Guesthouses in Bulgaria – ‘Crime and Punishment’

Dimitar Stoyanov

After more than a decade of membership in the European Union (EU), European projects in Bulgaria turned into financial mechanisms for the chosen few. Ordinary humans are not allowed in this domain. The measures under the Rural Development Program (RDP) and especially the scandalous guesthouses are probably the most glaring illustration of this trend. This huge public scandal that exploded in 2019, forced the prosecutor’s office to selectively investigate some of the sites. However, according to checks by Bivol, it kept its eyes shut to striking abuses of money for guesthouses, especially when the abuses are linked to prominent figures from the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, (DPS), the party largely representing the Muslim minority in Bulgaria.

Starting in 2016, Bivol published investigations into abuses, conflicts of interest and political influence in the financing of guesthouse projects under the RDP. The series was inspired by a guesthouse near the village of Lilyanovo owned by Tsetsa Petrova Krasteva, mother-in-law of the former Director of a Directorate in the State Fund Agriculture, SFA, Yanaki Chervenyakov. The Fund, which is the body distributing EU money for agriculture in Bulgaria, has financed a project of Krasteva’s company “Nova Smart” to build a guesthouse (on the headline photo).

A check by Bivol showed that the house is not used to advance rural tourism, but as a private residence. It was listed on online rental platforms long after Bivol exposed the affair.

One of many

However, Yanaki Chervenyakov’s mother-in-law is simply one of many relatives or proxies of high-ranking officials, politicians and magistrates whose projects have been funded by the SFA. Investigations by Bivol revealed that DPS functionary Atidje Aieva-Veli, the leader of the same party Mustafa Karadayi, the former Deputy Economy Minister from the ruling party Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB) Alexander Manolev, who is now a defendant, the former Deputy Director of the National Security Service (NSS) and the National Security Agency (DANS) Ivan Drashkov, former GERB MP Dimitar Gamishev and other deserving heroes of our time, are all involved in guesthouse projects.

Despite the numerous scandalous cases in which guesthouses have become private mansions for the “new elite”, the Ministry of Agriculture imposed in July 2019 a 100% correction on only 15 projects. They do not include the “mansion” and the mineral pool of former Deputy Minister Alexander Manolev, where the violations were established by the prosecutor’s office and not by the Ministry of Agriculture.

Among the projects, however, is that of Silvia Zorova, daughter of alleged oligarch Dimitar Zorov. The young woman became infamous for causing a car accident that injured two workers of Sofia’s cleaning services, one of whom later died.

Dimitar Zorov is a co-founder and manager of Parshevitsa dairy and Chairman of the Association of Dairy Producers in Bulgaria. Zorov is said to be very close to Rumen Porozhanov, the predecessor of current Agriculture Minister Desislava Taneva. Porozhanov resigned from his post after an investigation by Bivol revealed that he had concealed from the Committee for Combatting Corruption and the withdrawal of illegally acquired property (KPKONPI) (sic) his wife’s property deals.

The SFA announced in official correspondence that a contract had been concluded with the company “Silvia Zorova” in September 2014 under measure 311 of the RDP 2007-2013 for “reconstruction of an existing building/hotel with a restaurant to turn it into a hotel for rural tourism and the purchase of the necessary furniture” in the village of Milanovo, Sofia Region. The contractor for this project is BBK OOD. Anton Kraus, the son of former Bulgarian Minister of Transport Wilhelm Kraus, is a partner in this company. He rose to fame as an excellent negotiator when an organized crime group kidnapped his brother Mihail in 2007. Anton also found fame in media reports as a socialite with dramatic love relations with various beauties. None of this obviously prevented him from engaging in European projects.

Silvia Zorova’s hotel for rural tourism is built on family land owned by Dimitar Zorov, his wife Mariana and the daughter Silvia. The three granted the building rights to Sylvia’s company, which means the whole family knew what they were doing.

Prior to the payment of EU funds, the site was inspected in October 2015 for compliance with the project’s objectives. The inspection established that the activities had been performed in accordance with the approved business plan. The total amount of the paid subsidy was BGN 391,159. The project of “Silvia Zorova” was inspected again in 2019 in the course of a new wave of inspections launched after a series of publications by Bivol on the guesthouses. At that time, Zorova’s project was still under mandatory monitoring. Inspectors found that revenues have reached 63.75% of those set in the business plan.

It must be noted, however, that the site has been a functioning hotel even before the EU financing. Its financial results are a monumental success compared with those of guesthouses that had never been rented out during their monitoring period. It would be difficult to present such receipts for the project of Yanaki Chervyakov’s mother-in-law or Alexander Manolev’s “guesthouse”. The project of the mother-in-law, Tsetsa Petrova Krasteva is no longer under monitoring and the Ministry of Agriculture cannot impose a sanction on it. The prosecutor’s office stubbornly refuses to investigate the case.

Zortova’s project envisages the creation of ten jobs. The SFA findings include a failure to accomplish the job creation goal and the body has imposed a financial correction of 100% of the subsidy received. There are several objections by the beneficiary on file at the SFA, including a lawsuit against its decision. A reference in legal registries shows that Zorova has also attacked without success so far the rules for determining the amount of the subsidy to be reimbursed by her.

The sanction imposed on Zorov’s family might be interpreted as a slap in the face of their political backers. From a GERB favorite to profit from Ministry of Agriculture’s schemes, the family has turned into a sanctioned beneficiary. This case seems to be part of an emerging trend that began with the legal charges against former Deputy Minister Manolev.

And the Dream Team…

There are other examples of criminal proceedings against beneficiaries. Miglena Yaneva, manager of HRIMI YAK Ltd. is among them. She is accused of syphoning EU funds in the amount of BGN 371,520, i.e. the entire amount of the subsidy that financed her guesthouse project. Plovdiv-based company Stroyproekt Uzunov has performed the construction works. Fara Consult has been the contracted consultant for the project. Bivol’s registries show that Fara is a big consultancy that has won 18 public contracts with a value of over BGN 2,195,000.

The fact that the bankrupt Corporate Commercial Bank holds 25% of the capital of Fara Consult Ltd is another curious detail.

Despite the serious reputation of Fara Consult, the Plovdiv District Prosecutor’s Office pressed charges against Miglena Yaneva. According to the indictment, the 58-year-old woman has applied for funding through the program for building a house with separate guest rooms. Instead, she has built a property in the historical resort town of Batak, has taken the money and has used her house entirely as a private villa, a trend that turned into a rule in Bulgaria rather than an exception.

The SFA clarified for Bivol that it had provided all the documentation on Yaneva’s project to the authorities. The contract for a subsidy under measure 312 of the RDP 2007-2013 for a house with private guestrooms was signed between the SFA and HRIMI YAK on January 28, 2011. The request for the final payment was submitted in October 2012. After performing a risk analysis according to the ascribed procedures, the request for final payment was selected for approval after an on-site visit. Employees of the SFA inspected the site in November 2012 and found no violations. The beneficiary received payment of BGN 371,520 in December 2012. The monitoring period ended on January 28, 2016.

The prosecutor’s office surprisingly pressed charges against Yaneva in 2020 for presenting false information, with which she had misled the SFA and its Regional Directorates in the cities of Pazardzhik and Plovdiv. According to the investigators, Yaneva had not advanced tourism in Batak and the guesthouse had not created jobs, which had been the purpose of the financing. Miglena Yaneva had used the house for her personal needs, according to the district prosecutor’s office in Plovdiv.

Who is Miglena Yaneva? She is the wife of Dr. Yassen Yanev, the longtime Director of the regional hospital in the southern city of Haskovo. He managed the hospital in 1994-1999 and 2002-2005. The hospital accumulated some of its biggest debts under his management. A publication by Banker from 2002 reports that the former Director of the Haskovo regional hospital, Dr. Yassen Yanev, who has been convicted for financial violations, would lead it again but as a member of its Board and in his capacity of Deputy Mayor for Healthcare. Yanev was the hospital’s Director until 1999 and then became a municipal councilor on the DPS ballot and after that, Deputy Mayor of Haskovo.

The National Audit Office established financial violations in the Haskovo regional hospital in 1998, while Yanev was its Director. This, however, did not prevent him from becoming the hospital’s manager for the second time. In 2005, he was elected MP, this time from the party of former Tsar Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. Ironically, in the National Assembly (Parliament), Yanev was a member of the Anti-Corruption Committee. He was appointed Deputy Minister of Labor and Social Policy in August 2008. After the end of his term, Yanev worked at the medical center Hippocrates 2000 , where he held a stake, initially about 33% and later 50%. It seems that he has left his turbulent political career behind.

Yanev became the manager of the first private hospital in Haskovo, “Hygia”, in April 2011. However, he became entangled in a new scandal in 2018. A municipal commission at that time included him in the ranking of candidates for director of a polyclinic in the city. Some of the municipal councilors from the opposition objected to the decision because Dr. Yanev owned a stake in a private medical institution that is a competitor of the municipal polyclinic. To top it all, a conflict of interest was found in Yanev’s election. The secretary of the commission who conducted the interview was Dr. Lilia Konsulova. She is a partner in the Outpatient Group Practice for Primary Care “Rhea” with Miglena Yaneva, Dr. Yanev’s wife. This is the same Miglena Yaneva with the guesthouse. In 2019, KPKONPI ruled that Dr. Lilia Konsulova was in conflict of interest in Yanev’s election for director of the municipal polyclinic and fined her BGN 10,000. The Administrative Court in Haskovo later reaffirmed KPKONPI’s decision.

Dr. Lilia Konsulova was a municipal councilor from the GERB in the municipal council of Haskovo in 2015-2019 and Chair of its Health Committee. She is also the mother of Evgeni Konsulov, Deputy Mayor of Haskovo and a friend and business partner of Delyan Dobrev, the Regional Leader of GERB Haskovo.

Bivol exposed these connections and detailed the massive absorption of public procurement money for construction for over BGN 100 million. The revelations caused a scandal, while Delyan Dobrev described the connected people as a “Dream Team” in the management of Haskovo.

Therefore, Dr. Miglena Yaneva is a partner with Dr. Konsulova. She is the mother of Evgeni Konsulov, Delyan Dobrev’s best man and former business partner. Just another confirmation that the SFA is financing guesthouse projects of some very special beneficiaries.

The public prosecution also shows clear selectivity in its work. It has investigated Yaneva’s case and has pressed charges against her, but refuses to investigate for the same violations Yanaki Chervenyakov’s mother-in-law or many other beneficiaries who use guesthouses built with European money as their personal estates.

Bulgaria’s previous Prosecutor General Sotir Tsatsarov ordered in April 2019 inspections of all 746 guesthouse projects financed under the RDP 2007-2013. The SFA announced that it had provided all the documentation to the authorities. However, the latter have so far clearly found irregularities only in the project of Dr. Miglena Yaneva. The numerous guesthouses that are associated with the relatives of the DPS Chairman Mustafa Karadayi in the village of Borino have in no way attracted the attention of investigators. Their monitoring expired in 2015, 2016 and 2017, which means that they are now outside the powers of the SFA. Violations can be currently established only by the prosecutor’s office. Bivol will post a follow-up to this publication, which will reveal the guesthouses’ consulting scheme.

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