After several persistent inquiries by Bivol, the Bulgarian State Fund Agriculture (SFA) disclosed the names of the companies in whose projects under the Rural Development Program (RDP) the authorities established irregularities and fraud. These are precisely the four companies linked to businessman Mario Nikolov about which Bivol wrote last October and sent inquiries to OLAF in February. OLAF then replied that they had checked the projects and decided not to investigate because there was no suspicion of fraud or irregularities justifying the opening of an investigation. Three months later, the revelations of fraud in the exact same projects in the amount of five million levs speak either of a severe failure of the European Anti-Fraud Office or of intent with corruption zest.
On May 19, SFA published a press release explaining it 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”. According to the inspectors, “there are also existing doubts about data, documents and false declarations not corresponding to reality”. The original statement, however, did not name the particular companies.
Bivol made several requests to the SFA and finally received confirmation that the four companies are SAMI Meat BG, HOLID, NICK FOOD BG and AGROVAL BG. Their managers and owners are the same people who handled Mario Nikolov’s companies during the “SAPARD Affair” in 2007, showed earlier investigations by our site. Until today, the “SAPARD Affair” is still an axiom for the sluggish and dependent justice system in Bulgaria. In this case, the close to former President Parvanov businessman Lyudmil Stoykov was acquitted and Mario Nikolov and his accomplices still have no convictions. The case of the laundering of 7.5 million euro from the “SAPARD” program is very well known to OLAF. In 2012, the Director of OLAF, Giovanni Kessler, explicitly cited it and expressed surprise by the acquittals in Bulgaria while in Germany the accomplices received jail terms.
While waiting for (yet) another sentence, Mario Nikolov apparently decided to make one more hit and applied for financing with four projects under the RDP and another four under the Operational Program “Competitiveness” with several companies whose connectivity is easily detected. 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. One of the companies was simply renamed and reapplied for funds. The financial guarantees for all projects came from the same bank that guaranteed Mario’s SAPARD fraud – First Investment Bank (FIB) with which Nikolov has a privileged relationship. All this, including the new theft scheme detailed in investigations by Bivol, failed to cause any excitement in the institutions combatting fraud with EU money, on the contrary.
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.
Even more, after the first publication about these projects, in October 2015, 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.
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.
Once again we asked OLAF why they failed to reacted to our signal and refused to investigate. And we received once again an elusive and wordy response which recalls the addresses to send signals for irregularities.
Such dodging on the backdrop of facts about the apparent failure of OLAF in the case of new schemes by the infamous businessman is concealing either sloppiness or a corruption scheme between Sofia and Brussels.
However, the scandal Mario Nikolov will not die down and be swept easily under the rug, because it reveals a systemic problem. It turns out that neither OLAF nor the Bulgarian authorities have any mechanisms to audit and counter the recurrent abuse of funds. And when journalists and citizens submit very specific and substantiated tipoffs about abuses, they go into some file folder without being checked. Bivol’s investigations are proof of this vicious practice that inflicts damages in the amount of hundreds of millions to the European budget.
See all investigations by Bivol on the topic:
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