The company “TRANSLAT” JSC, which is involved in enormous scandals, is a preferred landlord of the Sofia Administrative Court. The Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) pays a rent for the property that is almost double the market price. The company has acquired the lucrative building on 7, “Saborna” street in downtown Sofia in a questionable way and is connected with people close to Prime Minister Borisov, an investigation by Bivol has established.

The judiciary are wasting their budget

The previous SJC decided to continue to lease for the needs of the judiciary the six floors of the building on 7, “Saborna” street in Sofia, owned by “TRANSLAT” JSC. It houses the Sofia Administrative Court, magistrates from the Sofia City and the Sofia Region Prosecutor’s Offices and several Directorates of the SJC.

The building is in the heart of Sofia

The building was leased for the first time for the needs of the judiciary 12 years ago. Miglena Tacheva, then Justice Minister, signed a contract with “TRANSLAT” on October 15, 2007. She committed to having her Ministry pay EUR 16 per square meter in the next two years. According to statistics, at that time the average rental price in the neighborhood has been EUR 11.38. This definitely does not make the contract profitable for the State. Over the years, there have been six annexes, according to the records of the Justice Ministry.

With the changes to the Judiciary Act in April 2016, the SJC Plenum began to dispose the property of the courts and the prosecutor’s office. At the expiry of the 2007 contract, it had to decide whether to continue to rent the building in question. By protocol No. 14 of March 6, 2017, the SJC’s Property Management Committee proposed to the Plenum to authorize Dimitar Uzunov as its representative to sign another contract with “TRANSLAT” JSC. This is contract No. 4637 from March 30 of the same year with which the building was rented until 2020.

The price was kept at EUR 32,394.20 per month, without VAT. With VAT the amount increases to over BGN 76,000 per month. Thus, the company receives over BGN 900,000 per year to accommodate in its building the eight judicial panels of the Sofia Region Administrative Court (SRAC) and a few prosecutors. For each of the 91 magistrate job positions, the rent exceeds BGN 10,000 per year.

Back in 2015, before the conclusion of the agreement between the SJC and “TRANSLAT” JSC, at the initiative of former Justice Minister Hristo Ivanov, the former President of the Sofia District Court (SDC) Metodi Lalov committed to finding a place for the eight SRAC panels. Ivanov’s team deemed disadvantageous, to put it mildly, the contract for the building on “Saborna” street, and mulled ending it. Judge Lalov replied to an official inquiry by the Justice Ministry that the building on 54 “Tsar Boris III” boulevard (the building which is used by the business and civil divisions of the court) had free space that could accommodate magistrates and the administration of SRAC – a total of 37 job positions.

The judge stressed that accepting 12 job positions from the Sofia City Prosecutor’s Office and the 42 from the Sofia Region Prosecutor’s Office – a total of 54 positions, which were also housed on 7 “Saborna” street, will lead to “significant difficulties in the functioning of the SDC”. However, they could be easily accommodated in the court building on 2 “Patriarch Evtimiy” boulevard, where at that time only the court archives were kept.

Despite the available space and the possibility to house the three judicial units, at least temporarily, in other buildings, the SJC decided otherwise – to pay the more than BGN 10,000 per year per magistrate for 7 “Saborna” street. Undeniably, this fact proves once again that, in addition to being slow and ineffective, justice in Bulgaria is also way too costly!

Aside from an example of mismanagement, lawyers from the Anti-Corruption Fund have found in this lease serious indications of corruption. At the end of last year, they sent an inquiry to the SJC under the Access to Public Information Act (APIA). The SJC, the so-called “government of the judiciary”, answered too formally. The experts of the Fund, without much success, tried to understand by what procedure the building has been chosen to be rented. In addition, it remains unknown whether there have been alternative offers for other properties, who has made the proposal to choose the said building and who has decided to rent it. The reply only noted that there was a project for the renovation of the building on 6 “Dragan Tsankov” boulevard (the former District Court building).

The SJC did not dispute that, according to the portal imoti.net, the average rental price for a square meter in the area of 7 “Saborna” street is EUR 7,89 per square meter, while they are paying EUR 13,50 to “TRANSLAT” JSC.

The SJC grounded its decision on the lack of another building that meets the needs of the court and the prosecutor’s office. However, this is a very controversial argument because there are no clear building selection criteria. Again, according to data provided by the SJC, the rental space on “Saborna” street is 2,399 square meters or over 26 meters per magistrate or any other officer of the court. Even when taking into account the fact that the building also houses several courtrooms, the use of space is still extremely inefficient. The lack of available parking spaces in the area makes the location even worse for the occupants. Any objective analysis would lead to the conclusion that the building is far from fit to accommodate the SRAC. The SJC, however, has missed all these arguments.

From “Saborna” to “The King’s Stables”

Who is behind “TRANSLAT” JSC? Perhaps the answer to this question is more than a satisfactory explanation for the decision of the SJC to continue to lease its property. The company is 80% owned by Yanko Dimitrov Ivanov. “VRATSA COMMERCE” owns 20%. Ivanov gained popularity in the last two – three years. Prior to January 2005, he was Chairman of the Board of Directors of the collapsed Corporate Commercial Bank (CCB). Through a number of his own companies, he has managed to develop a profitable business, often accompanied by disturbing circumstances.

In 2016, his name made the headlines with the acquisition of yet another plot in the lucrative Sofia property known as “The King’s Stables.” The eight decares in downtown Sofia have attracted the interest of many entrepreneurs over the years. Ivanov, however, was the one who managed to get them and at a negligible price.

And a partner of Borisov

The building on 7 “Saborna” street has stirred a number of scandals, both in the past and today. Until 2005, it was part of the assets of “BULGARPLODEXPORT”. Its sale took place days before the end of the government of former King and then-Prime Minister Simeon Saxe-Coburg. It was bought by “ALINEX”. The tax assessment of the building was over BGN 1,883,000. “BULGARPLODEXPORT” sold it for BGN 1,100,000. Hristo Mihaylov Mihaylov has signed as the seller and Alipi Petrov Alipiev has signed for “ALINEX”.

The building seen from the square in front of the Presidency

Experts say that at the time the market value of the building was about EUR 5 million or ten times higher than what it was sold for. According to a publication in Dnevnik daily, due to the unrealistic appraisal of the building, the Privatization Agency had withdrawn the license of the three appraisers. Since 2008, when “BULGARPLODEXPORT” was sold at auction, there is a still ongoing investigation into the sale of the building. The publication refers to sources claiming that the property deal has taken place with the consent of the Ministry of Economy.

The name of the buyer – Alipi Petrov Alipiev – emerged in the “Swiss Report” by American journalist Jeff Stein on the criminal past of Boyko Borisov. The same Borisov, who is today Prime Minister of the Republic of Bulgaria. There, he is described as:

– Alipi ALIPIEV, Manager of PRAHAIM OOD, Cherven Bryag. Former secret service officer. Reportedly, he had an affair with Tsvetelina BORISLAVOVA (also a former live-in girlfriend of Borisov – editor’s note). He was invited by BORISLAVOVA into the management of CIBANK, but left in September 2002. He stated that he resigned because Tsvetelina BORISLAVOVA pressed him to authorize an unsecured loan facility to a private company (presumably a related party to BORISLAVOVA).

Actually, this is not the “Prahaim” which was incorporated by Boyko Borisov and partners in 1997 in the town of Cherven Bryag, but “Praihim” with partners “Prime Investment Trust” and Borislavova. According to a 1996 publication in Capital, “Prime Investment Trust” was a holding company that controlled TSBank.

Alipi Petrov Alipiev had indeed been connected with CIBANK when it was managed by Tsvetelina Borislavova. A publication in Banker from 2002 reported that the supervisory board of CIBANK had sent to the central bank a request to issue certificates to Stanislav Ivanov Derlipanski, Alipi Petrov Alipiev Anton Nikolaev Andonov and Vasil Stefanov Simov for board members of the credit institution. They had been invited by the new Chair of the Supervisory Board Tsvetelina Borislavova. Alipiev had been presented as a former employee of TSBank. After leaving the bank, he has held a number of positions such as financial director of “Himko” Vratsa and has been employed by Corporate Commercial Bank and the Ministry of Finance. He has also participated in the business structures around “SIESAYEF” associated with Borislavova. He has been vetted three times by the so-called Files Commission in charge of investigating the Communist-era secret services but has not been found to have been an agent of these services.

After acquiring the building on 7 “Saborna” street, Alipiev contributed it to “TRANSLAT” JSC. The company “ALINEX” became “APA TRADING” and its address of registration moved from “Tsarigradsko shosse” boulevard in Sofia to the northwestern city of Vratsa on 1 “Shipka” street. At the end of 2006 the company ceased its activity.

Asked for comment by Bivol, Yanko Ivanov explained that he had never been a partner with Alipiev, however, by contributing the building, Alipiev had covered all his obligations to him.

In addition to Yanko Ivanov and “ALINEX”/“APA TRADING”, the Sofia-based company “TRANSCOMPLEKT” was also a shareholder in “TRANSLAT” JSC. Today it is called “VRATSA COMMERCE” and is based in Vratsa. In the latter company, Yanko Ivanov participated through third companies.

The participation of “VRATSA COMMERCE” in the consortium “VELGRAF-GROUP”, which was managed by Bogdan Ugarchinski is noteworthy. In it, the Vratsa company has partnered with “Vodstroy 98”, “Hidrostroy” and other companies close to the power circles in Bulgaria and associated with the controversial businessman, media tycoon and lawmaker Delyan Peevski.

After 2007, “IN GROUP” also appears as a shareholder in “TRANSLAT” JSC – this is a company managed again by Ivanov. Both companies are registered at the same address in Sofia – 35 “Dragan Tsankov” boulevard. The law firm of Stoyan Statev Stoyanov is also listed at this address. He is also present on the board of the two companies, as well as that of “MEDICAL TECHNOLOGY” JSC.

Until 2010, Stoyan Statev Stoyanov was a lawyer in the Sliven Bar Association. He is believed to have been one of the founders of “MEL INVEST HOLDING”. The “Sliven Connection” must be something significant as prior to becoming Mayor of the city of Sliven, Stefan Nikolov Radev has also participated in the boards of “IN GROUP” and “MEDICAL TECHNOLOGY”.

“MEL INVEST HOLDING” proved to be a breeding ground for senior functionaries of Borisov’s ruling party Citizen’s for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB). After Desislava Taneva, who was Agriculture Minister during the first term of the Borisov cabinet, Georgi Cholakov also rose to fame. Today, he is the President of the Supreme Administrative Court. He has been a lawyer in Sliven between 1995 and 2007 and legal counsel for the Holding. The Sliven group is joined by Stephan Radev. The former accountant became Mayor of Sliven. Before leaving the companies’ boards, he has been connected with Stoyan Stoyanov and Yanko Ivanov in several companies, including in “EUROTRANSBUILD” – the same company that acquired the terrains of “The King’s Stables”.

In the presence of such a stellar configuration on “TRANSLAT” JSC’s board, it is no wonder that the SJC failed to find a more suitable building to accommodate the Sofia Administrative Court, despite a number of other offers. However, with the twice higher rent price, syphoned from the budget of the judiciary, the former SJC has extended a gesture of goodwill to, both, GERB and “MEL INVEST HOLDING “

Balkan style business with the SJC

The 7 “Saborna” street building is an emulation of the oligarchic business model – Alipi Aliipiev acquired it for a price nearly 10 times lower than the market value. With it, he paid his debts to Yanko Ivanov, who managed to rent it at almost double rate to the SJC. Previously, he has successfully managed to rent it under the same terms to the Justice Ministry.

In any true democracy, everything stated above would be sufficient for the SJC’s resignation, and even for rethinking the existence of this body in this format. But what is happening around the lease of the six floors on “Saborna” street is just the tip of the iceberg as there is a violent war for the shops on the ground floor of the building. The saga has been described in detail by 168 Hours weekly and bTV.

In 1999, the owner of “CITY MARK”, Hristo Kirov, made a deal with the Sofia City Hall and exchanged six apartments plus a cash payment for 290 square meters of shops at 7 “Saborna” street. Although the building had been built for the needs of the Communist State’s company “BULGARDLODEXORT”, the State had given the ground floor to the Sofia City Hall as early as 1963.

Stoker accidently finds the claim in Nikopol

In 2007, it turned out that “BULGARLODEXPORT” had been contesting the deal for three years, however, not in Sofia, but in the District Court in the Danube town of Nikopol. The then-President there was judge Todor Tiholov. He explained at the time that the court stoker had accidentally found on September 13, 2007 a legal claim lodged by “BULGARPLODEXPORT” on March 12, 2004.

Why and how the claim had been logged in Nikopol since the property is in the heart of Sofia is a mystery. When Tiholov found the application, he filed a lawsuit and sent it to Sofia. That was the beginning of the case against “CITY MARK” for the ground floor property on “Saborna”.

After this scandalous beginning, Kirov approached the Sofia City Prosecutor’s Office. The investigators found that “BULGARPLODEXPORT’s” claim had been entered in the register of the court in Nikopol in a handwriting different than the ones of the Registrar or any other officer of the court, according to the firm conclusions of the graphology experts. The claim had been entered between claims 125 and 126 as 125 – A. This is the only number in the register accompanied by a letter.

In its provision on the 2014 case, the prosecutor’s office found that the filing of the “BULGARPLODEXPORT” claim has been falsified. The prosecution and appellants suspected that the claim had been entered retroactively to circumvent the 5-year “limitation period” that would have made the purchase of “CITY MARK” final and uncontestable. Nevertheless, criminal proceedings were not launched because the limitation for the falsification act had expired and the perpetrator remains unknown.

Although the prosecutor’s office saw an obvious falsification in the filing of the “BULGARPLODEXPORT’s” claim, two panels of the District and the City Courts in Sofia ruled in its favor. And “BULGARPLODEXPORT” obtained a writ of execution to take procession of the property. The story gained publicity last year. At the beginning of December 2017, the Supreme Court of Cassations (SCC) allowed “CITY MARK’s” appeal, and in its rule, unlike the previous two panels, it acknowledged that the civil proceedings had started with forgery. The hearing of the case and the decision of the SCC are now expected.

Yanko Ivanov has publicly announced a plan to build a skyscraper at the site of the building. This is more than sufficient motivation for him to try to acquire the ground floor in one way or another. However, his hypothetical intentions are not scandalous, it is the behavior of the SJC that is outrageous. We can only guess what has motivated it to keep renting the building on “Saborna”, but, most likely, it has not been dictated by virtues such as fairness, morals and sound common sense.

By Dimitar Stoyanov, editor Atanas Tchobanov

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