SEEMO Media Experts Oppose Restricted Access to Bulgarian Business Registry

Society | March 2, 2011, Wednesday // 11:59|  views

GERB MP, Emil Radev (r), is proposing to restrict public access to the trade register in Bulgaria. Photo by BGNES

The South and East Europe Media Organization (SEEMO) has sent an open letter to the media Wednesday, voicing concern over proposed amendments limiting the currently unrestricted public access to the Business (Trade) Registry of Bulgaria's Registry Agency.

SEEMO is a network of editors, media executives and leading journalists in South East and Central Europe and an affiliate of the International Press Institute (IPI).

The amendments are expected to be approved by the Bulgarian Parliament during the coming days. This change could seriously curtail investigative reporting on the process of privatization and company takeovers, SEEMO point out.

In mid-February the "Access to Information" NGO alarmed that Bulgaria's ruling Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB) party is planning to restrict public access to the business register.

The Parliamentary Legal Committee has introduced additional text providing for access to the register only for certain groups – lawyers, law enforcement officers, and the police.

All other Bulgarians will have access to very basic data from the register, but not to information pertaining to business and company cases, the Legal Committee's Deputy Chair, Todor Dimitrov, is quoted saying.

According to the new amendment, full access will be provided only to the Court, the investigation, personal data operators, lawyers, notaries public, law enforcement officers, legal advisors, and tax agents. Their access would also be monitored and there will be a log of who accessed what information and when, Dimitrov says.

The author of the proposal, the GERB Member of the Parliament, Emil Radev, explains the move will halt the more and more frequent cases of abuse of personal data.

According to the NGO, there is no proof that such abuses have increased after the introduction of the register in 2008.

Attorney Alexander Kashamov from "Access to Information" reminds data from the register has been used for journalists' investigative reports and points out the proposed amendments violate the Constitution where it is written that all Bulgarians have the right to seek, receive and distribute information.

SEEMO cite Kashamov explaining that here are two types of business databases in Bulgaria - one contains general company data and the second stores contracts, protocols, shareholders' decisions, etc. While the former will remain open to the public, the latter will be restricted if the amendment proposed by the ruling GERB party passes in Parliament.

"The amendment foresees that only legal practitioners will have access to the database of company cases. It is not clear, however, if other individuals, including journalists, will have any access," Kashamov told SEEMO.

SEEMO also quotes the proponents of the amendment arguement that the restricted access to companies' case data would be a safeguard against fraud. Currently, all companies in Bulgaria are required to re-register by 31 December 2011.

SEEMO recalls that unrestricted public access to company cases databases has been an essential journalistic tool in uncovering corruption and irregularities. SEEMO Secretary General Oliver Vujovic calls on the deputies to seriously consider if the current law should be changed.

"Restricted access to the Registry Agency's databases will seriously affect journalists' access to information of public interest," Vujovic says

The GERB MP from the Black Sea city of Varna, Emil Radev, is a former navy seal from the secret navy unit "Tihina." The unit is known as the place of military service for the bosses of the shady, controversial and very powerful Varna-based business group TIM.

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Tags: SEEMO, TIM, Todor Dimitrov, Parliamentary Legal Committee, Access to Information, amendments, investigative reports, NGO, registry, business, trade register, public access, restriction, Emil Radev, MP, GERB, Alexander Kashamov


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