The lessons from “Dunes Gate” one year later

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One year ago, on December 30, 2012, Bivol published its article “Ugly Corruption: GERB Sells Directly Public Land on the Cheap,” and it gave birth to “Dunes Gate.” The investigation was prompted by pictures of dunes plowed by bulldozers, posted on the Facebook profile of environmentalist Toma Belev on the previous day.

Bivol revealed that land in a protected area was sold by the state for 581 000 levs and resold the next day at a price of 4 million levs to the company “SLE Group.”

The scandal shook the government so strongly that on December 31, Agriculture Minister Naydenov convened a press conference to explain that the price included the fee for the exclusion of the land from the forestry fund, which is absurd. Naydenov lied that the procedures in question – for distribution of land near the sea for pennies, dated from the time the Three Party Coalition and GERB had nothing to do with them. Instead of pinning the scandal, Naydenov’s botched justification fanned it. The revelations about the abuses continued without a break throughout the entire month of January. It became clear that the sale of the dunes in Nessebar was not an accidental act, but a well-developed and organized system of public plundering, launched by the Coalition government, but continued, deepened and finalized by GERB. The scheme exposed affiliations of the company “SLE Group” to the Deputy Chairman of GERB, the then Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior, Tsvetan Tsvetanov. The saga gained publicity as “Tsetso and Kumetso” (Tsetso is diminutive of Tsvetan and his Best Man – editor’s note).

It all functioned as a well-oiled mechanism for the benefit of people associated with power now and then, Bivol’s investigations revealed, for which the site received an environmental award from “Biodiversity.”

Did “Dunes Gate” rescue the last undeveloped dunes and beaches?

The fact is that procedures of the type “Dunes Gate” were stopped only due to publications of Bivol about the specific parameters of the deal to sell 29 decares of dunes between Nessebar and Ravda. The signing and the finalization of the sale of other plots from the state forestry fund on the sea coast had been, literally, a matter of hours. The signatures were not inked because the scandal with the dunes gained explosive popularity.

“Dunes Gate” also unlocked interest in old cases, such as construction on the beaches Coral and Irakli. Eventually, it led to a temporary moratorium on construction, passed in July 2013, and the Ministry of Environment and Waters was given a year to prepare a proposal for a protected area National Park “Bulgarian Black Sea Coast” to include the beaches Irakli, Karadere, Kamchiya – Shkorpilovtsi, Durankulak – “St Anna,” Krapets, the Shabla lakes, Coral, Arcutino, Dunes and Maslen Nos (the coast and the beaches between Perla and the natural reserve Ropotamo).

Is the conservation urge of the new government sincere or passing the ball; a new PR move before another organized plundering? The forecasts here are rather bleak.

Indeed, amendments to the Urban Planning Act, the Urbanization of the Black Sea Coast Act, the Forestry Act, and Protection of Agricultural Land Act were adopted, with texts prohibiting construction on dunes and their sale, but with many exceptions. Some of the planned changes in the Urbanization of the Black Sea Coast Act give reason to conclude that the new Three Party Coalition revives the most sinister practices in the total destruction of the last places along our coast remaining untouched by concrete. If the planned changes are passed, they will legitimize the currently existing illegal construction on the seashore and will reinvigorate the oligarchy to engross and built up for the purpose of specula the Bulgarian coast, dooming the country to be the tourist ghetto of Europe. Moreover, nearly six months after the announcement of plans for the National Park “Black Sea,” it is not clear whether this task is at all assigned.

As usual, the rulers already left a loophole in the moratorium – “for construction of infrastructure of local and national significance,” which forecasts new collisions. Let’s not forget that the infamous GERB MP Emil Dimitrov attempted to acquire land from the forest fund under the scheme “Dunes Gate” and to change its purpose on grounds of having a “hydro-technical facility.” An illegally built pool had to pass as such.

At the same time, the new rulers from the Socialist party, BSP, tried to recruit the mastermind of “Dunes Gate,” Arch. Kalin Tiholov, as Minister of Investment Planning. After huge public resistance, Tiholov was replaced by his colleague from the University for Architecture, Construction and Urban Planning, Ivan Danov, who became famous as “the French Unemployed” due to abuses of the social welfare system in France. At the end of November this year, Danov directly implied that the dunes were too large and impeded construction. He also tried to exonerate his friend Kalin Tiholov in the “Dunes Gate” affair, despite incriminating documents. All this does not forecast anything good for the future project for a protected area, which will bring an end to the appetites for construction in the last virgin places on the covered-with-concrete Bulgarian Black Sea coast.

Prosecution with eyes wide shut

The actions of the Bulgarian Prosecutor’s Office, which in the case “Dunes Gate” fully closed its eyes for violations of the central government, for the criminal below market appraisal of state land and for the origins of money of the young people from “SLE Group,” who became millionaires in months, are particularly indicative. Charges were pressed against local feudals; completely innocent people were fired, and the most prominent corrupts kept their posts.

The prosecution did not examine the scandalous revelation of Deputy Minister Boyanova “I am signing documents because they are brought to me for signature.” Even then, the question of WHO brings these documents for signatures emerged full force. Who is this backstage power, which disposes of state land as it was their own, lugging documents for signatures around the ministries? How come a senior civil servant does not know what she signs and is she at all responsible for her signatures leading to public interest detriment?

Bivol has evidence that the one “bringing documents for signature” is a very thick and heavily-hated in Bulgarian society cover-up umbrella, standing behind the millions of the nouveau-riche property bosses Lachezar Bogdanov and Stanimir Stoyanov from “SLE Group.” The capital of these enterprising young people is well hidden in the Dutch offshore islands under the known pattern.

“Dunes Gate” exposed yet another loophole in our penal law. It turns out that there is no sanction in the Penal Code for those who build arbitrarily in a forest. There are penalties for constructing in agricultural lands and pastures, but not in forests. This conscious or not “loophole” in reality provides opportunities to not hold liable people, who are building illegal swimming pools, a tennis court and restaurants such as those around the hotel of the mother of Emil Dimitrov AKA Emo the Cigarette Butt.

Art. 323a. (New – State Gazette, issue 27 from 1973, amended, issue 28 from 1982, correction, issue 31 from 1982, amended – SG, issue 75 from 2006, effective October 13, 2006) (1) Any person who constructs a building on arable land, agricultural land or pasture without any right to do so, shall be punished with imprisonment of up to two years and a fine of one thousand to three thousand levs.

In Bulgarian mentality such legal standards are pure invitation for robbery. That is why the prosecution did not hold responsible Emil Dimitrov’s company for appropriating land from the forest fund, on which a swimming pool and bar, declared pastry shop, were built. Anyone can go in the state forest; build a house or a pool and use them wholeheartedly, while the sluggish State Commission for Construction Control drags the procedure for demolition.

Bivol calls upon the Bulgarian MPs to initiate the closing of this legislative loophole as it serves only major criminal interests.

Appraisals of land are the root of evil both in land swaps and in “Dunes Gate

Manipulated appraisals of state land are a key mechanism for enriching the right people at the expense of the state through land swaps and purchases at non-market prices. In the scheme “Dunes Gate,” the direct selling prices were artificially lowered below market prices. But there is another scheme where land prices are artificially increased. It emerged with full force in the scandal around the swaps of “Bro Sali” in the town of Samokov – a meadow for the price of 19 cent per square was swapped for regulated public property after a certified appraiser raised the price hundred times. “Bro Sali,” himself, revealed that there are many other similar swaps locally and was indignant that he alone became the focus of the media.

Appraisals were the main mechanism for the swaps during the term of the Three Party Coalition, which caused the EC to target Bulgaria, but the GERB government failed to end them as well.

In all these cases, the Prosecution is the biggest absentee as it remains silent rather than investigating, prosecuting, and ultimately making the Court return in the budget losses from unprofitable deals. It is lucrative for someone to keep the schemes for the plundering of public land unsanctioned and continue them through convenient loopholes. Here, we should remind that the very wife of Chief Prosecutor Sotir Tsatsarov, who is a notary public, has declared property deals with unrealistic prices. After Bivol’s revelation of the latter in December 2012, the then future Chief Prosecutor announced that he saw nothing wrong with manipulated prices that harm the budget.

Thus, the judicial system in Bulgaria remains permanently in the “Twilight Zone,” playing a role where it does not protect the rule of law and the interests of the state and its citizens, but provides cover-up for the merge between political power and the mafia. The upcoming report of the European Commission is expected to confirm this analysis very soon.


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