Over 500 Magistrates’ Declarations Are Inaccessible

The format for the publication of declarations of politically exposed persons (PEPs) that operated on the website of the National Audit Office and was transferred without changes to the website of the Committee for Combatting Corruption and the withdrawal of illegally acquired property (KPKONPI) (sic), does not work on the site of the Inspectorate to the Supreme Judicial Council (ISJC). This is where magistrates’ declarations are being made public, after the legal amendments of 2016. The declarations are published there in PDF format that makes the automatic processing very difficult, while 507 declarations are simply missing, according to a check by Bivol. We were able to process the available data and they are now accessible through our public search engine.

Prosecutors, judges, members of the SJC and the Inspectorate now fill in and submit their declarations to the ISJC by using an Excel format, rather than an information system. The magistrates have the complete freedom to enter the names of the courts and prosecution offices as they please in the Excel table. As a result, the Specialized Criminal Court may be found as a Specialized Criminal Court and as SpCC, the Varna District Court is found as District Court city of Varna, District Court Varna, and DC-Varna, the respective District Prosecutor’s Office in Varna can be DPO-Varna, District Prosecutor’s Office-Varna etc.. There are a number of variations with points and dashes, and not only in Varna.

The most amusing examples involve the Specialized Court and Prosecutor’s Office, where the President of Appellate Judges Georgi Ushev is “Admivistrative Head”, the President of the Appellate Prosecutors Nikolay Naydenov is “Administrative Hood” and the former Head of the Prosecutors Ivan Geshev is the Chief of “Specialilizzard Prosecutor’s Office” (the errors are in Bulgarian).

All this can be avoided by means of lists of fixed names (terminology) of courts and prosecution offices that can be programmed even in the very Excel file used for the noble cause of making public the assets of the magistrates, but it has not been done.

What is more worrisome is that clearly there is no available information system to allow the systematization of the data, checking for inconsistencies through automated procedures and the detection of suspicious data.

Inaccessible declarations – 507

Compared to the previous declaration process before the National Audit Office, the declarations to the ISJC are a step back in terms of transparency and public knowledge. The fact that the site developed by the National Audit Office, and now available on the website of KPKONPI, can be searched by name, while there is no such option in the ISJC registry, also speaks to this fact.

The magistrates’ declarations are sorted by years and alphabetically by first names. Links lead to PDFs that are also available for direct download from the server.

Bivol downloaded and processed all the files available via links in the ISJC registry. The result is that we detected 507 missing declarations or about 4.5% of all 10,994 declarations for 2017 and 2018. The link to them simply does not work and returns a blank page. Whether this is deliberate or a mere technical error is not clear. For an information array of this size and importance, however, such a big mistake is unacceptable and reveals a systematic problem.

ApartmentGate and data on PEPs

Bulgaria has a low-fee Property Register and a free Trade Register, which is a great advantage for investigative journalists who are interested in the property of the PEPs. The “ApartmentGate” revelations are largely due to this fact.

However, the idea of the anti-corruption legislation and the KPKONPI megastructure is not about making more work for investigative reporters. These searches and interceptions in the registries, to some of which only the State has access, must first be made by the KPKONPI’s staff, who should be well qualified and paid.

This has not been the case so far and “ApartmentGate” exposes a systemic problem. As it became clear, the Chairman of KPKONPI Plamen Georgiev and his Deputy Anton Slavchev are deeply entangled in the scandal with the declarations of cheap apartments and terraces. It is naïve to think that their subordinates would investigate them even if they have the opportunity to discover the discrepancies in their declarations.

Now every citizen has such an opportunity by using the free reference systems maintained by Bivol – the Trade Register, the Register of Public Procurement Contracts, the European Projects Register and the Register of PEP Declarations. We have now added to them over 10,000 magistrates’ declarations for the past two years.

The search can be done not only by name but also by any keyword, which greatly expands the possibilities of finding “interesting” people. There really is no conspiracy, political parties, oligarchs and plots against the government as it tries to imply through the media. There is only the work of investigative teams that can handle data and registries. With today’s possibilities of data journalism, “ApartmentGate” is unlikely to come to an end soon.

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