Bulgarian SPA Tourism in Forefront of Fight against Terrorism

Екип на Биволъ

From December 3 to December 5, all regional directors of the Bulgarian Social Assistance Agency (SAA) and those responsible for public procurement gather at the four-star Spa Hotel Olympus in the resort town of Velingrad, Bivol learned after receiving an alert of an unusual concentration of “social bosses” in the SPA capital of Bulgaria.

Maya Vassileva, Deputy Director of the ASA, has issued a special order for the meeting. At the same time, in the capital Sofia, the Council of Ministers replaced the Social Policy Minister who oversaw the Agency in question.
However, the SPA gathering is not about celebrating the resignation of Biser Petkov and the “enthronement” of Denitsa Sacheva in his place. At the end of the fiscal year, the SAA-Sofia turned out to have some significant unspent resources. For this reason, and with a view to “utilize” them, the Agency’s management has decided to spend them for a SPA seminar. The aim is to train civil servants in the very grave subject of “implementing measures to prevent the use of the financial system for the purpose of money laundering and terrorism financing, as well as the organization and control of this implementation”. With the order, Vassileva mandates the whole administration of the SAA and 109 other civil servants (directors and legal advisers from the regional units of the Agency) to be trained to apply the measures in question under the Measures against Money Laundering ACT (MAMLA) at the SPA Hotel “Olympus” in Velingrad. Thus, between swimming pools and saunas, officials will learn how to combat terrorism and money laundering at the expense of the Agency, respectively the Bulgarian and European taxpayers.

The press office of the SAA, which is a secondary budget authorizing body with the Minister of Labor and Social Policy, confirmed the training and stated that it was mandatory for the Agency under the MAMLA.

The duty to participate is so serious that the leadership of the SAA has ordered verbally that the attendance is mandatory. It has insisted that there needs to be maximum attendees in order to justify the spending and conceal personal responsibility.

It turns out that an amendment to the MAMLA from May 2019 mandates all organizations funded by the State budget to provide “introductory and continuing training to their employees to familiarize them with the requirements of this ACT, the Measures against Financing of Terrorism ACT and their implementing acts.”

On a national scale, this amounts to tens of thousands of civil servants who need to be accommodated and fed for days as the National Security Agency (DANS) training staff introduces them to the intricacies of “recognizing suspicious transactions, deals, sources and customers” as well as what action is needed for “cases for which there is suspicion of money laundering or terrorism financing”.

The SAA could not remember having had, until now, a case where such suspicion had arisen within the activity of the Agency, which allocates budgetary resources to the socially disadvantaged by granting lump sums or monthly benefits.

In fact, there is a market for socially disadvantaged and destitute Bulgarians who are recruited as straw people by money-laundering shell companies. One such person even gave Bivol an interview in the course of an investigation into the theft of EUR 26 million from the Romanian Agency for Payments and Intervention in Agriculture (APIA). However, tracking such a case is not the responsibility of the SAA, but of other bodies.

As it is clear from the MAMLA, not only officials but also representatives of the private business in all financial sectors – banks, gambling, insurance, etc. – have been mobilized to combat money laundering. The same goes for notaries, lawyers, private legal agents, wholesalers, sports clubs, political parties, NGOs and even art galleries. It is unclear how many DANS officers will be deployed to train this army of money laundering and terrorism financing fighters.

It is likely that the private sector’s spending will be more modest, but the SAA’s idea to combine compulsory training with a mandatory three-day SPA holiday is quite expensive and might prove contagious for other institutions and organizations that decide to spend State and European money for similar posh seminars.

On the other hand, with the money for the socially deprived the State will help the hotel business. Moreover, the vague MAMLA wording for the mandatory “introductory and continuing training” makes it possible to establish a lasting tradition in the anti-terrorist SPA business.

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