Bulgaria’s deputy central bank governor resigns

SOFIA (Reuters) – Bulgaria’s deputy central bank governor in charge of banking supervision, Dimitar Kostov, will offer his resignation to parliament, the central bank said in a statement on Friday.

Kostov, 61, appointed to the post in July 2015, said intensive work at his department over the past years meant he wanted to step down in the middle of his mandate last year but delayed it due to Bulgaria’s plans to seek entry in the euro zone’s ERM-2 mechanism and the EU’s banking union.

“Today, when we have established very good communication with the European Central Bank … there is the possibility to withdraw,” the central bank quoted Kostov as saying.

Bulgaria hopes to join the banking union and the two-year obligatory waiting room for adopting the euro in July.


Bulgaria’s Chief Prosecutor Commented President’s Veto on Penal Code Changes

Bulgaria’s Chief Prosecutor Sotir Tsatsarov said that the amendments to the Penal Code, which President Rumen Radev vetoed, should be clarified. The most controversial of the changes is the so-called “secret arrest,” in which, at the discretion of the prosecutor, a detained person can get a ban to inform his relatives within 48 hours about the arrest, reports BNT.

Sotir Tsatsarov, Chief Prosecutor: The arrest is not a secret, and the failure to notify does not mean deprivation of rights of defence. The provision has to be refined and it needs to be refined in two directions. The first – it can not be said non-communication of a specific person. The law should exclude from the circle of persons for whom the notification to the family is forbidden or will be forbidden. Secondly, it is difficult to accept that this can be applied to all crimes.


Bulgarian miners protest to demand job security

SOFIA, Bulgaria — Hundreds of Bulgarian coal miners and energy workers are protesting to demand government guarantees that their jobs will be preserved amid bids by the European Union to close mines and tackle climate change.

Buses carried protesters from across Bulgaria for the march in downtown Sofia. Over 2,000 demonstrators chanted “victory” as they marched to the headquarters of the EU offices in Bulgaria and rallied there Thursday.

Bulgarian miners say the EU’s timeframe for closing down coal mining and coal extraction is too short and argue it should not come at the expense of the bloc’s poorest and most carbon-dependent regions.

Union leader Dimitar Manolov said 150,000 jobs are at risk should the biggest coal mines and energy plants in southeastern Bulgaria close down.


Bulgarian miners protest to demand job security

Bulgaria eyes stake in planned LNG terminal in Alexandroupoli

Sofia plans to take a minority stake in a liquified natural gas (LNG) terminal near Greece’s northern city of Alexandroupoli, Bulgarian Energy Minister Temenouzhka Petkova has said, according to reports.

In comments made earlier this week, Petkova reportedly said that LNG offers Bulgaria an opportunity for further diversification of natural gas supplies, on top of the one billion cubic metres of gas from Azerbaijan, for which the Balkan state signed a contract several years ago.

“When we talk about the Greece-Bulgaria [gas] inter-connector, we must note the importance of another opportunity for diversification of gas deliveries and that is our participation in the Alexandroupoli terminal,” Petkova was quoted by the Independent Balkan News Agency (IBNA) as saying.

“It is a project of extreme importance to the entire region. It is in full synergy with the Greece-Bulgaria inter-connector and that is why the Bulgarian government discussed the prospect and took the decision to participate in this project as a shareholder, so that we have the opportunity for gas deliveries from various LNG sources, including the US, Qatar and Algeria,” she said, according to the report.



Bulgarian government appoints new deputy PM after protests

SOFIA (Reuters) – Bulgaria appointed a deputy prime minister on Wednesday to replace Valeri Simeonov who resigned after weeks of street protests over remarks he made about disabled rights activists.

In a 116-62 vote, parliament backed Mariana Nikolova to replace Simeonov, one of the leaders of the United Patriots, an alliance of nationalist parties that together form the junior coalition partner in the 18-month-old government.

The opposition Socialists and ethnic Turkish MRF party voted against the appointment and called for an early election amid sporadic street protests over corruption, high fuel prices and low living standards in the European Union’s poorest country.

“We do have a four-year governing program,” and plan to raise spending on education and salaries, deputy leader of the ruling GERB party Tsetan Tsetanov told parliament


Support for Prime Minister Boyko Borissov’s government has waned. The centre-right GERB party’s lead over its main rivals, the Socialists, has narrowed to 1.3 percentage points, a public opinion survey by Trend pollster showed.

The average monthly salary in Bulgaria has increased by about 7 percent to 570 euros since Borissov’s cabinet took office in May 2017, but remains among the lowest in the EU.

Nikolova’s appointment was not backed by one of the three parties that make up United Patriots, highlighting tensions within the alliance that ensures Borissov’s parliamentary majority.

Simeonov had apologized after referring to rights activists as “shrill women” and suggesting they were “speculating” about their children’s health.


Bulgaria’s deputy PM Valeri Simeonov quits after calling disabled rights activists “shrill women”

Bulgaria’s deputy prime minister has quit after controversial remarks about disabled rights activists sparked protests.

Valeri Simeonov (pictured above, left) said they were “shrill women” who “speculated with their supposedly ill children … to achieve their purely materialistic goals”.

Simeonov, the leader of an alliance that is a junior coalition partner in Bulgaria’s centre-right government, resigned on Friday.

“I am handing in my resignation following the continued media campaign against me,” Simeonov said late on Friday.

“This campaign is damaging the government’s rating and authority and is becoming an obstacle to its normal work. This is something I cannot afford.

“It is not just about me, it is not about the party I lead, it is about the ruling government, which I think is extremely successful.”

Boyko Borissov, Bulgaria’s prime minister, accepted Simeonov’s resignation, the government press office said.

Simeonov’s party is expected to continue to support the government, reports Reuters.

The opposition socialists and the ethnic Turkish MRF party had also demanded Simeonov’s resignation and boycotted sessions in parliament.

Simeonov made in an interview in October as activists held protests calling for a better welfare system for disabled people.

Bulgaria, the poorest member state in the European Union, faces more protests this weekend over higher fuel prices and tax increases for older, more polluting cars, though political analysts say they are unlikely to unseat Borissov’s government.



Bulgarian President Sees Democracy ‘Under Threat’

Bulgarian President Rumen Radev issued a stinging critique of the government’s record on corruption and press freedom Friday, saying “the foundations of democracy are being threatened to a critical degree”, reported AFP.

In a televised speech, Radev said the freedom of speech won by Bulgarians after they toppled communist dictator Todor Zhivkov was now “only a memory”.

Radev used the speech, given to mark the eve of the 29th anniversary of the fall of communism, to mount a scathing attack on the right-wing government led by Boyko Borisov.

Radev has been a thorn in the side of Borisov since he was elected in November 2016 with the backing of the opposition Socialist Party (BSP).

Although the presidency is a largely ceremonial role, according to the constitution it is meant to “embody the unity of the nation”.

Radev said that “lobbying and corruption have permeated the entire system of government and have made it arrogant.

“Corruption and the arbitrary exercise of power will endure… as long as society remains indifferent,” he added.

Radev also had harsh words for the press in his speech, arguing they had abandoned their role as a check on power.

“Professional standards in the media have collapsed, and so has citizens’ trust in the information they receive,” he said.

Bulgaria languishes in 111th place in the latest World Press Freedom Index compiled by journalism watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the worst score in the EU.

An RSF report last year described Bulgaria’s press industry as mired in “corruption and collusion between media, politicians and oligarchs”.

Radev’s intervention comes just days before the European Commission is due to publish an annual report assessing the efforts of the Bulgarian justice system to fight corruption.

Bulgaria, along with neighbour Romania, is subject to special judicial monitoring by Brussels, which has demanded tougher action on both organised crime and corruption among high-ranking officials.

In recent weeks, prosecutors have begun proceedings against several businessman for fraud and money laundering.

They have also asked for the parliamentary immunity of six MPs — one of them from Borisov’s GERB party — to be lifted as part of an investigation into alleged tax fraud and racketeering.

Analysts say that prosecutors are keen to prove to European authorities that they are capable of cracking down on such offences.



Bulgaria Prosecution Suspects Six MPs of Corruption

Prosecutors want immunity lifted so they can grill three MPs from the Volya business party for extortion, two Socialists for alleged money laundering and mismanagement of public funds – and one GERB MP for dodging taxes.

Bulgaria’s Prosecutor General, Sotir Tsatsarov, on Thursday said that he had asked the country’s parliament to drop the immunity of five opposition MPs and one ruling party deputy to probe them over corruption allegations.

Three are members of the populist opposition Volya party, led by pharma and fuel retail owner Veselin Mareshki, two are MPs from the main opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party, and one is a ruling GERB deputy.

The three Volya MPs, including party leader Mareshki, are suspected of extorting from other pharmacy owners.

“The indictment concerns Veselin Mareshki in his role as a CEO and co-owner of Pharmanet LTD and Plamen Hristov and Krastina Taskova as regional managers, who threatened pharmacy owners with damaging their property unless they buy medicine and pharmaceutical products only from Pharmanet LTD for uncompetitive prices,” the indictment reads.

Mareshki disputed the claims. “They investigated us for extortion for an entire year and they didn’t find anything. Now they have decided that the extortion was for an entirely different reason,” he said.

He added that he and the other two Volya MPs are considering dropping their immunity voluntarily.

The two Socialist MPs concerned are ex-journalist Elena Doncheva, one of the most outspoken critics of the ruling GERB party and its leader, Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, and Georgi Mihaylov, former director of the National Hematology Hospital.

The party immediately announced that both of them would renouncde their immunity. Party leader Kornelia Ninova said they would not be forced out of the parliamentary group of the Socialist Party, BSP, until proven guilty in court.

Yoncheva is sought for allegedly laundering money from the bankrupt Corpbank through an offshore company and her own TV production company under a scheme that started in 2012.

Mihalylov is accused of mismanaging public funds during his tenure as head of the Hematology Hospital between 2015 and 2017.

According to the Prosecution, the hospital owes its subcontractors a hefty 12 million euros due to him signing unfavourable public procurement contracts during his time in office.

GERB MP Boris Karchev faces charges of tax evasion, for allegedly not paying 160,000 euros in tax as director of the internet provider BBC Cable back in 2015.

He also told reporters on Thursday that he will also renounce his parliamentary immunity.


Bulgaria smashes ‘fake passport scam’

Prosecutors in Bulgaria say they have smashed a passport scam which saw thousands fraudulently acquire Bulgarian citizenship – and with it, the right to travel and work throughout the European Union.

More than 20 people have been arrested, including officials.

Applicants are said to have paid up to $5,690 (£4,445) for fake certificates of Bulgarian origin.

Police have raided the offices of the State Agency for Bulgarians Abroad.

Staff at the agency were allegedly involved in selling fake certificates to buyers in nearby non-EU countries.

Many of the false applications are believed to have come from states with sizeable ethnic Bulgarian minorities, including Moldova, Macedonia and the Ukraine.

Some reports suggest the agency was issuing about 30 dubious certificates a week.

Prosecutors say they are investigating the agency’s work on counts including bribe-taking, forgery and abuse of office.


Bulgarian President, high courts name three new Constitutional Court judges

The joint assembly of Bulgaria’s two high courts elected two new Constitutional Court judges on October 26, followed several hours later by President Roumen Radev making his own appointment to fill one of the four vacancies that will open next month.

Pavlina Panova, deputy head of the Supreme Court of Cassation (SCC), and Nadezhda Djelepova, deputy head of the Supreme Administrative Court (SAC), were elected after two rounds of voting, from among 10 candidates, by the 169 judges in the two courts.

As is traditional, the high court judges kept to the informal arrangement that both the SCC and the SAC are equally represented on the Constitutional Court.

Panova, who started her career as a prosecutor and became a judge in 1994, is head of SCC’s penal college and one of Bulgaria’s ad hoc judges at the European Court of Human Rights. Djelepova’s 34-year career in the judiciary includes 17 years in the SAC, where she is now head of the department that handles property registry, construction permit, excise and customs cases.

Later in the day, the presidency announced Atanas Semov, a member of Radev’s legal advisory council, as the nominee for the fourth and final spot on the Constitutional Court.

Semov, a former deputy speaker of Parliament and one-time presidential candidate, had the requisite 20 years legal experience and was “a recognised authority” in Bulgaria and abroad, the presidency said in a statement.

Semov was Bulgaria’s nominee for a EU Court of Justice advocate-general position in 2015, but was withdrawn after a negative appraisal by a consultative committee, which cited his insufficient legal experience at the highest level, according to reports at the time.

He had been previously nominated for the Constitutional Court from the parliamentary quota in 2012, but did not win enough support.

Panova, Djelepova and Semov will be joined by Krassimir Vlahov, the former deputy head of the SCC, who was elected earlier this month by Parliament, in taking their seats on the Constitutional Court.

Bulgaria’s Constitutional Court has 12 sitting judges, appointed for nine-year terms, without an option for a second one. They are appointed by all three branches of government – four by Parliament, four by the president and four by the joint assembly of the judges in the Supreme Court of Cassation and the Supreme Administrative Court.

Every three years, four judges are replaced – this year, this includes one judge appointed by Parliament (Tsanka Tsankova), two elected by their fellow judges (Roumen Nenkov and Stefka Stoeva) and one appointed by the president (Keti Markova). The terms of the four sitting judges expire on November 12.



Bulgaria seizes fake banknotes in biggest raid for a decade

A Bulgarian special forces unit stormed the basement of a hotel in the Black Sea resort of Sunny Beach, the country’s interior ministry said on Monday.

Officers from the unit, which targets organized crime, seized 100-euro and 500-euro notes, as well as 50 US dollar bills. The notes were found at the print shop and other hiding places. Some 30 sites were raided across the country.

The fake cash was said to be had a face value of €11.5 million and $2 million. Some notes were said to be stockpiled and ready for distribution.

Deputy chief prosecutor Ivan Geshev said that the printing operation was the “biggest illegal workshop dismantled in the past 11 years.”

Prosecutors said the print shop had a sophisticated press that was making very high quality bills, with watermarks and security threads. The notes were to be handed over to Interpol for analysis.