Alleged Corruption Scandal Rattles Bulgaria's State Agriculture Fund

Domestic | March 31, 2011, Thursday // 12:34|  views

Bulgaria's Agriculture Minister Naydenov (right) presented the new head of the State Agriculture Fund Rumen Porozhanov (left). Photo by BGNES

The Bulgarian government has replaced the entire senior management of the State Agriculture Fund, the institution in charge of distributing EU agricultural funding.

The official motive of Agriculture Minister Miroslav Naydenov for the reshuffle is to improve the work on the EU rural development program but a corruption scandal is likely to be at its heart.

This is not the first time the Bulgarian State Agriculture Fund is rattled by scandals – in 2008, the European Commission froze Bulgaria's SAPARD program funding (the Fund acted as Bulgaria's SAPARD Executive Agency back then) over violations, and in 2010, the head of the Fund, Kalina Ilieva resigned after hiding her pregnancy, and was then revealed to have acquired the position with a forged diploma from a German university.

The current head of the State Agriculture Fund, who has been in charge since Kalina Ilieva was sacked 6 months ago, is now becoming Bulgaria's agriculture attache in Brussels – which, in the words of Agriculture Minister Miroslav Naydenov, can be considered a "promotion."

Rumen Porozhanov, who has been the head of the cabinet of Finance Minister Simeon Djankov, will be the new executive director of the Fund. The three new deputy directors are Svilen Kostov, current head of the Direct Payments department in the Fund; and Ivan Kapitanov, who is a director of a department at the Finance Ministry; and Svilen Kolev, another "career" civil servant in the Fund.

"We certainly need to start with a new team. I've tried to get the best from the Fund," Porozhanov commented after his appointment.

The real reason suspected to be behind the reshuffle is a letter of a senior official released Tuesday by the rightist opposition Union of Democratic Forces (UDF), which indicates corruption in the Fund and the Agriculture Ministry.

The letter alleged to be authored by Svetoslav Simeonov, the outgoing head of the Fund, from the time when he was a deputy director in 2010 – to his then superior Kalina Ilieva, in which Simeonov complains he had been receiving telephone calls and orders from the cabinet of Agriculture Minister Miroslav Naydenov to favor certain companies with respect to the allocation of EU subsidies.

On Wednesday, the UDF sent to the Prosecutor's Office Simeonov's alleged letter to Ilieva as well as older correspondence by Ilieva indicating her concerns that officials from the Fund might have been pressured. The prosecutors have confirmed that they are investigating the Fund for trading with influence.

The UDF has demanded the immediate resignation of Agriculture Minister Miroslav Naydenov, with UDF leader Martin Dimitrov describing the case as a "grandiose corruption scandal."

Naydenov and the outgoing Fund head Simeonov have denied all accusations; furthermore, they claimed that Simeonov's letter leaked by the UDF is fake, and showed that there was another document in registered in the State Agriculture Fund that had the same number as the alleged letter.

Announcing the reshuffle on Thursday, Agriculture Minister Naydenov also refuted speculations that the changes might have been caused by recent unrest among the Bulgarian grain producers.

Bulgaria's State Agriculture Fund is managed by a Governing Board of 11 members chaired by the Agriculture Ministry, while the operational management is carried out by an executive director. The Fund has a central office and 28 regional directorates.

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Tags: State Agriculture Fund, Svetoslav Simeonov, Kalina Ilieva, Miroslav Naydenov, Agriculture Minister, Agriculture Ministry, corruption, EU funds, Rural Development Program, UDF, Union of Democratic Forces, Martin Dimitrov, Rumen Porozhanov


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