Believe it or not, there is such a committee in Bulgaria’s State Fund Agriculture (SFA) – Expert Committee to Ensure Transparency (ECTET). It turns out, however, that everything related to its decisions is classified as “internal business information”. This emerges from the refusal by the SFA to fulfill a request by Bivol under the Access to Public Information Act (APIA) to clarify why the Fund has paid what has paid 281,984 Bulgarian levs for a guesthouse of the mother-in-law of its employee, Yanaki Chervenyakov.
Chervenyakov was dramatically sacked by the SFA last year, after an investigation by Bivol.
The guest house is owned by the company “Nova Smart“ and has been built on a picturesque site in the village of Lilyanovo, which is the villa zone of the town of Sandanski, on the road to the “Popina Luka” resort. “Nova Smart” is 100% owned by Tsetsa Krasteva, who is the mother-in-law of Yanaki Chervenyakov. The guesthouse, however, has never housed guests, an on location check by Bivol established. There is only one functioning guesthouse in the village and all the locals shrugged when we insistently asked where the second one was.
We found the house by chance, noticing from the road the blue European flag on the mandatory plate for construction works financed with EU funds. As the photos show, the impressive edifice is locked. There is no phone number that potential guests can call to obtain information about housing conditions, but the garden looks carefully manicured.
“They were rolling out the red carpet for him…”
Once we identified the house, local people immediately remembered its owner. “In Sandanski, they had been rolling out the red carpet for him when he was coming from Sofia”, one person told us, asking for anonymity. It turns out that Chervenyakov is well-known in the area and had warm relations with the Mayor of Sandanski.
The senior SFA employee, Yanaki Chervenyakov, is believed to have been the right hand of its Executive Director, Rumen Porozhanov. He was investigated by Bivol over his flashy lifestyle on the backdrop of a relatively modest public administration income. He was speedily fired last year and the SFA was even raided by the State Agency for National Security (DANS). More than a year later, however, the prosecution is still bouncing the ball and the only investigations into the irregularities have been conducted by the media – from “guesthouses” to scams to manipulate public procurement and non-functional, yet paid for, projects for giant stadiums in rural areas and poultry farms. Meanwhile, Chervenyakov has filed a lawsuit against his dismissal which is still dragging on.
Has Chervenyakov been member of the committee that has granted money to his mother-in-law?
For several months now, Bivol is trying to clarify how the funding for this project had been granted, as this is one of the many guesthouses obviously built for personal use and not with the goal to promote tourism and create livelihood in rural areas. A previous explanation has made it clear that a very small percentage of the guesthouses, over 770 in total, have been inspected. This particular house in Lilyanovo has never been subject to a check and risk analysis and will never be, as the five-year monitoring deadline has expired, the SFA clarified previously.
Despite Porozhanov’s repeated denials that Chervenyakov has been his right hand, the SFA Executive Director refused again to assist us in investigating the circumstances under which the contract with “Nova Smart” to finance the house of Chervenyakov’s mother-in-law with 281,984 levs had been signed.
According to regulations (Art. 28, para. 5, item 2 of Decree № 29 from August 11, 2008), before SFA granting a contract for funding, each project must be approved by the ECTET and an employee, who is a connected party with the bidder (including relatives and in-laws), cannot participate in the work of the Committee under supplementary provisions in the Prevention and Detection of Conflict of Interest Act.
Therefore, in its inquiry under APIA, Bivol asked to obtain a copy of the minutes of the meeting of the ECTET, which approved the project of the mother-in-law. This was denied on grounds of classified internal business information.
The SFA argument is legally void because the required information was created more than two years ago, and according to APIA (Art. 13 para.3), the limitation may not apply after a period of two years from the creation of such information. It is clear that Porozhanov’s refusal will not stand on appeal in the Administrative Court, but the mere fact that it has been ordained raises many questions about the SFA compliance with the requirements of European regulations.
This post is also available in: Bulgarian