Almost half of the guesthouses built with European money under the Rural Development Program (RDP) are missing from official data of the State Fund Agriculture (SFA). They are concentrated primarily in areas with minority population and cannot be found in the projects’ disbursement reports. However, an investigation of Bivol found them and established the owners of 287 “secret” houses. Another 95 still remain secret to the public.
A month ago, SFA published an ambiguous list of guest houses financed with EU funds. This move was prompted by a statement of the Minister of Agriculture that guesthouses will not be funded so generously in the new programming period. However, the list does not contain the names of the beneficiaries and the received amounts.
Bivol requested this information under the Access to Public Information Act (APIA) and received a reply that it is already available on the SFA website in two files: “List of guest houses constructed under measures 311 and 312 of the Rural Development Program 2007-2013” and “Approved Projects under the Rural Development Program by December 31, 2015”. According to the reply, signed by SFA Director Rumen Porozhanov, “information on all measures under RDP for the said programming period, including financing under measures 311 and 312 for guesthouses, can be found in them”.
The last statement, however, proved false. Less than half of the projects funded under these measures can be found through their description in the file “Approved Projects under the Rural Development Program by December 31, 2015” where constructed houses are listed. They are worth about 114 million levs.
Some other 378 project sremained a mystery until June 13, when by using Google search our investigative team discovered a secret file on the site of the SFA entitled 31.12.2014_contracted_iuridicheski_lica.xls. Readers can download it from this link: www.dfz.bg/assets/6291/31.12.2014_contracted_iuridicheski_lica.xls
The information in this file summarizes the projects contracted by the end of 2014. It is, to put it mildly, scandalous. The hidden file contains information on about 5,821 projects with signed contracts, which is by 1,224 more than in the official list of and “Approved Projects under the Rural Development Program by December 31, 2015”. The latter list by the end of 2015 only includes 4,597 projects.
Why are 1,224 projects (over 20%) concealed and why Rumen Porozhanov lied so bluntly? These are issues that should be explored by the National Security Agency (DANS), the prosecution and OLAF.
Bivol began exploring the “secret” file with the projects contracted by the end of 2014. After methodically crossing information with the list of built houses, we found another 287 houses for 89 million levs. Within the frame of this investigation, we had to create specialized tools for the analysis of the bulk data from the SFA and an interactive search engine with visualization of the location of the houses.
There are ninety five houses for which information cannot be detected in any of the lists produced by SFA, openly or secretly, and it is unknown who owns them or the amount received to finance them. If multiplied by 267,777, which is the average subsidy for all known guesthouses, this would add 25.4 million levs to the total.
So, it appears that SFA is carefully concealing information about projects that cost the European taxpayer over 114 million levs.
The map that Bivol create by using the aggregated data for the guesthouses shows that much of the secret guesthouses are concentrated in areas with minority population, where the party largely representing Bulgarian Muslims – Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) – has strong political influence. In addition, SFA is considered one of the bastions of DPS in the “distributing of the portions” in the country.
One possible reason to conceal these data from the public is that some of these guesthouses have been subsidized to help the hotel endeavors of people close to the local and central government. One such house was discovered in our investigation into the activities of former senior SFA employee Yanaki Chervenyakov. His mother-in-law has built guest house in the village of Lilyanovo that is not used as such.
In order to validate the subsidy for a guesthouse project, this guesthouse must operate year-round, be registered, categorized and have a staff.
Otherwise, it turns out that someone privy to the deal lied with the goal of receiving European money and building for free a private home or cottage. Meanwhile, the “uninitiated” keep saving or borrowing to achieve the same.
The SFA is not only lying about the projects, but it does not show particular diligence in checking such wise guys. A reference obtained by Bivol after a journalistic inquiry under APIA shows that so far 720 projects for guesthouses have been examined for irregularities, but such have been detected in only eight of them, and the house of Yanaki Chervenyakov’s mother-in-law is not among them.
Bivol will continue to investigate the ownership and the operation of the known and secret guesthouses, funded under the RDP. We appeal to readers who have information about relatives or political cronies and dependencies among those who have won guesthouse projects to alert us at [email protected] and/or through the Facebook page of the site.
This post is also available in: Bulgarian