Yet Another ‘Phony’ Probe Finds Just 5% Guesthouse Irregularities

Dimitar Stoyanov

The Bulgarian Ministry of Agriculture and Food (MAF) has checked 288 guesthouses under monitoring and another seven that are not, according to Minister Desislava Taneva, which reported the results of the inspections at a special press conference at the MAF. Of the 288 projects, 15 do not operate as guesthouses. They will be subject to a 100% payment adjustment. This makes 5.2% of the projects checked.

The guesthouse of Dimitar Katrandzhiev’s wife in the resort town of Velingrad, first exposed by Bivol, is among them. Katrandzhiev is very close to the mayor of Velingrad from the ruling party Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB), but the mayor had nothing to do with the case, explained Taneva. However, these 15 houses do not include the mansion with the mineral water pool of the former Deputy Minister Alexander Manolev, also exposed by Bivol, where the violations were established by the Prosecutor’s Office and not by the MAF.

Various violations have been found in another 74 houses. For 62 of them, it has been found that they do not fulfill the condition of job creation. Nevertheless, the MAF assumes that they are operating as guesthouses and that the beneficiaries run these sites. All projects with irregularities will be subject to a payment adjustment of between 5% and 15% of the amount of the subsidy.

Over the years, 1,062 guesthouse projects have been approved in Bulgaria under the European Union (EU) Rural Development Program (RDP). Of these, 746 have been funded under the RDP. The mandatory monitoring period has expired for 458 of them and their current oversight is beyond the mandate of the MAF and the State Fund Agriculture (SFA).

Desislava Taneva did not respond to Bivol’s question about why the inspection of irregularities in the construction and operation of sites financed by the measures for guesthouses was not carried out until 2019, provided that our team reported the abuses in 2017. She, however, stressed that the inspection had taken place immediately after her taking office as Agriculture Minister.

Despite this positive development, the following questions remain:

The MAF does not have the jurisdiction to check the projects, but only to control the work of the SFA – how it exercised oversight on guesthouses. Over the years, the inspections had been scarce and, even after specific alerts, the SFA during the term of Rumen Porozhanov as its Director refused to conduct them. Has this been probed and who is responsible?

Why are inspections carried out on the spot, thus alerting owners to prepare themselves, perhaps with falsified documents, instead of checking their reports and the number of their employees in years past remotely? Such checks in the National Social Security Institute (NSSI) take seconds.

What will be the sanctions if in previous years the houses have not operated as guesthouses, including those with an expired monitoring period, that have not been checked at all?

Bivol published a list of non-operational guesthouses in May 2017. Why there were no checks for two years after that?

The inspection by the MAF and the SFA does not answer the questions about the systematic presence of local “big shots” from GERB, the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS, the party largely representing the Bulgarian Muslim minority), the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) and other political factions among the beneficiaries of EU funds. Many of them have acquired guesthouses and family hotels. In this case, it is irrelevant whether these sites operate as such and have a perfect record, but whether there are influence peddling and conflict of interest in the process of selection and approval of projects and beneficiaries. It seems that Taneva’s team has failed to carry out such inspections. The Prosecutor’s Office, which is doing its own probe, is yet to announce its results.


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