Mediapool Weekly: June 2 – June 8, 2018

Dessislava Ivancheva Officially Removed from Office

Dessislava Ivancheva (left) and Bilyana Petrova (left)

The Special Court of Appeals officially removed Dessislava Ivancheva from the office of Mayor of Mladost Municipality, Sofia after. The second instance court reaffirmed the Special Court’s ruling from two weeks ago.

Dessislava Ivancheva and her deputy Bilyana Petkova were arrested on charges of corruption on April 17. Specifically, a joint operation between special police forces, the prosecutor’s office and the Commission for Illegal Assets arrested them for a 70’000-euro bribe, which Ivancheva allegedly took to issue a permit for a construction project in Mladost. The arrest was a spectacle of raw police and state power: Ivancheva was arrested in the middle of a busy intersection in the heart of the city. She was made to stand for nearly 7 hours handcuffed and surrounded by special forces and other officials. The media and bystanders took the opportunity to take pictures and videos of the arrest throughout the day. Regardless if proven guilty or not–which is only for the court to decide–the indecency with which the authorities executed this arrest–coupled with the mounting lack of hard evidence and in part due process–led many observers and media to conclude that Ivancheva's arrest served ulterior objectives: one, the government will spin the whole operation its advantage specifically to paint the picture of going after corruption; and two, Ivancheva would–at least for a while–be unable to intersect some important deals for construction projects that she had apparently stood in the way of.

The prosecution’s motion for removing Ivancheva and her deputy Petrova was based on the order she issued for Roumen Rousev's–currently acting mayor of Mladost - dismissal. She issued the order while under indictment and incarcerated, which the prosecution used as grounds for her removal, arguing she could jeopardies proceedings if she continues to be able to execute the office of mayor. The Special Court accepted the motion, the defense appealed and now the second instance court has confirmed the ruling. Her order consequently was never enacted and Roussev became acting mayor of Mladost.

During the session, Ivancheva and Petkova were held handcuffed. Apparently, that way they couldn’t hold up signs with exempts from the transcripts from the Special Investigative Tools (SIT) recordings relative to their case, as they had done at the previous court session.

Few days before the Court of Appeals’ ruling on Ivancheva’s removal from office, during another court session, she and Petrova showed quotes which they had taken down from transcripts of the recordings made with SIT. The transcripts are part of the body of evidence against Ivancheva and Petrova.

D: What are we going to do if she doesn’t take the money?

V: Then we’ll take her on a walk to Vitosha [mountain].

D: Yeah, we’ll send commandoes, and she’ll be pushed to…

V: Better business than force.

...

V: How do BB and TzTz put up with her? Soon other Ivanchevas will be popping up all over Sofia.

D: They will, and we talked about this-this is very dangerous.

V: They will emerge on the state level, too; we have to take measures.

These are some of the excerpts from the transcripts of conversations recorded via SIT, which Dessislava Ivancheva and Bilyana Petrova showed at the court hearing earlier this week. The women claim the two participants in the conversation are Petko Dyulgerov (D), who is also a defendant in the trial for playing the middleman in the alleged deal. Ivancheva has accused Dyulgerov time and time again that he was in on what she describes as an elaborate ploy designed to neutralize her and her efforts to stand in the way of shady construction plans. The other, V, is supposedly the prosecution's main witness, Alexander Vaklin. He was also the one who provided the actual 70'000 euro to be marked and used for the bribe. As for BB and TzTz, Ivancheva said "we all know who they are" referring to PM Boyko Borissov and deputy chair of GERB and former Minister of Interior Tzveran Tzvetanov.

 Dessislava Ivancheva and Bilyana Petrova declared before the court that they have received threats prior to their arrest but the Ministry of Interior has repeatedly ignored their reports.

We have been signaling the police – I should clarify, before the arrest, so they don’t spin this as some kind of defense strategy. Of course, nothing followed. The recordings from the SIT also contain how they [the other persons in the recordings] are saying to each other that we’ll be threatened – those are the threats we knew about. Some we even took as jokes. One time someone called and told us they'll plant drugs in the car. We laughed at the time, we thought it nothing more than a bad joke.”

She later told reporters:

What shocked me the most (…) was seeing conversations about the threats.”

She continued that she was astonished that apart from their own signals to the police, authorities had the knowledge from elsewhere as well.

“How did nobody do anything for three months? (…) I’m beginning to feel glad that I’m incarcerated, at least my life here is guaranteed.”, she concluded.

Ivancheva underlined that the SIT contain conversations about the bribe but none with either of Ivancheva or Petkova. She said, “the conversations are not with us (…) but between the other people in the recordings.

Back at the Court of Appeals, before ruling began Bilyana Ivancheva asked the court to check whether acting mayor Roumen Rousev had not already fired her. She was right: suddenly the senior counsel of the Municipality, Yoan Andreev turned up in court carrying the order for Petkova’s dismissal, issued by Roussev on June 4. Petkova refused to accept the order for two reasons: one, Roussev had issued it while she was on leave, and two, she was presented with it outside of business hours. Both arguments are consistent with the law. The procedure for dismissal requires to be issued and delivered to the recipient during working hours and at a time the official is not on leave, business trip etc.

The court, however, admitted the document to the body of evidence anyway. 

As she was now considered removed from office the appeal proceedings against the court removing her from office became irrelevant to her case. The judge ordered her out of the courtroom. Petrova insisted she be allowed to stay and observe the proceedings but for some reason, the court refused to let her stay.

The session lasted 7 hours. The atmosphere was intense as both defendants actively contradicted or provoked the court with often sarcastic comments. Spectators from the organization Green Mladost, keen supporters of Ivancheva's and Petrova's - served as reinforcements as they cheered loudly during the session. Several were removed from the courtroom. The court found Ivancheva in contempt and fined her 200 leva for making sarcastic comments to the magistrates regarding the circumstances of her removal and specifically the order for Roussev’s removal.

The court highlighted that Ivancheva’s removal from office is a temporary measure and that it will not affect her employment relations with the municipality as a whole. This is an important distinction for the court as this way they evade the matter of her being an elected official who was replaced by an administrative body. Being temporary the judge insisted that “the vote of the people is not overridden”.

Later, after the session, Bilyana Petrova told reporters that the transcript exempts from which they showed a few days ago, have been tampered with. Petrova claims that Valklin’s lines have since been deleted.

Parliament Votes to Lift Moratorium on NPP Belene

The Parliament voted on the future of the NPP Belene project on Thursday. The day before the Parliamentary Energy Committee had passed GERB’s and the United Patriots’ (OP) proposal to lift the moratorium on the construction of NPP Belene from 2012. The Committee rejected, however, the Bulgarian Socialist Party’s (BSP) proposals for concrete steps on the project’s restart.

172 MPs voted for lifting the moratorium on NPP Belene, 14 were against and 2 abstentions. Now, the Cabinet is the one to decide whether the project is renewed and bares the whole responsibility for the decision. The government claims it will investigate and won’t go forward with the project if it has to make state guarantees or long-term contracts. BSP argues that not only is the project impossible without state guarantees but Bulgaria should pay for the project entirely.

The Cabinet has until October 31, 2018, to prepare a procedure for selecting a strategic investor.

Three hours of debates preceded the vote. The Movement for Rights and Freedom (DPS) reaffirmed they are against any form of renewal of NPP Belene. BSP tried to push for Parliament to reject both its previous decisions to stop NPP Belene. GERB, on the other hand, was challenged by uniting its contradicting positions on the matter throughout the years. They developed the proclaimed that the Parliament’s decision is not for the immediate restart of the project but rather an opportunity to investigate whether the project is “fruitful”.

Till now two companies have demonstrated an interest in NPP Belene: Russian Rosatom and the China National Nuclear Corporation. The latter, however, have brought up state guarantees, which the government vows to not allow under any circumstances. The former has said that they would like to wait and see what Parliament decides exactly. There were rumors of investment interest from the French Framatom but it has since declared that the company’s interest is only as a supplier, not as an investor. The government claims that there is a third investor but it will keep it a secret for the time being. According to energy experts, the company in question is American General Electric. However, sources say that it, too, is interested purely as a supplier, not as an investor.

While apparently, Cabinet will try to realize the project with no state guarantees for loans, no long-term contracts or compensations for differences in market prices, it seems this will not be possible.

The moratorium on the construction of NPP Belene has been in place since 2012. PM Boyko Borissov’s previous cabinet put it into force. Over the past months, however, Borissov, his cabinet, and his party GERB have been openly warming to the idea of renewal. It is hard to point to a legitimate reason why as the conditions for going forward with NPP Belene are not very different from the ones back in 2012 when Borissov deemed the project “non-profitable” and nothing more than a “corruption scheme”.

His reasoning has been mainly that 3,5 billion leva have already been invested in the project and would be lost if the project is left in this limbo state. In fact, an important distinction should be made: granted, the 3,5 billion have been spent but they hardly qualify as an investment. The final cost for the plant according to recent calculations is 10 billion euro.

Meanwhile, the Bulgarian Employers’ Association warn that the NPP Belene restart could lead to non-market solutions to the taxpayers’ expense. The Association also warned that misleading information has been circulating lately in the media and elsewhere about the price of the power that NPP Belene would produce (cheap), market demand projections (increasing) and alternative power producers (lack thereof).

This information is false but has been steadily repeated across most media outlets and repeated by state officials. One of the most popular talking points concerns the price: it is repeated over and over that the price of the power produced by NPP Belene will be the same as NPP Kozloduy. The assessment is entirely off, according to the Association. They point to several comparable NPPs which are being constructed at the time, whose price projections for power are several times higher. While some officials claim the price per MW from NPP Belene will be between 25 and 50 euro, different NPP projects declare prices such as 93 GBP, 110 euro, 124 USD and 80-110 euro. At the same time, the steady trend – across the world but also in Bulgaria – is for power efficiency to rise. The trend is well registered on the Bulgarian market. This means less demand in the future.

The Association remains firmly at the position that any new large energy projects, such as NPP Belene, should be realized only under 100% market conditions. That is, entirely through private investment and on market terms. This means no state involvement whatsoever.

While Energy Minister Temenuzhka Petkova seems at first glance to agree, in fact, the only purely market conditions she has spoken about and promised to uphold so far is that if renewed NPP Belene will receive no state guarantees and no long-term contracts for purchasing the power.

She has failed, however, to mention anything about banning preferential pricing, reimbursement of price differences or corporate guarantees from the state energy companies.

The Bulgarian Employers’ Association thus insists that the government makes a clear and categorical declaration that not a single evasion of 100% market principals be made if Cabinet decides to go forward with the project.

It was announced later that the National Electric Company (NEC), which is the current owner of the project Belene, has begun a procedure for assessment of its nuclear assets. The Chair of the Bulgarian Energy Holding (BEH) Petyo Ivanov said during a conference that the process of establishing a project company with NPP Belene’s assets and liabilities is underway.

Protests Against NPP Belene Renewal

Two consecutive protests against the renewal of NPP Belene were held in Sofia in front of the Parliament building. The event was organized by the coalition Democratic Bulgaria (DB). Hundreds turned up for the protest and called for Cabinet’s resignation.

They put forward three demands: for the notion of building NPP Belene to be finally abandoned and for the site to be developed as an economic zone. For liability to be sought from those responsible for purchasing the equipment, and for the latter to be sold or installed in NPP Kozloduy.

Atanas Atanasov, one of DB’s leaders commented that “the project is economically unsound, ecologically dangerous and they want to build it – if they get to building it at all – at a site that is seismologically unsafe.

We are here because Borissov lied to [his] voters. GERB’s platform does not mention anything about renewing NPP Belene. If they had Borissov would’ve never been Prime Minister and GERB would’ve never won the elections because those voters who got confused that GERB is an alternative to BSP and supported GERB wouldn’t have voted for [Borissov].

DB has calculated that building NPP Belene will cost each Bulgarian 7000 leva.

The organizers announced that more protest will follow this time at the Council of Ministers as “Parliament is but a rubber seal”.

Prosecutor’s Office Intentionally Ignored Numerous Data About Corporate Commercial Bank (KTB) Financing DPS MP Peevski

DPS MP Delyan Peevski

Investigators of KTB bankruptcy have ignored numerous information about the bank financing DPS MP Delyan Peevski and his mother Irena Krasteva, Capital Weekly reports. The media mogul’s name and initials are found on pages upon pages in the documents related to the trial against former Chairman of the Supervisory Board of KTB Tsvetan Vassilev. The documents reveal plenty of sums directed at Peevski’s businesses. According to tables cited by Capital Weekly, the amounts financing businesses owned by Peevsky are estimated at about 575 million leva.

While Peevski is mentioned throughout a number of documents, he is not part of the indictment.

The supervisory prosecutor Ivan Geshev has made clear the prosecutions’ reluctance to give due attention to the apparent connection between KTB and the flourishing business of Delyan Peevski’s. He was asked during a press conference about it and he replied:

This indictment doesn’t include also Putin, nor Obama, nor many other people”.

Asked for a more serious and to the point answer, and specifically about Peevski’s role in liquidating the bank, if any, he said:

We have not established connections with Mr. Peevski, which regard the scheme I’ve described. This is why he is not included in the indictment.

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