Mediapool Wekly: December 8 – December 14, 2018

New bill aims to give Anticorruption Commission unlimited power, The draining of the Corporate Commercial Bank (KTB) continues long after its bankruptcy in 2014, The parents of children with disabilities were named Bulgarian Helsinki Committee’s person of the year

 

Moving along: One step closer to the authoritative regime we are headed for

Bulgaria slowly yet steadily makes advances toward concentrating power to special law enforcement and justice structures, with the current Prosecutor’s Office as their guru. This process is coupled with steps to disconnect them from any systems of check and balanced or any form of public accountability altogether. The ultimate goal, as in any authoritarian regime, is to build a structure at the highest level of power, equip it with legitimate force and make it accountable only to itself. Very similar, indeed, to the power-house that is the Prosecutor’s Office. In a sense, special courts and committees are a natural expansion of a power center, which ultimately looks to grow. It is worth thinking of these bodies as no less than forms of alternative rule, without fear of sounding as paranoid conspiracy theorists, as there is mounting evidence on record in this regard.

The Prosecutor’s Office naturally operates as if it is a pressure tool of an authoritative regime, and now another weird crossover body – semi-law enforcement, semi-investigative but simultaneously none of the above – the Anticorruption Commission might expand even further its jurisdiction.

These institutions and the way they operate, bordering legality at best, are in plain sight, they are not secret, just the opposite: they proudly enforce whatever power they’ve dreamt up, and there is no way to counter that. This in itself might be a grim indicator that this society is not one to care enough to fight a future authoritative establishment.

The latest idea, which was just introduced to Parliament by the Parliamentary Justice Committee Danail Kirilov is for the Anticorruption Commission to be freed of the little justification it has to make when initiating probes, inquiries and asset attachments. The Anticorruption Commission is a civil assets confiscation body for illegally attained assets. It has the power to attach assets whenever it discovers substantial inconsistencies between an individual’s tax returns and assets. But the commission’s actions are very loosely bound by the court’s decisions: the commission doesn’t require a court’s ruling that a crime has been committed to acting against ‘a suspect’. But it does require some justification and grounds for serious suspicion of illegally obtained assets. This is vague enough, and judging by the commission’s portfolio (including who is in it, and who is not) it is apparent that the commission acts not on grounds of impartial procedure, but as a tool for political leverage. Needless to say, the agency is hardly accountable to anybody.

And now, three days after the Supreme Court of Cassations ruled that in case of proven innocence procedures regarding asset confiscation must be discontinued. The latest bill, which Kirilov submitted to Parliament – apparently as a reaction to this ruling - lets go of the even now overly loose restrictions the commission must uphold. While now the commission is fairly free to do what it pleases in cases where a court has not yet ruled, the latest ruling bounds to stop in case of innocence. Kirilov proposes for this restriction to be dropped and for the commission to reserve the right to act in any case it deems fit, regardless of proven innocence in court. This means that if the bill is enacted into law, the Anticorruption Committee will become an essentially autonomous body, which has some substantial justice and law enforcement abilities but is entirely independent of the justice and law enforcement systems in the country. And, of course, by having independent power, unbound by court rulings, it would by definition be ‘above the law’ – by law. Much like the Prosecutor’s Office and especially its chief. Together with the Specialized Courts, these institutions are beginning to form a dangerously potent power center, accountable only to the chief prosecutor, who is otherwise unaccountable. The bill passed its first reading in Parliament with lightning speed.

The fight for the independence of the justice system on the other end is held together by the head of the Supreme Court of Cassations, Lozan Panov. The feud between him and the chief prosecutor and his circle has been stirring up over the past year. Most recently, Panov ordered a review of the Special Court of Appeals’ very obviously biased decisions to reverse the previous instance’s ruling to release former mayor and deputy mayor of Mladost Dessislava Ivancheva and Bilyana Petrova under house arrest. The two are charged with receiving a 70’000 euro bribe for issuing a construction permit. The review by three supreme court judges concluded the rulings of the appeal judges are unjustifiable.

The former mayor and deputy mayor of Sofia’ district of Mladost, have been kept in jail for over seven months and under horrific living conditions, regardless of their deteriorating health. Since the prosecutors finished presenting their case to the court and questioned all witnesses, there is no legitimate reason to keep the two in jail. The court released them under house arrest several times but every time the Special Appeals’ Court reverses the decision and returns them to jail. The appeal judges fail to give a legitimate reason why the reversal but they rule so anyway. After the supreme judges reviewed these decisions concluded that, indeed, the rulings are unjustified and illegal, the Supreme Judicial Council, which is the justice branch’s administrative body, and which is dominated by people close to the Chief Prosecutor, has initiated a procedure to try and remove Lozan Panov from his post.

In other words, the Social Appeals’ Court bluntly acts in disregard of the law, supreme court judges confirm, and the Supreme Judicial Council starts taking steps to remove the head of the Supreme Court of Cassations, fully in line with the wishes of the Prosecutor’s Office.

A significant part of the judicial branch in Bulgaria has long since been trying to branch out. Its unaccountability together with some key legislative reinforcements like the recent bill will boost its reach beyond the systems of power into a full-blown power state within the state. The Prosecutor's Office, along with the several patch-work appendixes are way on their way to achieving this. And with dominance over the Supreme Judicial Council, they might very well succeed in getting rid of the only counterforce within the system, which might have some chance to keep it in check. The more likely scenario, however, is the opposite. Bulgaria is near closing its transformation into a prosecution state.

In other news:

The draining of the Corporate Commercial Bank (KTB) continues long after its bankruptcy in 2014

KTB, which declared bankruptcy back in 2014 is still being drained through numerous trail proceedings of cases of depositors against the bank, Sega Daily reported. The actual money drain is realized through hefty legal fees to lawyers, which represent the bank to court as ‘special bank representatives.

After the collapse of the bank many companies and individuals, who kept deposits in KTB tried to save part of their money by shuffling takings and debts among each other. This way they managed to bypass the normal proceedings, which ultimately put them in a more favorable position compared to the rest of the depositors, who were not part of the scheme.

Now the syndicates are challenging the legitimacy of part of these deals, hence a large number of cases in court.

The losses from the collapse of the fourth largest Bulgarian bank is estimated at about 4 billion euro.

Initially, these cases were processed without a bank representative but the Supreme Court of Cassations recently ruled that this should be corrected and the bank must be represented at such proceedings, although there is no such requirement in the law.

In order to fulfill the newly ordered requirement by the SCC, the bank must be appointed a ‘special representative’ during court proceedings. These legal representatives’ fees could very well exceed 100’000 leva, according to Sega Daily sources, who are magistrates in these proceedings.

The supreme judges’ ruling is not legally binding regarding future cases, but it usually other judges tend to follow the SCC’s rulings as guidelines for their own. This means that it is very likely that in all similar cases to come the judges will require for the bankrupt bank to be represented by a ‘special representative’.

PM Boyko Borissov hopes Russia would release at least “ordinary” Ukrainian sailors

PM Boyko Borissov said he hopes that Russia frees at least the ‘ordinary Ukrainian sailors’, held in a Russian jail.

“My opinion on the matter is clear and categorical: the immediate release of at least the ordinary sailors. This would greatly help to resolve the crisis. Regardless of the domestic political issues, which these countries are seeking to resolve, this conflict must end.”, Borissov told journalists in Brussels.

“Bulgaria is in an especially vulnerable position in this conflict, not just because of the gas supply bu because of its closeness and the Black Sea. I truly hope for the Russian authorities to have a positive outlook on the current proposal and for the ordinary sailors to be released. If there are guilty, let them punish them or dispute. This can really benefit the climate for upholding the Minsk Agreements, as well.”

Bulgaria officially condemned Russia detaining the 24 Ukrainian sailors but later President Roumen Radev blamed Ukraine for the crisis, thus mirroring Vladimir Putin’s stance on the matter.

Minister of Environment Neno Dimov agrees on Bansko ski zone territory with concessionaire Yulen

Minister of Environment Neno Dimov met with Yulen’s executive director, Maya Hristozovska on Tuesday to discuss the new boundaries of the territory of Bansko ski zone. The talks are part of the negotiations for amendments to the concession contract with Yulen for parts of Pirin Nationa Park. The ministry issued an official announcement about the two sides agreeing on the extent of the territory but failed to inform on how large the territory in question is, nor how far it expands.

Just a week ago, the Cabinet tasked the minister with taking action to amend the concession contract from 2001 with Yulen. The reason for the re-negotiation is that while the contract gives Yulen the right to operate on 99.55 hectares, in fact, Banko ski zone spans across 165 hectares. Instead of being sanctioned for a breach of contract administratively or taken to court, however, the government will amend the contract to include the seized territories. Dimov assures that in exchange, Yulen will be paying much higher concession fees.

According to the group of green NGOs For the Nature, such a renegotiation will be illegal.

Bulgarian insurance sector on the brink of crisis with third consecutive resignation


Orlin Penev

The head of the National Green Card Insurance Office, Orlin Penev resigned on Thursday. This is the third key resignation at the top of the government insurance sector, leaving the insurance administration almost entirely without permanent high management. The Financial Supervision Commission is in effect without its head, Karina Karaivanova will leave the position in February; her deputy, Ralica Again, who was in charge of insurance resigned back in August and no one has been appointed in her place. After Penev’s resignation, the only head of a national institution, dealing with insurance, still remain at their post is the head of the Guarantee Fund, Borislav Mihaylov.

The sector is clearly undergoing a crisis or heading for one. After one insurance company, providing the mandatory care insurance, declared bankruptcy earlier this year, there have been mounting complaints about insurance companies failing to pay insurance abroad. Also, car insurance rates drastically increased over the past several months, and some insurance companies were raided by the State Agency for National Security.

On Wednesday Bulgaria was put under increased monitoring from the international Green Card system because of the high numbers of approved claims, which have gone unpaired by Bulgarian insurance companies.

According to Capital Weekly, it is likely that the claims in questions are at least for the most part due to the largest player on the market, Lev Inc, which systematically refuses to pay claims made abroad, mainly in Romania and Italy citing insurance fraud.

The story has been developing for over a year. In November of 2017 PM Boyko Borissov received an official warning from the Bureau of EU insurance companies that Lev Inc and the fast-growing DallBog Zhivot I Zdrave have problems with paying for insurance claims.

The parents of children with disabilities were named Bulgarian Helsinki Committee’s person of the year

The parents of children with disabilities have been named the human rights watchdog Bulgarian Helsinki Committee’s Person of the Year. The parents have been protesting for over half a year, demanding changes in the legislation concerning people with disabilities. The chairman of BHC, Krassimir Kanev described the parents’ actions over the past year as ‘the most massive human rights’ campaign in recent years.

“This award is not just for all protesting parents, it is for the hundreds of people with disabilities, who protested along with us. It is also for our fellow citizens abroad, who organized solidarity protests. It is also for those who supported us with slogans like ‘Don’t give up!’ and ‘We are with you!’. You gave us the courage to carry on”, the page of the protest, The System is Killing Us wrote on their wall.

This Sunday the parents established a civil initiative The System is Killing Us All. The newly formed initiative’s mission will be for Bulgaria to ratify the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. In addition, the group will work towards changing the way disabilities are assessed, namely to change the assessment approach to be more flexible and focused on the individual case.

Last week Parliament passed the amendments to the laws concerning persons with disabilities, which the protesting parents had demanded. The parents then announced they would finally call off the tent protest, which stood next to the Parliament building for seven months. After New Year’s they will put up tents again, this time in front of the Ministry of Healthcare and will demand changes in the way the local medical committees, which determine the degree to which a person is disabled, operate.

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