Bulgarian Politicians: Don't Ask, Don't Tell - a Report from the Countryside

Special Report |Author: Maria Guineva | September 16, 2011, Friday // 01:31|  views

A pre-election scandal broke one week ago, triggered by stunning confessions, shared for the media by Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister, Tsvetan Tsvetanov, head of the ruling Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria, GERB, party election headquarters.

The events, following the Minister's revelations, unfolded with the speed of light. The end of this latest Bulgarian political saga remains unknown, but if one is to make an estimated guess – it would, probably, slowly subside without the public ever learning the full truth behind it.

Eyewitness Account: Tsvetan Tsvetanov

One Day 1, in the scorching September heat, the relatively modest hotel Imperial in Bulgaria's second largest city of Plovdiv, is anticipating Tsvetanov's arrival. The Minister is scheduled to speak before journalists about violations in the election process as part of the agenda of the seminar "Elections 2011 – Mobilizing Institutions and Citizens for Honest and Free Election Process," organized by the NGO Institute for Public Environment Development and the America for Bulgaria Foundation.

The anticipation evolves way beyond the hotel staff – the yard and the building are swarming with police in uniforms, GERB Members of the Parliament, GERB municipal councilors from Plovdiv – all sweating in black, formal attires.

The seminar is put on hold until the arrival of the Deputy PM, who is running late. His appearance is, of course, preceded by the one of a number of employees of the National Security Services, NSO, who, instead of checking the premises, sit down to drink coffee and smoke cigarettes. NSO, however, are another story...

Tsvetanov finally arrives and proceeds with his briefing, raising eyebrows with a number of messages, revolving around "vote buying is bad, NGOs and media must cooperate with the police, monitor the election process, especially in Roma districts, and report any noticed violations to the Interior."

"We need the civil position of every one of our citizens," he says.

The statement is followed by the tale that dragged GERB's presidential candidate and top contender for the office, ex Regional Minister, Rosen Plevneliev, in the scandal revolving around his refusal to report a municipal extortion scam, which took place 5 years ago.

Answering a journalist's question if it was true Plevneliev refused to accept a bribe, Tsvetanov says he wanted to tell a story that would portray the presidential hopeful as an honest businessman, who would never accept a bribe or participate in smear campaigns.

The Minister explains that he first met Plevneliev in 2007, through an acquaintance who introduced the two. At that time, Plevneliev told him that three municipal councilmen from the City Hall, known as the "municipal brokers," asked him for a bribe of EUR 500 000 to secure his ownership of a small land plot in the Sofia Business Park, one of the top projects of the GERB presidential nomination as a businessman, before entering politics.

The plot was property of the City Hall and Plevneliev needed it to finalize the project.

Tsvetanov further informs that after learning about the case he advised the now-presidential hopeful to report it to the police, but the latter declined on the grounds "he did not want to participate in such mechanisms."

When asked by a reporter why, after all, this information had never reached the authorities and the prosecutor's office, the Interior Minister makes a U-turn and says that this had not been a case of true corruption, but rather "a proposal for corruption."

Media representatives continue to press him that this had been graft, prompting him to declare that such crimes are very difficult to prove since it would be the word of three people against one.

Day 2 is uneventful – Tsvetanov is seeing having a quiet breakfast, reading a newspaper. Day 3 is dull as well.

The Opposition Socialists

On Day 4, the opposition jumped on the band wagon with the municipal councilman from the Bulgarian Socialist Party, BSP, and Socialist candidate to run for Mayor of Sofia in the upcoming October 23 elections, Georgi Kadiev, confirming that Plevneliev has been blackmailed in 2007 and in 2008 had asked the City Hall to help in resolving the problem.

At first, Kadiev declined disclosing the names of the "three brokers." He stressed that the now-Mayor of Sofia, Yordanka Fandakova, and the Chair of the Municipal Council, Andrey Ivanov, were very well aware of the case, adding the Prosecutor's Office must be notified.

The name of another BSP functionary, MP Petar Korumbashev, was also tangled in the scandal – he announced that Plevneliev had called him at the time, asking for assistance over pressure exerted on him regarding municipal property in the Business Park. The MP explained that at the end of November 2008, he went to Andrey Ivanov, who reacted in the right way and the deal concluded favorably for Plevneliev.

"I did it because I wanted to halt corruption practices at the City Hall. I know Rosen Plevneliev for a long time, before Tsvetanov and Prime Minister, Boyko Borisov, knew him. There is nothing strange in the fact he called me. He was obviously pressured and nervous. He wanted to finalize the case without stirring a scandal. GERB must say if someone from the "three brokers" is now a councilor on their ticket. Borisov also must speak up - he knows who they are and he knows about the whole case," Korumbashev said.

Unlike Kadiev, Korumbashev failed to fulfill threats he will disclose the names of the three perpetrators, saying Tsvetanov should do it. Kadiev, however, did.

Rosen Plevneliev

On Day 5, Plevneliev broke his silence and called a 7-minute press conference where reporters were not allowed to ask questions. He firmly denied ever been blackmailed in one of his projects as private businessman, before entering politics.

Plevneliev's press conference statement came in full contradiction with Tsvetanov's story.

He pointed out the Business Park case had reached a favorable conclusion only thanks to the strong will of Prime Minister, Boyko Borisov, in his capacity as Mayor of Sofia at the time, and to the municipal councilmen, who supported the latter's decision.

"I never met any "brokers" – not one, not two, not three. No one had asked me personally for a bribe. You all know very well how a bribe is asked for – never directly, but rather through some hushed hints. And I have never given a bribe," Plevneliev said.

When asked if with the above he admits Tsvetanov is a liar, he replied: "I have not said any such thing."

How Plevneliev described the Business Park case read HERE.

Meanwhile, GERB distributed an interview which Plevneliev gave in 2007 where he tells how he received hints he needed to offer a bribe.

In the interview, titled "We Live in Sin City," the businessman labels the municipal company "Sofiyski Imoti" (Sofia Properties) "the emanation of evil" in the capital.

"This is the only transparent deal and is to entirely benefit the City Hall and maybe precisely because of the above, it cannot be finalized," he said at the time.

Another investigative report, titled "How to Twist the Arms of a Foreign Investor," tells how a company became trapped by the City Hall. In it, an adamant-he-would-not-pay-a-bribe Plevneliev is quoted saying that they were a German public company, which cannot "slate money for such goals."

"If our management system was such, we would by now have purchased all lobbies at the City Hall and forgotten about the problem, instead of being delayed by years. No one has come to me directly to ask me for money, but different people started dropping by with proposals to "help." And since I left these hints unanswered and never went to the meetings they requested – here is the result – there is no deal. They say: "There is a way to find a solution; you must meet the right people..." No one has asked for a precise amount of money, but I am not the person to enter such game – because, once you start on this path, there is no way back. I know that if someone tells you – come to a meeting; your interests will be protected – it is over. Going to a meeting is an invitation to dance that one had already accepted," the then businessman stated.

GERB's Leadership Strikes Back

On Day 6, after BSP launched the attacks and demanded once again his resignation, Tsvetanov tried to hush the scandal by saying Plevneliev at the time had no one to complain to since the Interior Ministry was headed by the Socialists and no one expected them to do anything. Tsvetanov further declared he firmly supports Plevneliev's presidential nomination.

"I am the person who wants Plevneliev's victory the most. He is an honest man, who was never part of a corruption scam, a self-made and successful businessman, despite all obstacles. He is a professional and represented European business in Bulgaria," stated Tsvetanov, who initially was among the names rumored as GERB's potential candidates.

On Day 7, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, finally broke his silence as well and stepped in to defend Plevneliev.

In two Thursday morning phone interviews for Nova TV and bTV, an obviously irritated Borisov steered away from giving any concrete details on the case, and went on to list all the other cases he had sent to the prosecutor's office when he was Mayor of Sofia and all good deeds – construction, repairs etc., he had done for the city then.

"The facts speak for themselves – when I was elected Mayor, a deal, postponed for 7 years, finally was sealed. Those who knew and kept quiet are those who sold even Sofia's parks. These same people, the red-blue ones, are now attempting to benefit from Plevneliev's good nature, to play their political games," Borisov said in the phone interviews.

When asked whether Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov had made a blunder by announcing in public that GERB's presidential runner had faced a blackmail attempt, Borisov said that "when somebody takes part in a seminar and speaks for several hours, their words can always get patched together so as to stir up a scandal." He pointed out Tsvetanov's speech was listened to and reported by local, "countryside" journalists.

Both the PM and his Deputy, accused BSP municipal councilors in failing to initiate a probe in this and other blackmail cases at municipal companies and of leading smearing campaigns instead of true debates. Both firmly denied current municipal councilors from the GERB ticket were among the "three brokers."

Out of the blue, the PM launched an attack on bTV, saying they were critical to him over his open conflict with popular bTV late night show host, Slavi Trifonov. (The war of words between Borisov and Trifonov has carried on for years now. Trifonov says his friendship with Borisov ended when the latter became a big time politician.)

More on Borisov's interview read HERE.

The Alleged Culprits

One Day 7, Yane Yanev, leader of the marginal conservative Bulgarian Law, Order and Justice party, claimed he had information about the alleged 2007 extortion case. He announced the names of the three brokers as Orlin Ivanov, Radoslav Toshev and Danail Kirilov.

One Day 8, Kadiev fulfilled his threat to also disclose the names and confirmed the three were Ivanov, Toshev and Kirilov.

Radoslav Toshev, son of the former editor-in-chief of one of the largest circulating Bulgarian newspapers, the "Trud" (Labor) daily, Tosho Toshev, first became councilman on the ticket of the right-wing coalition of three small parties and later became a GERB councilman, currently chairing the Transport, Infrastructure, and Traffic Safety Committee, and member of the Committees on Finances and Budget and on Economic Policy and Municipal Property.

Orlin Ivanov first became municipal councilman on the ticket of the party of former Mayor, Stefan Sofiyanski - Union of Free Democrats. He later left the party and proclaimed himself independent, but supporting then Mayor Borisov. After the local elections in 2007, he entered the City Hall on the GERB ticket and currently chairs the Committee on Urban Planning and Housing Policy; he is also is a member of the Committee on Economic Policy and Municipal Property.

Danail Kirilov has two terms in office with the Municipal Council – first on the BSP ticket, but he left the party to join GERB, and served the second term as GERB councilor - he was Chair of the Committee on Economic Policy and Municipal Property. He is currently the Regional Governor of the Sofia City Region.

Toshev and Ivanov adamantly deny any involvement in the blackmail case and threaten law suits while Kirilov is yet to make comments.

The Whistle-Blowers

In addition to the "countryside" media, including journalists from the State-owned Bulgarian National Television, BNT, and Bulgarian National Radio, BNR, and a number of other major Sofia-based media outlets, who on Day 1 immediately reported Tsvetanov's revelations, on Day 4, the site for investigative journalism, bivol.bg, reported that one of its editors, Atanas Tchobanov, and Petar Penchev, both members of the Association for Free Speech Anna Politkoskaya, have sent a letter to Chief Prosecutor, Boris Velchev, notifying him about the blackmail and Tsvetanov's and Plevneliev's failure to report it, along with the Penal Code texts that are the base of their claim.

A copy of the letter was also sent to the Speaker of the European Parliament, Jerzy Buzek, asking the EP to closely monitor this "public and open violation of the law by the highest-ranking circles of Bulgaria's political oligarchy."

On Day 7, Velchev, confirmed he had received a claim regarding the blackmail case. He told the media that he was expecting similar alerts to inundate his office with the approaching elections, some of them simply slander, but promised that all will be probed according to the rules and the law.

The Law

The Interior Minister's revelations turned into a scandal because they raised questions as to why neither he nor Plevneliev reported the case to the authorities since the law requires them to do so.

Here is what is written in Bulgaria's Penal Code, Section Bribes

Article 301 – An official, who asks or accepts a gift or any other profit, which is not owed to them, or accepts a proposal or a promise for a gift or profit to perform or to not perform a job duty or for having performed or not such job duty, is punished on bribe charges with up to six years of jail time and a fine of up to BGN 5 000.

Article 205 – When citizens learn about a committed common crime they have the public duty to immediately notify the authorities – the prosecutor's office, the investigation or any other State body.

Article 294 – Anyone who assists an individual, who has committed a crime, to avoid or to foil a criminal prosecution of the said individual, without previously agreeing with this individual before they had committed the crime, is punished on charges of personal harboring by up to five years of jail time, but never with a sentence more grave than the one provided for harboring.

From the Author

From all written above, it is obvious many knew that a corruption crime has taken place – such cases, are indeed very hard to prove, but the authorities must at least execute a thorough investigation.

Regarding Borisov's and Tsvetanov's claims the latter's words were "patched together so as to stir up a scandal" and taken "out of the context," as one of the "countryside" journalists, who was present in person at the seminar, I listened carefully to every single word of the Interior Minister – none has been taken out of context or patched together.

The video of Tsvetanov' speaking in Plovdiv has been on You Tube for days now and it is one hundred percent authentic.

Meanwhile, bivol.bg published a pun report that the Prosecutor's Office has informed the recording with the Minister's revelations had been already analyzed by experts, who concluded it was manipulated by at least three technical devices – a microphone, a camera and a reproducing device. The joke was aimed at the now-dead wiretap scandal where no one said anything about the content been tempered with.

One of the major issues of the entire saga and a question many have asked since then is: is Tsvetanov simply that stupid or did he purposely make the admissions with the goal to harm Plevneliev's campaign for a post he coveted, but was not given the opportunity to take a shot at over his previous blunders.

Again, as an eyewitness, I would say it was the first, but unlike what I heard him tell, I cannot be completely certain – one never knows what moves our Interior Minister. Both theories don't make him look too good anyway...

As far as Plevneliev – he is between a rock and hard place – the candidate for president, who never wanted to be one, is learning in the most difficult way that politics in Bulgaria are even a more dirty game than doing business. Having in mind how Bulgaria's law enforcement and justice system work, his reluctance to report the blackmail is understandable. Unfortunately, his name of a person who never, in any way, participated in corruption scams, who endured so much and still succeeded, is now embedded with words such as "bribe" and "blackmail."

It is also very sad that with a month left until Election Day, Bulgarians are yet to hear any candidate talk about their program and what they will do for the country; there are no public debates, no platforms. We have, instead, a bunch of hopping mad clowns, waiving what they label compromising documentation and information, but refusing, even there, to tell us the whole truth.

All we know in this latest political drama with Bulgarian aftertaste is that for at least five years, Plevneliev knew, Tsvetanov knew, Borisov knew, the Socialists knew, the entire City Hall seems to have known what was going on with lucrative municipal properties behind the scenes and under the table, but no one told - no probes, no sanctions.

So much for GERB's 2009 general election promises to eradicate corruption once they take over.

Or as Plevneliev, himself, summed it in a sentence that went almost unnoticed in the raging storm: "You all know very well how a bribe is asked for..."

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Tags: Elections 2011 – Mobilizing Institutions and Citizens for Honest and Free Election Process, America for Bulgaria Foundation, Institute for Public Environment Development, Tsvetan Tsvetanov, Interior Minister, land plot, business park, businessman, extortion scam, municipal, Rosen Plevneliev, Regional Minister, presidential candidate, GERB, Yane Yanev, Plovdiv, councelor, Municipal Council, blackmail, bribe, interior ministry, Bulgarian Socialist Party, Georgi Kadiev, Tsvetan Tsvetanov, Boyko Borisov, GERB, Rosen Plevneliev, Petar Korumbashev, Bulgarian Socialist Party, municipal brokers, bribe, Georgi Kadiev, Rosen Plevneliev, GERB, Boris Velchev, BSP


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