupt past. Or could it?

It must have been only those naive to the point of foolishness, who believed that the allegations against ethnic Turkish leader Ahmed Dogan of pocketing nearly one million euros from the state budget while in power could have taken his trial to a conviction. The journalists, who pooled efforts to dig up the dirt on the scandalous deal, took the risk to appear that naive.

Naive and foolish, however, Ahmed Dogan was not. He knew that playing with the "word of the law" and "lack of evidence" card always pays off in Bulgaria. And keeps the tightrope-dancing act, called political corruption, rolling on and on.

Dogan, always in the habit of working busily behind the scenes, was shrewd enough to sign the contracts in question before the conflict of interest law was enforced. Part of the payments however were made after that, which means the court could have applied the law, but obviously it opted to apply the proverb "he who pays the piper, calls the tune."

This is more of a disappointment than a surprise to me.

The parliamentary commission, which prompted the court to open the case, expectedly did not put in much efforts to provide the judges with convincing evidence.

The judges, in their turn, after a month-long labor delivered a predictable outcome, citing supernaturally formal motives, including a demand for "written evidence". Did they expect to see a signed contract for corruption practices?

The weird details are interesting, of course -– but the trial is important because it's been keenly  watched both in Bulgaria and Brussels as a test of the government's efforts to clamp down on rampant corruption and organized crime. This was an emblematic case at the center of the anti-corruption drive of Prime Minister Borisov, a key test of the cabinet's ability to rein in corruption and cope with the weak judiciary.

Prime Minister Borisov, himself a former karate black belt who made his name fighting corruption as mayor of Sofia, swept to power in 2009 on an anti-corruption mandate and on the promise to bring to justice such big fish as Ahmed Dogan.

His acquittal does not bode well.

For the last eight years Ahmed Dogan has been the leader of voters, who never show cracks in their armour, a man blessed with the gift of a gab and the in-depth view of an analyst. Election time set off new opportunities for him to make his hard-earned cash work for him by winning the support of more voters. In between election time he took advantage of the political high tide to launch entrepreneurial ventures and capitalize on them. Dogan knew well how to hide behind the false image of a reflecting philosopher, while actually being the back seat ruler of the country.

He has never kept secret his model. "If you think that I have less opportunities than a banker, then you have no idea about what a politician can do. For the last fifteen years, half of all Bulgarian businessmen, who can boast higher than the average incomes, have had to woo me for my support or at least my smile," Dogan admitted two days before the parliamentary elections in 2005, notoriously adding that a ring of companies stand behind each party.

Six years later the court may have acquitted Dogan in this high profile corruption trial, but his name will be much harder to clear. From a moral and political point of view the allegations have dealt him the hardest blow ever.


The situation now was unique in many ways. This was the first time that his smile was tagged with a real price, on a real bill on his name. This was the first time that there were concrete figures and facts that accused him of corruption and that showed his own personal ambitious entrepreneurial plans have never been grounded or put on the back burner while in power. This was the first time that the perfect model for winning power – creating jobs for votes - turned against its founder and ideologist.

This was the first time that the society and the European Union ached to see the guilty brought to justice and were not willing to buy the worn-out ethnic peace arguments. To top it all off the money for the hydro power plant Tsankov Kamak, from where he took the sky-high payment as an "expert", were paid by the state-owned National Electricity Distribution Company, left in tatters after the ruling of the previous cabinet.

Now, even though not in power, Ahmed Dogan is still fit to play the role of a parallel authority. Fit to pull the strings of the puppets on the political scene, fit to take decisions and transfer them to parliament despite being on top of the list of playing-truant MPs.

Fitness for office in the eyes of the voters will be decided at the next general elections. Unfortunately in Bulgaria elections often tell you more about what people hate rather than what they like.

Could dissatisfaction with Borisov government bring the old wolves from the previous ruling coalition back on the political scene, victorious, puce-cheeked and finger-wagging at voters?

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Tags: ethnic, conflict of interest, hydro-power plant, Tsankov Kamak, Supreme Administrative Court, embezzlement, Ahmed, Dogan, Turkish leader, Bulgaria, Prime Minister, Boyko, Borisov, Brussels


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