Properties of Sofia Mayor Hopefuls

by Екип на Биволъ

In the context of the previous scandal, known as ApartmentGate, Bivol scrutinized the property deals of the main contenders for the mayoral seat in the Bulgarian capital Sofia – Yordanka Fandakova, Maya Manolova, Borislav Ignatov, Boris Bonev and Angel Dzhambazki. For three of them, we found bargain deals at below-market prices, for which there is no logical explanation.

Bivol has been investigating property deals arranged under the table for those vested with power since 2012 when we uncovered a case involving a plot purchased on paper for only BGN 1,000 by the wife of the-then future Prosecutor General Sotir Tsatsarov. Because of a burden on the property, the Tsatsarov family had filed a lawsuit to recover the actually paid BGN 100,000, and thus the arranged deal became public knowledge.

Tsatsarov himself became the “godfather” of the arranged deal, explaining it on live TV. According to him, in Bulgaria it is normal for the parties to the transaction to declare lower than the real price in order to save from taxes.

However, other interpretations of the bizarrely low prices of real estate acquired by politicians have emerged from the #ApartmentGate scandal since the beginning of the year – influence peddling or laundering undeclared income.

“Save Sofia” involved in the farming business

Boris Bonev, the civic candidate of the “Save Sofia” movement, turned out to be without any personal transactions. In Sofia, he lives in an inherited family apartment. However, the company “Merops” with his participation had acquired in 2017 a terrain in the village of Strelets, near the city of Stara Zagora. BGN 6,000 had been paid for two acres and some ramshackle farm buildings. This corresponds to the average price in this location and there is no suspicion of an arranged deal.

After the acquisition of this property, the company had rented another 100 acres from Bonev’s mother and aunt, which are their inherited properties with planted walnut trees, Bonev explained to Bivol. Through Merops, they have applied for European agricultural subsidies under the 2018 Rural Development Program (RDP), but the subsidy amount is modest – about BGN 5,000, the candidate further explained. In mid-August 2019, he had transferred his assets to his mother’s company and is currently not involved in any companies.

Dzhambazki with cheap land and half a million in a foreign bank

The candidate of the nationalist (patriotic) party VMRO, part of the ruling coalition, Angel Dzhambazki, who is also an MEP, has not bought any property in the capital as well. In the distant 2004, he had acquired the half of an apartment of 44 square meters in Sofia’ “Ovcha Kupel” quarter and has no other deals in Sofia after entering politics. He has not declared the use of somebody else’s property either.

However, in 2017, Dzhambazki had bought a property in the village of Dragovishtitsa, in the Kostinbrod municipality. For only BGN 7,000, he had acquired a plot of 845 square meters in the center of the village, which is intended for a shopping store with a total area of 1,682 square meters.

Yet, a reference from a real estate site shows that it is impossible to buy such land in Drahovishtitsa at BGN 8 per square meter since the market prices are four to five times higher. Asked if this price is real, Dzhambazki replied that he wanted to show us the property and would sell it to us at the same price.

In addition to having a flair for cheap real estate, Dzhambazki is thrifty and has the most money in his bank accounts from the examined candidates. He deposits his MEP wage in a bank account abroad, where he has nearly BGN 0.5 million. The “professional patriot” holds only BGN 10,000 in Bulgarian banks.

Ignatov buys real estate through companies

The candidate of the center-right “Democratic Bulgaria”, Borislav Ignatov, had bought a land plot in Sofia’s “Krustova Vada” quarter for investment purposes at the end of last year. Ignatov and his college mate Iliya Donkov had paid BGN 301,198 for 700 square meters, or BGN 430 per square meter, which is a fair price for the location of the terrain. The property had been acquired with a loan from Raiffeisenbank, Ignatov told Bivol and the intention is to build a residential building with nine apartments.

A check in the Commercial Register shows that Iliya Donkov has a substantial corporate record. In the Alekto Consult company, he partnered with the former head of the Foreign Aid Agency, Ediz Unal Lutfi, son of Unal Lutfi, founder of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS), the party largely representing the Bulgarian Muslim minority.

In his native Varna, architect Ignatov has invested in real estate through two companies – Bignatov Studio New York, which in 2008 bought an apartment of 85 square meters on 4 “Knyaz Dondukov” Street and BSC New York, which in 2016 acquired a plot of 865 square meters for BGN 117,349 in Varna’s “Breeze” quarter. Subsequently, a two-story building with two apartments of 171 square meters each has been built on the plot. Just a few days ago they were contributed in kind by BSC New York to two separate companies – BSC 1 Ltd and BSC 3 Ltd.

Ignatov’s partner at BSC New York is construction contractor Stefan Petkov. He is the former manager of Crown Hotel Management of Georgi Veltchev, brother of former Finance Minister Milen Veltchev. Stefan Petkov manages both BSC 1 and BSC 3 apartment companies.

Manolova failed to declare a loan collateral

Maya Manolova, an independent candidate, supported by the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) and the center-right Movement “Bulgaria for Citizens” has two property acquisitions in Sofia. In 2007, her daughter Ralitsa purchased an office on 56 “Alabin” Street, opposite the “Rila” Hotel in downtown Sofia, for EUR 100,000, and in 2012, Manolova acquired a 98-square-meter apartment on 1 “Rusaliyski Prohod” Street in the “Hladilnika” quarter for BGN 110,000 with a tax assessment of BGN 124,789. For both properties, there is doubt that their price does not correspond to the market prices at the time of the purchase.

According to statistics on the site “imot.bg”, the prices of the offices in downtown Sofia at the end of 2007 and the beginning of 2008 were in the range of EUR 1,500 – 1,800 per square meter. An office at the prestigious 56 “Alabin” Street address may be more expensive.

Regarding two-bedroom apartments in “Hladilnika”, even after the crisis, their prices have never dropped below EUR 800 per square meter.

As Manolova herself explained in connection with previous media publications about her office, she had financed the deal in 2007 with a EUR 100,000 loan from International Asset Bank. The property had been registered in the name of her daughter because Manolova had been undergoing a divorce and splitting up joint property. The loan is entered in her property declarations as an MP.

However, our research revealed that the collateral for this loan is another property, not owned by Maya Manolova, but by Milena Milenkova, a lawyer and notary public in Manolova’s hometown of Kyustendil. Maya Manolova had not declared this fact in 2008, or afterwards, despite the legal obligation to do so as indicated in box 14 of the lawmakers property declaration – “collaterals by or for the benefit of the declarant, his/her spouse/minor children with their consent”.

Before Bivol Maya Manolova explained that the bank had not accepted the office as collateral because the deal had been for undivided shares. Manolova’s properties in Kyustendil had been joint property with her husband at the time of their divorce, thus also unacceptable as collateral. Then, she had turned to her friend, lawyer Milenkova, with whom she had previously practiced law in the same law office to provide her Sofia apartment as a EUR 100,000 collateral. The apartment had been acquired a year earlier at the incredible price of EUR 26,480.

Several years after the acquisition of the office, Maya Manolova bought from Milenkova the apartment that served as collateral.

“In 2012, I bought the same apartment (in the “Hladilnika” quarter) for BGN 110,000, which was the market price in 2012 for a property in this condition in an older building in “Hladilnika” quarter (not new construction in the more prestigious “Lozenets” quarter). The market prices of real estate in 2012 were the lowest due to the financial crisis, unlike the prices in 2007 and 2018. So far, this apartment is my only dwelling in which I live,” says Maya Manolova.

It is really difficult to find a price of EUR 550 per square meter regardless of the argument “old building vs. new construction”, especially in the area of “Kozyak” Street, where the apartment is located.

Manolova declared the newly acquired apartment in 2013 and she listed then the sale of a house with a yard in the village of Zhilentsi near Kyustendil as a source of income. A check in the Property Register established that the property had been sold for BGN 120,000 to the company “Rila”, which is a successful bidder for public procurement contracts for millions from the Kyustendil Municipality.

“I have never been in a position to influence the designation of contractors in the city of Kyustendil, nor in any other city,” Manolova commented and emphasized that such had been the market price of the property in Zhhilentsi, which had to be split between her and her now ex-husband during the divorce.

There are also peculiarities in the documentation related to the office purchase. For 100/346 undivided shares of the office on the central street “Alabin”, the daughter Ralitsa Manolova has paid only EUR 1,000 per square meter. On the same day and with the same notary, a deal has been concluded for another 100/346 undivided shares of the same office, purchased by the company Nupson, which is owned by the husband of politician Maria Kapon. However, Nupson has paid EUR 180,000.

The explanation for the price difference that Maya Manolova gave to Bivol is that Nupson had taken the nicer part of the offices – four rooms overlooking the street and already renovated and her part overlooks the yard, had been in poor condition and without a private bathroom. She also provided a sketch of the property in support of her words. The full text of Maya Manolova’s answers to Bivol can be found here (in Bulgarian).

A curious penalty clause is found in both Manolova’s and Nupson’s notary deeds. In case the property has burdens that have not been declared by the seller, the company “Prodexim” is mandated to return the money paid and pay a fine of EUR 120,000 to Ralitsa Manolova and EUR 40,000 to Nupson.

The notary title deed of former lawmaker and Justice Minister Tsetska Tsacheva for her cheap apartment, bought from the company Artex, contains a similar clause, involving a penalty of EUR 170,000 euros. According to blogger Assen Genov, such clause can also be interpreted as insurance for the real payments and amounts undeclared in the notary title deed.

According to Maya Manolova, however, there is nothing wrong with the deal for her office. In response to a question about the discrepancy between the price paid and market prices, she submitted an expert market valuation prepared by the “Yavlena Impact” Agency in August 2019. According to two licensed appraisers, the price of these 200/346 ideal undivided shares of the property at the end of 2007 had been EUR 268,668, which is even less than the total of EUR 280,000, paid by Manolova and Nupson together.

Bivol emailed questions about the deal to Prodexim, which sold the “Alabin” office in 2007, but no response was received.

In 2017, Maya Manolova’s daughter and her husband managed to acquire an apartment of 119 square meters on the top floor of a new building in the “Manastirski Livadi” quarter for BGN 221,000. The family had financed it with a mortgage loan of BGN 270,000.

Fandakova – owns a number of properties, but something with the local tax does not add up

Yordanka Fandakova, the incumbent Sofia Mayor and candidate for new mandate from the ruling party Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB), has probably the most real estate, which can be mainly attributed to a family property in the Sofia “Manastirski Livadi” quarter, owned by her husband and his sister Jeanette, whose married name is Bukova.

In 2008, when Fandakova was Deputy Mayor of Sofia, the two families – Fandakov and Bukov – established the right to build to the Bulldeni Company for a new residential building with a total area of 2475 square meters. In return, the two families would receive several apartments in it.

Thus, the Fandakov family received two apartments of 95.8 square meters with garages and basements, one smaller apartment of 57.1 square meters and a shop of 42.3 square meters. One of the larger apartments has been donated to the daughter Michaela Fandakova. In addition, the two families had co-owned another apartment of 57.1 square meters, which they sold in 2011.

The Fandakov family also have inherited a 90 square-meter apartment on “Yaroslav Veshin” Street, acquired in the distant 1993. They also own a plot with a villa in the village of Sopot, in the municipality of the town of Ugarchin.

In her native town of Samokov, Yordanka Fandakova has inherited a one-sixth undivided share of a terrain in the “Belchin Banya” SPA resort, half of an apartment in Samokov, as well as a house with a yard.

Only one of husband Yuri Fandakov’s inherited properties raises doubts about the declared low price. It is a swap of half of a garage against a land plot in the village of Bistritsa near Sofia with an area of 560 square meters, located at 27 “Tintyava” Street. The swap was made in early 2019 and is between Yuri Fandakov and his sister, Jeanette Bukova, with a declared material interest of BGN 11,722.

This deal takes into account tax assessments as the half of the 21 square-meter garage in downtown Sofia had been appraised at BGN 11,722 and the half of the land plot – at BGN 1,305, explained Yordanka Fandakova in response to a request by Bivol. The difference had not been settled because the deal had been between relatives.

However, this raises questions as the basis for determining the real estate tax fee is the higher value between the basic market valuation and the tax valuation, but a market valuation of the real estate had not been done.

Regulated and intended for residential construction real estate in Bistritsa cannot have such a ridiculously low price. Currently, a neighboring land plot on “Tintyava” Street with an area of 457 square meters is listed for sale on the site imot.bg for EUR 49,900.

In conclusion, with a market valuation of the properties involved in this real estate swap, the budget of the City Hall, managed by Fandakova, would have received five times more money from the paid taxes.

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