The State Fund Agriculture has carried out probes and found “proven lack of operation at the existing investment and breach of commitments for the required number of animals” under four projects for “Modernization of agricultural holdings” – this is what is said in a SFA press release, published today. “There are also existing doubts about data, documents and false declarations not corresponding to reality,” is written in the press release (the original wording is preserved to the possible extend in the English translation – editor’s note).
These are projects of four companies that are connected to Mario Nikolov, a defendant in the scandalous “SAPARD Affair”. The SFA and the Ministry of Economy started the probes after two publications of Bivol (see here and here) and requests under the Access to Public Information Act (APIA) to institutions. At the end of last year, Bivol reported that companies related to the businessman, identifying himself as “hereditary socialist”, have applied and were awarded financing for four projects under the EU Operational Program “Competitiveness” and for four projects under the Rural Development Program’s (RDP) Measure 121 “Modernization of agricultural holdings” for the period 2007-2013.
The projects of the companies SAMI Meat BG, HOLID, NICK FOOD BG and AGROVAL BG are for building poultry farms for ducks and turkeys in the village of Zhivkovo, near the town of Ihtiman. A check of Bivol on location before the Easter holidays, established that the farms are built, but unfinished, and there are no ducks in them. Now this finding is confirmed by the SFA inspections.
The results of these inspections were also confirmed by phone by the Executive Director of the Fund, Rumen Porozhanov. “As they say, they do not even have electricity,” is how he summed up the established irregularities. Instead of tens of thousands of ducks and turkeys, the inspectors found only about 3,000 animals. Bivol published earlier photographs clearly showing that the installations are unfinished and the funded with EU money asphalt road to them was never built.
It should be noted that the first publication of Bivol on the subject is from October last year, but the SFA reacted only after another of our investigations shed light on the scandal with SFA employee Yanaki Chervenyakov and agents of the National Security Agency raided the Fund.
OLAF saw nothing wrong with the projects
After the first publication about these projects, Bivol asked questions of OLAF. The reply sent by the European Anti-Fraud Office reads as follows:
In 2015, OLAF conducted a preliminary analysis of the available information regarding this specific matter. After this analysis, in early 2016, the office decided not to open an investigation as there was no suspicion of fraud or irregularities justifying the opening of an investigation.
Bivol’s investigation reveals how Mario Nikolov’s scheme involves the same companies that pop up in the case “SAPARD”, but renamed and with replaced managers. Nikolov’s dummies were reshuffled with a dummy manager becoming a dummy owner and another owner – manager, the search in the companies’ history in the Trade Register showed.
It is not clear why these simple checks have not been conducted by the Protection of the European Union Financial Interests Directorate (AFCOS) and OLAF, since these services have unmatched in scale resources and operational capabilities, compared to those of investigative journalists.
In reality, this means that neither OLAF nor the Bulgarian authorities have any mechanisms to audit and counter the recurrent abuse of EU funds, despite the deafening revelations and convictions in Germany over the “SAPARD Affair”, which is still quoted as an example of the problems in the Bulgarian justice system.
However, after our journalistic investigation revealed specific violations, SFA reacted and vouched that it “has taken actions and measures to recover the paid subsidy and is collecting additional information in order to submit it to the competent authorities”.
The competent authority in this case is the prosecution that must establish whether there is evidence of crime in these “data, documents and declarations with false content”, that the leadership of the SFA suspects. The information that the Fund has taken actions and measures for the recovery of the paid subsidy for the four projects that amounts to over 5.2 million levs sounds positively.
If investigative journalists received a percentage from the funds recovered after exposing abuses in their investigations, this “hit” would cover the cost of our work for two years ahead. But since Bulgaria has no such disposition, we appeal to our readers to continue to donate modest amounts to support our work.
Companies beneficiaries under the Rural Development Program, measure 121 “Modernization of agricultural holdings” RDP 2007-2013
SAMI Meat BG 200303323
Project for 2,831,952.92; Contract 23/121/05720 /April 26, 2013
“Building a poultry farm for breading turkeys and a domestic-administrative building in the village of Zhivkovo, municipality of Ihtiman”
Contracted 1,415,976.46 BGN
Credit 1.47 million BGN; Contract with 000LD-L-000 630/June 26, 2015
Project for 2,878,016.38 BGN; Contract 23/121/05700/March 15, 2013
“Construction of a farm with domestic-administrative building for poultry”
Contracted 1439 008.19 BGN
Credit 1.47 million BGN; Contract 000LD-L-000 614/June 26, 2015
NICK FOOD BG 200303273
Project 2,799,077.38 BGN; Contract 23/121/05606/March 13, 2013
“Building a poultry farm for breeding ducks in the village of Zhivkovo, municipality of Ihtiman”
Contracted 1399 538.69 BGN
Credit: 1.47 million BGN; Contract 000LD-L-000 620/24 July, 2015
APROVAL BG 200303425
Project 2,114,492.96 BGN
“Poultry farm for breeding turkeys with a domestic-administrative building in plot 036 055 in the site “KARATOPRAK”, village of Zhivkovo, Ihtiman Municipality
Contracted 1057 246.48 BGN
Credit: 980,000 BGN; Contract 000LD-L-000 631/July 27, 2015
This post is also available in: Bulgarian