Senior Bulgarian politicians and officials talk one the phone as much as they want through VIP plans with no monthly fees and limits – Bivol investigation shows. Among them PM Boyko Borissov and former PM Sergei Stanishev.
The program, which gives unlimited access to mobile telephony, is identified as “VIP no monthly, GGFree” in the system of Globul / Telenor. Translated this means “very important person, no monthly fees, Globul to Globul is free”. The numbers are personal and not in a group, as it should be if this was to be a package ordered by the State administration and paid with public funds, documents obtained by Bivol reveal.
For example, former Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev had under his own name two SIM cards for limitless calls within the network of the mobile operator Globul – +359897880001, activated on September 21, 2005, and +359897779997, activated on June 9, 2010. The SIM cards have unique numbers (IMSI), ending respectively with 0040215 and 9193625. Both numbers, however, are currently suspended and the caller hears a message that “a subscriber with this number does not exist”. Stanishev left for Brussels, as he was elected MEP, and one of his assistants in the European Parliament promised that Stanishev would comment on this information, but by the time of the editorial closure of the article we did not receive a reply.
Second term Prime Minister Boyko Borisov got the unlimited VIP number +359899999999. He has received this top “super cop” number (in Bulgaria numbers with all of the same digits are known to be given to senior law enforcement – editor’s note) as early as September 29, 2003, when as Chief Secretary of Interior he toured the crime scenes of plotted murder as an “Armani-clad tough guy” (according to the description of former US Ambassador to Bulgaria John Beyrle), bathing in media love. The unique number of his SIM card ends with 4565522 and the sim card is still in use.
Borisov – “Vow a boar just climbed over me!”
Just like in the fable about the poacher caught red-handed by the forest rangers with a boar on his shoulder, Borisov said that Globul issued the number without his knowledge.
“I would like to inform you that the Prime Minister does not use a SIM card with the number +395899999999. After your inquiry, we checked with Globul / Telenor. The check of the documents showed that since 2003, when the company was owned by the Greek telecom OTE, the name of Mr. Boyko Borisov was available in the company’s database as the user of this telephone number,” this is how the press office of the Prime Minster responded to our requests for comment.
“I can assure you that the Prime Minister has not contacted the Greek telecom OTE personally or through one of his associates to obtain the SIM card in question; he has not negotiated personally or through an associate a tariff plan, a subscription, or something else related to the services delivered by OTE or Telenor. Since 2001, Mr. Borisov has been using telephone numbers and services from companies that have contracts with the institutions in which he worked,” stated the message.
If the Prime Minister’s version is correct, the Greeks managed to steal all his personal data, including his social security number and home address in the Sofia suburb of Bankya, which are included in the database. It remains a mystery why Globul has issued this number that is still kept active and is used without even one lev being invoiced for it.
Something else that is quite intriguing is the fact that when calling + 359899999999, until the morning of November 21 one could hear the following voice message “the subscriber is not answering, please try again later”, why currently one can hear “the subscriber has temporarily restricted his incoming calls”. The change happened at about the same time when we received the answer from his press office.
Veselin Bozhkov from the Commission for Communications Regulation had five SIM cards?
According to our sources the “perpetual” Chief of the Commission for Communications Regulation, Vesselin Bozhkov, is also among the lucky ones, who have been chosen by Globul. The feared by mobile operators boss had at one point a total of five SIM cards with VIP plans. At the moment, however, only one active number is registered under his name – +35989997888. When called now, this number answers with the message “the subscriber is not answering, please try again later”. Veselin Bozhkov did not respond to our email requests for comment and is not answering his other phone number registered in the network of the mobile operator Mobiltel.
Telenor: There are VIP plans, we cannot say how many
Approached by Bivol with the question whether such VIP plans existed, Telenor answered in the affirmative, but specified that all were concluded under the management of the previous owner, prior to August 2013.
“Telenor has signed contracts for mobile services with individuals and legal entities under the plan you specified, and all of them, without exception, have been concluded before the acquisition of Telenor Bulgaria Ltd. by Telenor Mobile Communications in August 2013.”
The answer further reveals that the operator cannot unilaterally terminate contracts.
“For contracts under this plan, signed by August 2013, the Company is mandated to and it is duly fulfilling its commitments, where the respective customers pay the fees for the services they are using in accordance with the applicable terms.”
Contracts without tariffs
After a specific question of Bivol, Telenor’s press office announced the tariffs for VIP plans – free in the network of Globul, 0.039 levs per minute to other operators, 0.012 levs for short text messages (SMS) to all operators, including Globul, 2 levs per MB internet access and standard roaming tariffs.
However, these tariffs are not written in the contracts of VIP customers as we learn from an interview* of Daggers Naeringsliv with with Erik Nord, Head of communication for Telenor’s European companies and Director of Telenor Media and Content Services.
“It’s not written there exactly what price plans apply. We have tried to check against what is being paid,” says Nord.
– So there is a group of subscribers in Bulgaria, where it is not visible in from their contracts what they pay?
– No, it does not appear from the contract, what their price plans are, no. Right.
– When you see the invoice you see that they do not pay anything to call in the national network?
Nord admitted about hundreds of such contracts concluded before Telenor took over Globul, Daggers Naeringsliv says.
But Telenor cannot tell when asked by the Norwegian journalists, what were the conditions for becoming a VIP customer
The Norwegian newspaper also asked him if this could be seen as a form of corruption, since officials received these benefits.
“Now you are adding some terms I cannot answer, that I do not want to comment. You add some premises to your question which I can neither accept nor deny, so it becomes difficult to answer the questions.”
The “golden phones” do exist, confirmed a second, independent source of Bivol. They are granted by all mobile operators and are considered part of their budget for advertisement. Senior officials and high-ranking cops have four-five VIP numbers -the bigger the fish, the greater the limit (in the order of thousands of levs). According to our source, there are over 10,000 such numbers in Bulgaria.
Where is the problem?
Since there is no free lunch, nor free conversation, the VIP accounts of people in power are paid by other customers of the mobile operators. And these operators deserve hefty fines from the Commission for Consumer Protection.
The case also has a strong corruption twist, given that every year the State institutions sign contracts for millions with operators to provide “mobile services and devices” and “electronic communications services”. In addition, the State intervenes as a regulator for licenses and sets the tariffs for the frequencies used by the mobile operators.
Moreover, according to the Act for Public Disclosure of Property of persons occupying high government positions, politicians and civil servants are required to declare such benefits in kind when they exceed 500 levs per year. Nothing like that can be found in the declarations of Sergei Stanishev, Boyko Borisov and Vesselin Bozhkov, which may also mean that they have not talked a lot from the VIP numbers and have not exceeded this limit.
* Quotes from Daggers Naeringsliv’ interview with Erik Nord used with the permission of the authors.
This post is also available in: Bulgarian