MediapoolWeekly: September 29 – October 4, 2019

Head of Supreme court asks data about Ivan Geshev’s successful cases, gets called a maniac, PM Boyko Borissov apparently lied about allocating 50 million leva for nurses’ raises to calm down protests

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Head of Supreme court asks data about number of successful cases prosecuted by Geshev

The whole of the Prosecutor’s Office, along with a number of law enforcement agencies, all of the government-friendly media and Ivan Geshev himself are in full campaign-mode to paint Geshev as the best and only possible nomination for Prosecutor General. And he is, if the goal is to deepen the power of the Prosecutor’s Office, further its transformation into a political repressive machine to take down enemies and protect friends and ultimately protect the justice system from any kind of reform. In other words – carry on and develop Sotir Tsatsarov’s legacy. The body, which elects – or in this case – appoints the Prosecutor General, the Supreme Judicial Council also voiced its support for Geshev as well, after Sotir Tsatsarov picked him for his successor.

In the midst of immense praise, the head of the Supreme Court, Lozan Panov decided to ask a simple question. How many successful cases has Ivan Geshev actually prosecuted? That is, how many of his cases have concluded with a final ruling in the prosecutors’ favor. Apparently, this information is very much secret and not at all easy to a find. Capital Weekly tried to obtain such data some time ago and ultimately failed to get a definite number. First the District Prosecutor’s Office in Sofia said it could not say. Later it sent the number of trials, opened as a result from his indictments. Which, one, hardly answers the question of how many of those ended with conviction, and two, makes it look as a not very well executed attempt at moving the attention elsewhere. Although, if anything, it achieves the opposite.

Since both the Prosecutor General and the highest body in the justice system, the Supreme Judicial Council claim there is no one more qualified, experienced and well-equipped for the job, while the talking points in his favor all revolve around his almost super natural ability to lock criminals up, one would expect for the number of actual convictions to be a point of immense debate and frankly bragging by his supporters. In reality is nothing short of taboo.

Ivan Geshev also heads the so-called Specialized Prosecutor’s Office, which prosecutes cases of high-level corruption and organized crime. For all his otherwise very loud outbursts in the media about how guilty the defendants in his cases are, his record is rather pitiful. The recent conviction of former Mladost mayor Dessislava Ivancheva is arguably the only one he has managed to achieve. At the same time, the case is overflowing with irregularities, false statements, questionable evidence and witness testimonies. Ivancheva and her fellow defendants received the maximum sentence for asking for a bribe but were found not guilty for taking it. They are appealing it, but are also suing Bulgaria in the European Court for Human Rights for inhumane treatment during the trial.

According to the Supreme Judicial Council’s public data, Ivan Geshev’s 230 indictments have led to 233 convicted persons. However, there is no mention as what per cent of those have stood in further instances.

Asked about Panov’s inquiries, Ivan Geshev dismissed them as ‘maniac’. “Over the past years I always thought – Geshev said – that Panov has an obsession with Tsatsarov. Now I understand his obsession is with the office of the Prosecutor General”.

The protests against Geshev continue, meanwhile. He is no more liked among the public than when his candidacy was first announced. And he continues his hectic collection of letters of support by anyone who cannot refuse him and his mentor Sotir Tsatsarov.

PM Boyko Borissov apparently lied about allocating 50 million leva for nurses’ raises

Back in April when nurses protested for higher wages across the country, PM Boyko Borissov announced the government would allocate 50 million leva from the budget surplus. It now turns out he lied.

In May the 50 million were released to Health Minister Kiril Ananiev but for something else: to help cool off another protest – of pediatricians – and increase the amount the national healthcare fund pays for a number of treatments of children. In other words, the 50 million were allocated twice.

bTV first reported that while the initial decision states the government “allocates up to 50 million leva” for raising the minimum wage of nurses across the country, just a month later the amount is set at six million.

Health Minister Kiril Ananiev explained that the reason for the correction at the time was to avoid breaking the law. If the Cabinet had gone ahead with the decision, it would have exceeded the threshold it is allowed by law to subsidize the health sector. Bulgarian health care is funded through three channels: the state budget, which includes Cabinet allocations during the budget year, municipal budgets and the public healthcare fund.

The question, however, remains why the PM and the Cabinet made the decision in the first place: 30 million were already spent by the Cabinet for small and remote healthcare facilities, which meant additional 50 million was impossible. It means either that such decisions get made without checking if they could be realized at all, or that the government is fully aware of not being able to fulfill them, but sign the documents to calm – in this case – protesters down, knowing it can cancel or amend them after the (PR) crisis is over.

Now Ananiev says the nurses should seek the funds for their raises from the national healthcare fund.

“I’ve been saying from the very beginning that 86 million leva are secured, the source [of the funds] is a different matter… No one ever said anything about two times 50 million plus 30 million”, Ananiev told journalists.

But even as recently as mid-September PM Boyko Borissov again confirmed that the Cabinet had allocated the 50 million for nurses’ wages and dismissed follow-up questions, saying that all of those should be directed at Ananiev. Who also tried another strategy on Thursday, claiming that nurses’ wages are not so low anyway. However, the reason the national average, which Ananiev likes to cite (1253 leva) is such only thanks to the higher wages in the largest hospitals in the largest cities. Others barely come close to the minimum promised of 950 leva.

The largest parliamentary opposition the Bulgarian Socialist Party tabled a question in Parliament during the regular Friday questions about the case. Ananiev was the one to answer. He maintained that the total amount allocated to the system from the budget is 86 million leva and “most of that went for salaries”.

While Ananiev’s chosen talking point is technically not a lie, neither he, nor Borissov have ever announced that the 50 million, which were promised and allocated in April were cut to 6 million, and the rest were to be sought by the national health fund, i.e, would never reach the nurses.

In other news:

Far right candidate for Sofia mayor caused chaos during BNT debate and was taken out by security

The leader of the far-right-wing ATAKA, Volen Siderov caused a scandal during a debate in the Bulgarian National Television on Tuesday. ATAKA is one of GERB’s coalition partners, its leader is running for Sofia mayor. Siderov is known for his outbursts and ruthless behavior, especially towards journalists.

In the framework of the political talk show Referendum with host Dobrina Cheshmedzhieva, Siderov took over the floor and embarked on a continuous rant about his political opponents, ignoring the rules for time, questions, etc. when his total time ran out, Cheshmedzhieva asked for his microphone to be turned off but he continued to yell at his colleagues. Eventually Cheshmedzhieva called security and Siderov was taken out.

BNT came out with a decision to ban Siderov from air at least till after the elections, unless he apologizes in writing. Siderov pleaded to the Central Elections Committee to force BNT to include him in its shows. He also requested the media regulator to sanction BNT for banning him from the air.

This is Siderov’s modus operandi, and while he never fails to amuse or scandalize, he seldom surprises in his choice of tactic. Interestingly, however, while the ruling GERB is very much against this type of behavior and condemns it in very definite wording, they are never condemning enough to resort to – in this case as well – excluding ATAKA from the coalition, and thus losing their (several) votes in Parliament.

More than 80 civil society organizations issue support for the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee

More than 80 civil society organizations issued support for the Bulgarian human rights watchdog BHK after for-right VMRO openly called on the Prosecutor General Sotir Tsatsarov to shut the organization down because of its position on the Jock Palfreeman case. VMRO is one of GERB’s coalition partners. PM Boyko Borissov was quick to disassociate himself from VMRO’s position: “What VMRO has decided to request is their business”, he said and went on to share his personal views of the importance of a strong and independent non-governmental sector.

Palfreeman was granted parole a few weeks back but is still kept in custody in a refugee detention facility, while prosecutors and high-ranking officials expressed dismay with the decision.

The public reaction coupled with far-right-wingers snowballed well beyond what should count as acceptable in a country governed by the rule of law. The panel of judges, which made the ruling was verbally attacked by government-friendly media, which ultimately led to an unprecedented move by almost 300 judges to issue an open letter calling for politicians to abstain from attacking the court’s rulings. This week university professors mostly from Sofia University’s philosophy, journalism and humanities faculties also issued a joint position in support of the court.

The Bulgarian Supreme Court will hold a hearing about Palfreeman’s parole, after the Prosecutor General asked the Supreme Court of Cassations to cancel the decision to grant Palfreeman parole.

Bulgartransgaz seeks 150-million-euro loan for Turk Stream

Bulgartransgaz, the Bulgarian gas transmission operator, has launched an official procedure to seek a 150-million-euro loan to pay for the 473-kilomiter Turk Stream pipe, which is going to run through Bulgaria. Bulgartransgaz’s CEO Vladimir Malinov announced the news on Thursday after the second agreement for the realization of the project was signed. The document outlines the construction of two compression stations along the route, for which Bulgartransgaz signed a contract with the Saudi consortium Arkad.

The two stations will cost almost 180 million euro excluding taxes. The consortium has 715 days to build them.

Vladimir Malinov says this contract is a step towards realizing Bulgartransgaz’s plan for the so-called Balkan Hub and the Balkan Stream, which this government and management have spoken about continuously over the years.

Per the contract Bulgartransgaz must ensure an advance of 40% of the value of the contract, or about 70 million. Malinov failed to explain why Bulgartransgas is drawing a loan more than twice this amount.

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