Full Access to FIB Restructuring Plan Would Prevent EC from Investigating State Aid

Bivol received yet another refusal from the European Commission to disclose the full text of the censored restructuring plan for First Investment Bank (FIB) after the State aid of 1.2 billion levs granted in June 2014. Bivol’s request cited the overriding public interest set out in Regulation 1049/2001.

The restructuring plan was published with massive deletions of entire pages of information. The Finance Ministry also refused access to the deleted information under the Access to Public Information Act (APIA). Vladislav Goranov’s Ministry officially stated that they had no relation with the deletions in the final version which was the work of the European Commission. This was followed by a rebuttal from EC’s “Competitiveness” spokesman Ricardo Cardoso, who wrote that there has been consultation with the Bulgarian authorities, as with any procedure for State aid before the public version of the decision is adopted.

After this prolonged passing of the ball, it became clear that both the Ministry and the EC are zealously guarding the secrets of the “bad apple” FIB. Unlike the Bulgarian side, however, the Commission extensively arguments its denial and another interesting element appears in this explanation. The first stated reason for the refusal is the argument that the publication of the full text may prevent the pending State aid investigation, as long as the decision adopted by the Commission is subject to monitoring of commitments which may prompt the Commission to reconsider its decision and reopen the case.

The exact commitments remain unknown, as the text of these commitments is censored.

The second argument for refusal states that the publication might jeopardize the willingness of Bulgaria to cooperate with the Commission’s State aid investigations, even after the definitive closure of the case.

Finally, the letter refers to the protection of the commercial interest of the Bank, which was touted in earlier informal refusals as the only argument against making the restructuring plan public.

According to the EC, these three arguments outweigh the principle of publicity of the decisions and invalidate the overriding public interest.

The refusal can be appealed within 15 days before the Commission’s Secretary General.

Bivol publishes the full text of the refusal (see file reply GESTEM 2015_2600_SA.39854_First investment bank) and calls on competent lawyers to help pro bono with the drafting of a well-grounded appeal for the sake of public interest.

The exposed criminal practices in the draining of FIB, where companies connected with corpulent businessman Delyan Peevski found shelter after the collapse of Corporate Commercial Bank (CCB) and the recent FITCH downgrade of FIB by three levels are fueling concerns that the State aid can be misused.

There are reasonable doubts that among the deleted provisions of the restructuring plan, there are such that allow FIB buybacks of perpetual bonds for 94 million levs (see here) by unknown persons with the money from State aid.

It is entirely possible that those who will cash in the nearly 100 million from the State aid are linked to the majority shareholders of FIB. Until now, Finance Minister Goranov, who has been spotted chatting over coffee with Delyan Peevski, has been refusing to answer specific questions on this subject that were asked during the parliamentary control.

The European Commission gave two months to Bulgaria to implement the EU banking rules

What is certain is that the Commission is already looking quite objectively and responsibly at the situation with the Bulgarian banks. We are happy that we have contributed to this. Yesterday, Brussels sent to Bulgaria the requirement to implement the EU Bank Recovery and Resolution Directive within two months. This is an extremely important step of the pan-European government towards the introduction of common rules that Bulgarian banks will be obligated to observe. The positive initiative of the European Commission was prompted precisely by the data on serious infringements in the banking sector in the country which have been established by the Commissioners. Three months ago, the Commission first expressed its serious concerns over the identified defects in the practices of Bulgarian banks. The current opinion is almost an ultimatum, because if the government does not fulfill the requirements and fails to introduce the banking directive, the next step is to sue Bulgaria in Court. The aim of the Euro directive is to ensure that banks on the verge of bankruptcy can be restructured without having taxpayers pay for their rescue. Instead, these rules provide that the costs are proportionally covered by the shareholders and creditors of banks through the mechanism of “loss sharing”. In other words, banks saved from bankruptcy with a government budgetary injection, as was Bulgaria’s First Investment Bank, will not be able to rely any longer on such funding. Any reallocation of the shares and the capital of a bank will surely change the share of the property and will disrupt the uncontrolled influence of the “banksters”. Bivol feels satisfied with such an outcome which, even if it does not solve the issues suddenly and radically, is completely in favor of the Bulgarian society. FIB – Peevski, Ivailo and Buddha should be seriously worried now.




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