Disclosure of the assessment of the European Commission (EC) of the stress tests of Bulgarian banks would undermine the protection of the financial, monetary and economic policy of Bulgaria.
This is what the EC refusal letter states in response to the request of Bivol under the Access to Public Information Act.
In September, Bivol requested access from the Commission to documents that comment on the stress tests of the Bulgarian banking system, conducted under the leadership of the central bank, the Bulgarian National Bank (BNB). The existence of such documents has been revealed by the BNB’s own announcement, saying that it has held ongoing consultations with the European Commission (EC) and the European Banking Authority (EBA) over the course of the project in order to ensure adherence to relevant European practices.
Bivol grounded its request on Regulation 1049/2001 on public access to European Parliament, Council and Commission documents. This has, obviously, caused serious difficulties to many European white-collar clerks, who foot-dragged the response for over two months. Eventually, they have identified four documents which refer to the Bulgarian banking stress tests. In the last two, even the names of the documents have been considered classified, as some of them are blacked out in the reply (see the full text here).
The grounds of the EC to deny access are divided into four groups: protection of personal data (names, phone numbers of employees), protecting the fiscal or monetary policy of the EU, protection of commercial interests and protecting the decision-making process of the Commission itself. All of which, according to the EC override the public interest in the case.
Moreover, there is a risk that public disclosure of the concerned documents would be detrimental to the financial situation of Bulgaria and hence undermine the financial, monetary or economic policy of the country.
The official opinion of the BNB and the government is that the stress tests have been successful and the banking system is stable. It turns out that information on the compliance of the stress tests with European practices could doom this legend.
Meanwhile, new official information has emerged from the prosecution on the standing of First Investment Bank (FIB) which was bailed out with public money two years ago. A decree of the Sofia City Prosecutor’s Office quotes a report of BNB in 2014, in which it is written in black and white that FIB is manipulating data on connected loans and has a huge capital hole. The report establishes that its majority shareholders Tseko Minev and Ivaylo Mutafchiev cannot find the money to fill it.
Separately, it confirms evidence of draining the Bank by lending to offshore companies, owned by the mythical Cypriot Georgios Georgiou, a former partner of Tseko Minev and Ivaylo Mutafchiev. The offshore companies have not repaid loans in the amount of tens of millions of euro, notes the prosecution. FIB has bought out these bad loans at 20 percent of their value in the form of loan assignments but even this damage is not a reason for the prosecution to act.
Based on this new evidence of serious problems, concealed by the BNB, Bivol will again ask the Commission for access to the documents, especially documents prepared after the publication of the results of stress tests in September this year.
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