Author: Bivol, published October 1, 2014
At a press conference on Wednesday, the representatives of the right-wing Reformist Bloc, Martin Dimitrov, Petar Slavov and Peter Moskov announced they were in possession of a document obtained under the Access to Public Information Act (APIA) regarding lands sold by the Bulgarian State to the Russian-sponsored “South Stream” gas pipeline project.
Bivol was the first one to reveal this deal as early as July 30, 2014, in a publication entitled “BULGARIA’S CABINET “ORESHARSKI” GAVE AWAY HUGE PLOTS OF PUBLIC LAND TO SOUTH STREAM”. However, the reformists made many new conclusions based on the new document (cited from a publication on the site Offnews):
- The lands that were sold to “South Stream” were removed from the forestry fund and were declared “urbanized territories”. This happened on July 15, nine days after the Prime Minister at the time, Plamen Oresharski, issued a ban on “South Stream”.
- The change of the status of use of the lands has been made even before the company “South Stream” requested it. “South Stream Bulgaria” has applied to purchase the land on the next day – July, 16, 2014.
- The Ministry of Agriculture knew what the application to buy the land contained even before it was filed and helpfully turned the forests into “urbanized territory”.
- Agriculture Minister Dimitar Grekov apparently also had psychic abilities – one day before “South Stream’s” application to purchase the lands, he had already ruled that the “freshly-urbanized” forests can only be used for the construction of a gas pipeline.
- The amount of 13,195,050 levs, paid by “South Stream”, is only for the land that was already “urbanized”. If the Ministry had changed the land use after, rather than before the application of “South Stream”, the company would have to also pay for the change of the status. The price for this is usually 30% of the value of the land.
- The savings for “South Stream” constitute hidden State aid and it is certain that the European Commission will react to it. It is likely to start a new infringement procedure, commented Martin Dimitrov and Peter Slavov.
In their election campaign zeal, the Reformists apparently did not consider it necessary to review the publications on the topic in all leading media from only three months ago. They further failed to check public data which backfired on them. Facts and documents show that almost all their conclusions are false and exaggerated:
- The lands were removed from the forestry fund by a decision of a Commission of the Executive Forestry Agency (EFA), which was published on July 11, 2014. The decision entered into force on July 15, after the three-day deadline to appeal it before the Administrative Court expired. The decision, itself, is not secret and can be found online here:
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2 .In EFA’s decision it is written that there was an application from “South Stream” for the change of the use of the lands. “The Executive Forest Agency has received an application form, addressed to the Chair of the Commission, under Article 74, Paragraph 2, Item 2 of the Forestry Act, to change the use of land in forest areas. The documents, required under Article 77, Paragraph 1 of the Forestry Act, are attached to the application,” one can read on page 11 of the document The Reformists did not ask whether or not there really was such an application, and from the document they presented one cannot conclude categorically that it is missing.
- Logically, the application for the purchase of land was made after the change of status and it could not be otherwise. The Ministry of Agriculture knew that it would make the forests an urban territory, because it had a pre-prepared detailed territorial plan (PUP), approved by an order of the Ministry of Regional Development and Public Works on March 24, 2014, which entered into force on June 12, 2014. All that was stated by the Ministry of Agriculture in a special press release on July 31, triggered by the publication of Bivol:
- See above for PUP – detailed territorial plan – plot plan of the site “Transmission Pipeline South Stream on the Territory of Bulgaria”, approved on March 3, 2014.
- Page 10 of EFA’s decision reads as follows: “The legal entity is to pay the price for the change of the status of the use of land in the forest area, totaling 7,027,437.00 levs (seven million twenty-seven thousand four hundred and thirty seven levs), as evidenced by the appraisal reports, prepared under the Ordinance for the Appraisal of Lands in Forest Areas, adopted by Council of Ministers wit Decree № 236 / August 3, 2011, by a licensed appraiser from the Chamber of independent Appraisers in Bulgaria, to be deposited in the bank account of the Ministry of Agriculture and Food.” In the Ministry’s press release from July 31, it is also written that” the applicant has paid a total of 20,599,409.21 levs for the change of the status of the use of land and the acquisition of property”.
From what was said at the press conference, the only new information that emerged pertains to the fact that on July 16 “South Stream” has started the procedure for the purchase of the land. It is difficult to find a mere violation stemming from this fact, let alone derive such “bombastic” deductions.
It is true that there is a hidden State aid, but not because “South Stream” was spared the cost of changing the status of use of the lands, but because, as Bivol wrote as early as July 30, the price of land is very low and distorted, compared to the market one. Another investigation of Bivol showed that First Investment Bank (FIB) has acquired land at a much higher price in the same area.
It is also true that Oresharski’s order to stop all activities on “South Stream” was not complied with, but this is not new information, and there were already comments on it after Bivol’s publication.
To top it all, the reformists urged the Prosecutor’s Office to act. The prosecution was approached by Bivol as early as July 30 because of the questionable low price in the transaction. Of course, it is fine for politicians to remind prosecutors about it, though with a three-month delay after discovering what has been already discovered. The question remains how exactly the Reformists plan to implement reforms if they don’t know the legal procedures; confuse facts; and fail to quote and respect the work of others. The latter, however, is hardly only their worry.
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