The Deputy Chairman of GERB and then-Interior Minister, Tsvetan Tsvetanov and one of the owners of “Balkanstroy”, Yordan Kanazirev in the flooded village of Biser
The European Commission announced Friday, in a final decision, that the scandalous swaps of forests during the term of the Three Party Coalition are unauthorized State aid. The Commission was approached by the so-called “Greens Lawyers” as early as 2011, but the answer was delayed. Now, the State has an obligation to collect from the new owners the difference between what was paid and the market prices, or annul the deals, otherwise it would face the threat of a fine of two billion levs.
All these swaps, involving State-owned forests, got a ban for changing their purpose status at the beginning of the term of the centrist Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria party (GERB). The National Assembly (Parliament) adopted changes to the Forestry Act, under which the swapped forests remained forests and construction in them was banned. GERB leader and then-Prime Minister, Boyko Borisov, bragged about his contribution to this piece of legislation in his typical style: “I stopped Stanishev’s (his predecessor – editor’s note) swaps”
However, neither GERB’s rule nor its successor – the Cabinet “Oresharski” – did something to undo the scandalous swaps, performed by the Three Party Coalition, of which oligarchs, close to the government, benefited. Despite the procedure opened by the European Commission and the four-year ban on the change of purpose, much of the swaps were resold, mortgaged and consolidated to conceal tracks of the initially exchanged properties.
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The eco activists’ coalition “For the Nature in Bulgaria” evoked the most striking deals – 1,364.067 decares of dunes near the Kamchiya River, swapped to the benefit of “Beta Forest” Ltd.; 1,344.763 decares of dunes, again near the Kamchiya River, given to “Mirta Engineering” Ltd.; two plots of 470.005 decares and 578.716 decares of coastal areas on the Silver Beach, adjacent to the Black Sea town of Balchik, swapped by “All Seas Property ” Ltd., and over 3,000 decares of State forests above Govedartsi in the Rila Mountain, given to companies linked to shady businessman Hristo Kovachky.
An investigation of Bivol showed that GERB’s passivity in this issue has a simple explanation – emblematic companies from “GERB’s ring” have also benefited from property swaps. Moreover, the ban on changing the purpose of exactly these properties four years ago is yet to be recorded by the Cadaster Agency.
Boyko Borisov and Tsvetan Tsvetanov regularly vacation, in the winter and in the summer, in the hotels of the company “Pirin Golf”, local press writes. There, they are warmly welcomed by construction bosses Nikolay and Kostadin Kaloyanovi and Yordan Kanazirev, owners of the complex. But their warm relationship with GERB’s leadership extends beyond summer and winter vacations. In 2011, a bTV report exposed a scheme for controlled voting in Razlog in favor of the candidate of GERB. According to unofficial information, the company “Balkanstroy”, owned by the same businessmen, is also among them.
In 2012, after the tragedy in Biser, when the village got flooded, Tsvetan Tsvetanov, insisted that “Glavbolgastroy” and “Balkanstroy” should be building the new homes there, without a public procurement procedure. Later, “Balkanstroy” won the tender for the construction of houses, together with another company close to GERB – “Build Invest”. As Mediapool wrote at the time, the procedures for selecting the contractor caused serious doubts of predictability.
Are the dunes dunes? Are the swaps swaps?
The company “Pirin Golf Holidays Club”, which is owned by Nicholay and Kostadin Kaloyanovi and Yordan Kanazirev, swapped 517 decares of forests in Razlog in 2005. The declared then material interest was 281,754 levs and one year later, on November 20, 2006, the properties were sold to “Balkanstroy” for just 5,600 levs. In 2007, the purpose status of 66 decares was changed by decrees 313, 328, 314, 315 of the State Forestry Agency. The purpose of the remaining property was not changed. After the ban on changing the purpose of land, the properties were sold to another company with the same owners – “Balkanstroy Group Holding”, and material interest was already 135,000 levs. And in 2012, the land plots were consolidated and mortgaged for 8 million levs in CIBANK and the borrower was “Pirin Golf Holidays Club”.
So far, we have a classic scheme – resale, consolidation, mortgaging the land. Despite the construction ban, the terrain brings obvious benefits to the company. However, a check, conducted by Bivol, exposed another shocking fact:
The ban to change the purpose of this property, under the Forestry Act, is not listed in the information about the property in the Cadaster Agency,
which allows performing procedures for change of purpose and obtaining construction documents as local authorities may cite the absence of information about restrictions.
Properties in the Nessebar dunes, for which the cadaster did not say that they are dunes, were sold and received building permits under the exact same scheme. Once this problem was clearly identified in the scandal “Dunes Gate,” the National Assembly decided in early 2013 to produce special maps of the dunes. These maps are not yet ready because of the resistance of local authorities as they affect large investment interests.
Are the swaps swaps? Are the restrictions on swaps of other companies and individuals close to the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), to the party of the Turkish minority, Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) and to GERB listed in the cadaster? Bivol’s investigation continues with properties of emblematic current owners of former State forests.
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