“Are this dunes or not?” former Agriculture Minister Miroslav Naydenov was scratching his neck in the first days of 2013 before TV cameras that came to film the construction on the sands in Nessebar on the Black Sea coast. The Minister came to the Solomon conclusion that according to nature these were dunes, yet for the State they were not, thus one could build on them.

A few days earlier, the nimble boys from the SLE Group company sent their excavators in the dunes. Bivol revealed that SLE has bought the plot from an entrepreneur, who in turn bought it from the State on the cheap. The scandal “Dunes Gate” broke.

In the course of several weeks, Bivol’s disclosures exposed the system of plundering lucrative public lands by people close to the government, initiated by the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) and finalized by the centrist Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB). The first reaction of the GERB government was to blame its predecessor, the Three-Party Coalition, but Bivol exposed it with its follow-up revelations about circles around GERB benefiting from the scheme. The notorious “kumets” (best man) in the apartments’ dealings of former GERB Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov proved to be a partner of the anonymous until then entrepreneurs from SLE Group. “Ceco and Kumetso” (Tsetso is a diminutive of Tsvetan – editor’s note – Tsvetan and His Best Man) became a byword for the scheme to privatize huge forest terrains along the Black Sea coast. Football stars, companies close to President Rosen Plevneliev, to notorious former GERB lawmaker, Emil Dimitrov, and of course, to the mastermind of the scheme – arch. Kalin Tiholov, proved to be among the “winners”.

“I sign documents because they bring them to me for signature”

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This emblematic phrase of Deputy Agriculture Minister Svetlana Boyanova shocked society as it shed light on the tip of the iceberg of the backstage system to service private interests with public resources. Even then, the question WHO? Who is bringing the documents for signature? was asked. What does she or he bring and in whose favor? The scandal became threatening to the government and of a scale comparable to the land swaps of the Three-Party Coalition, with whose halt former Prime Minister and GERB leader Boyko Borisov was bragging (but did not do anything to undo them).

The government was forced to give emergency institutional response. Amendments to the Acts for Territorial Development, Territorial Development of the Black Sea Coast, the Forestry Act and the Act for Preserving Arable Lands were adopted with texts prohibiting construction on dunes and their sale. An urgent order to map dunes in the country and to make specialized cadastral maps was issued. Because of the dunes and their newly-declared protected status, hope emerged that the last pristine beaches – Irakli, Karadere and Coral might be saved from concrete.

The caretaker government in 2013, in which Ekaterina Zaharieva was Minister as well, accelerated work on the on mapping. With the arrival of the Socialist-led government of the “WHO”, however, none other than the mastermind of “Dunes Gate” – Kalin Tiholov – was appointed Minister. After strong public reaction, he was replaced by his protégé, “the French unemployed” Ivan Danov. The latter announced that the dunes were too much and will interfere with construction plans. However, the work on their mapping continued and is near finalization. The desires to build on the dunes of the most attractive places like camping “Coral” are also near finalization. There, construction machines are ready to go as early as October 1.

“It is a matter of two or three weeks for the maps to take effect,” optimistically announced Deputy Prime Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva on Friday, at a meeting with the Association “Let’s Preserve Coral” and “Bivol”. Options for rescuing Coral from concrete were examined at this meeting while declaring natural dunes State property ended being the most promising.

The representative of the Ministry of Environment and Waters, Mihail Mihailov, however poured a cold shower on those present. Suddenly, he announced that things are blocked in committees in charge of declaring the dunes in the cadaster because

“Members do not sign as they are afraid to do so”

The reason for the fear was the fact that large plots of private land will acquire dunes’ status and investment interests worth tens of millions will evaporate like smoke. Mihailov gave an example – half of the terrains owned by Iberdrola (Spanish company that wants to build on Coral) are on dunes; these are about 70 decares on which a vacation village for 5,000 people is planned.

However, if the terrains are to be declared by the State as dunes in “two to three weeks,” as Minister Zaharieva hopes, “Coral” can be rescued from excavators. This is the shortest institutional way, but it seems the most dangerous one because someone is “scaring” the committees’ members, a scandalous fact by itself.

The Deputy PM: “There is nothing scary, just sign!”

“They are afraid mostly of municipal representatives,” specified Mikhailov and went even further in his findings:

“People do not even dare to sign the minutes of the meetings of the committees.”

“We will find out who are those who are afraid!” Minister Zaharieva vowed, visibly embarrassed by the revelation that corruption and fear are stronger than procedures and rule of law. She ordered the attending staff to check what is happening in committees, are they afraid or not, and to send reassuring messages to the most frightened.

Bivol is, of course, keenly interested in who is afraid, but also in who is intimidating state and municipal officials and experts. So far, there are indications that media are also afraid because they censored this most important revelation from the meeting for saving Coral – the State is blocked by fear and corruption.

For the record, we reminded Minister Zaharieva of the history and the results of Bivol’s investigations in Coral. She showed surprise that the company “Invest Vitatur”, associated with one of the main contractors in the Russian-sponsored South Stream gas pipeline project, has been selected as the contractor of the project of “Iberdrola”. In 2003, the same company acquired municipal land from controversial former Mayor of Tsarevo Petko Arnaudov for the symbolic price of 4 euros per square meter against investment promises. In breach of the contract, it resold it and the final owner – “Iberdrola” – paid 100 times the price – 400 euro per square meter. The second part of the plan of “Vitatur” is to carry out the construction, which will cost at least 100 million euro, and it is assumed that this will justify the unrealistically high investment in the land. This also explains why the pressure is so great and why one must act decisively, firmly and competently against it.

What will happen if this large scale construction is realized? During the discussion, the analogy with the abandoned concrete mastodon “Crocodile Beach” near Tsarevo also emerged. This “City of Horror”, as Mihail Mihailov named it, was built with the permission of Petko Arnaudov by Russian mafia boss Konstantin Tsiganov, later expelled from the country by the Bulgarian National Security Agency (DANS) for being a danger to national security. This is the typical “investor” profile in our unfortunate Black Sea coast, which all participants in the meeting joined in lamenting.

More about other options for saving Coral read in the article by Atanas Russev HERE and in the press release of the Ministry of Regional Development HERE (both are in Bulgarian).

*The neologism “scaring someone” (instead of “being afraid of”) was introduced in the Bulgarian informal vocabulary by Deliyan Peevski, controversial lawmaker from the party of the Turkish minority, Movement for Rights and Freedoms, DPS at an election campaign meeting. We use it in a sarcastic manner.

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