Mediapool Weekly: July 28 – August 3, 2018

Vice Prime Minister Valeri Simeonov Threatens to Tie Himself to A Rail and Jump in the Sea if Construction Ban in Pirin National Park Holds in Court, Dessislava Ivancheva Taken to Hospital Hand and Leg Cuffed

Central Elections Commission Required to Implement State-Wide Machine Voting Within Six Months

CEC must implement machine voting in six months’ time, the Sofia Administrative Court ruled. Former MPs and current members of Democratic Bulgaria Martin Dimitrov and Petar Slavov took the case of the delayed machine voting implementation the administrative court of Sofia.

According to the ruling CEC must provide the machine alternatives to the paper-voting in every voting section, as stated in the Elections Act. The timeframe for securing and installing the machines is February 2019, which is several months before the elections for the European Parliament.

The Elections Act provides that all voting sections must offer voters the machine alternative to vote. This should have been so before the last parliamentary elections which were held on March 26, 2017. By the time of the presidential elections in 2016 500 sections offered the option of machine voting. These were the last elections, which CEC could organize without fully implementing machine voting, according to the Elections Act.

However, elections were still carried out without the CEC securing machines in all voting sections. Immediately after MPs across the board began talking about omitting the articles from the law. No one introduced the amendments to Parliament though and now CEC is court-ordered to move with installing the machines by next February.

Mediapool talked to a CEC representative, who said the commission is planning to appeal the court’s ruling.

Dessislava Ivancheva Taken to Hospital Hand and Leg Cuffed

Former Mladost mayor, facing corruption charges, Dessislava Ivncheva was admitted to hospital on Wednesday fully cuffed, by the hands and legs.

She was accompanied by the security of the Justice Ministry. The only reason for being under such constraints is an indictment for a large bribe.

This instance adds to the many unjustifiably harsh and at times inhumane ways the authorities have treated Ivancheva, starting with her arrest, which was a 7-hour long spectacle with her and her colleague Bilyana Petrova standing handcuffed, surrounded by police, prosecutors and other authorities in the middle of a busy intersection in the center of Sofia.

Ivancheva has since filed a lawsuit against Bulgaria in the European Court for Human Rights for human rights violations during her arrest and while incarcerated. The way in which she was taken to hospital will surely be added to the case.

Her former spokesperson, Petar Kardzhilov, posted a video on Facebook of Ivancheva’s admission to hospital. The cuffs could be seen on the footage, as well as a leather belt around her waist to which the handcuffs were tied. According to Kardzhilov, Ivancheva’s former deputy – also facing charges of bribery with Ivancheva – had been taken to the hospital the day before in the same manner.

Mediapool contacted the justice authorities about the need Ivancheva to be cuffed in such a severe way. The reply was that this is not an exception but a normal practice. The particular grounds for this is that authorities are following an instruction made by the then-director of the Execution of Sentences Department at the Ministry of Justice back in 2013. The instruction states that anyone accused of a crime to which the punishment is over 15 years in prison, should be fully cuffed, hands and legs.

However, a former judge in the European Court for Human Rights, Zdravka Kalaydzhieva told bTV in an interview this week, the constitution does not allow to restrict the rights of the accused any more than necessary of the justice process to go forward. This same provision could be found in the Penal Code as well. In her words, cuffing arrested persons when taking them to the hospital for treatment in such a way is devoid of justification. It turns out the Justice Ministry prefers to follow an instruction issued by a director of one of its departments in 2013 over both the criminal code and the constitution.

The Commission for Protection of Competition Fines Veselin Mareshki for Dumping Fuel Prices

The Commission for Protection of Competition fined VOLYA leader Veselin Mareshki’s fuel distribution company for unfair competition 175’437 leva. His gas stations have been selling gas for lower prices compared to costs of production and realization for a long period of time, with the aim to attract clients unfairly, according to the official statement by the commission.

The commission has carried out a probe into different VM Petrolium gas stations and has found multiple cases of fuels being offered at prices lower than the production and realization costs.  

Formally, Mareshki does not own the company: the capital is owned by his sister and CEO is his mother. However, the commission asserts that “based on what he says in his media appearances, Mareshki clearly runs the business.”

Mareshki has not given an official statement regarding the fine.

The commission’s ruling may be appealed to the Supreme Administrative Court.  

Vice Prime Minister Valeri Simeonov Threatens to Drown Himself if Ban of Construction in Pirin National Park Holds in Court

Valeri Simeonov

“I will go back to Burgas, I will go to the Burgas Bridge, I’ll tie myself to a rail, I’ll jump and drown”.

These are the words uttered by vice-PM and leader of GERB’s coalition partner, Valeri Simeonov to Sega Daily when asked about what are the government’s plans if the Supreme Administrative Court’s ruling that bans construction projects in the ski zone in Bansko is reaffirmed. The court repealed the government’s decision to change the Pirin’s management plan, which would have effectively allowed for new construction projects to be carried out in the Bansko ski zone. The court’s ruling is motivated by the assertion that a change in the park’s status must be preceded by an environmental impact assessment. Moreover, the government’s decision from 2017 would make it easy to overcome construction bans, which are in place in protected territories.

The court’s decision may be appealed within 14 days of its date of issue. Vice PM Simeonov feels that the Council of Ministers should definitely move to appeal. He announced he would be making such a proposal during the regular Cabinet meeting next week.  

“Every individual and every institution should be consistent in their actions. The Council of Ministers has made a decision for priority support for a second gondola [in Bansko]. This is why we must appeal”, Simeonov said.

Simeonov was accused by his coalition partner and leader of ATAKA Volen Siderov that Simeonov is undergoing a mission of ‘saving private Tseko’, referring to Tseko Minev, owner of First Investment Bank and alleged owner of the company Yulen, which holds the concession for the Bansko ski zone.

Valeri Simeonov has been a consistent and fierce supporter of Yulen’s plans to expand the ski zone in Bansko and particularly, to build the second gondola. He has even attended rallies in Sofia in support of Yulen.

Mediapool sources from the Council of Ministers said that the council is still examining the court’s motives and has not yet decided whether to appeal.

Five-Hour Meeting with PM Boyko Borissov Secures Additional 150 Million Leva for People with Disabilities

The government will secure an additional 150 million leva for people with disabilities. This became clear after a five-hour meeting with PM Boyko Borissov with representatives of the protesting mothers of children with disabilities.

The two sides had apparently not reached an agreement on a single point, including regarding the amount the government could spend to meet the needs and demands of people with disabilities and protesters.

“It’s no coincident the meeting took five hours; because we have diametrically opposing views on every single point.”, PM Borissov said after the meeting but still described the fact that all sides came to the table and discussed the issues as progress. He added that meeting will be held again next Tuesday.

“A lot of agencies, NGOs, ministries, and money and the end result is protests. What I can say – which I announced after we made the calculations – is an additional 150 million leva in next year’s budget. The problem is that this amount is tremendously insufficient for them. We will be making more calculations but we have to be aware of what the state can afford to spend. We will continue to work in this format.”, Borissov said.

Borissov stressed that the state spends an annual 1 billion on welfare, 700’000 people with disabilities are eligible for benefits, and 88’000 – for personal assistance.

“We agreed for the three bills – for personal assistance, for people with disabilities, and for social services – to be ready by the fall so they could be reviewed and discussed in Parliament”, Maya Stoitsieva of the tent protest in from of the parliament building said.

The tent protest will remain at least till October 1.

Inercom Appeals Anti-Monopoly Commission Ban to Acquire CEZ

The Pazardzhik-based company has submitted an appeal to the Supreme Administrative Court against the Commission for Protection of Competition’s ruling to ban the company from acquiring the assets of the Czech-owned power distribution company CEZ.

The buyer is disputing the motives of the anti-monopoly body that the deal would further expand the already dominant position of the regional power distributor. The official motive of the commission has to do with the fact that Inercom is already present on the power market on account of owning solar power plants. The commission fails to state Inercom’s market share in its motives, however, which is less than 2%, which undermines the weight of the argument. Competitive law experts described the motives as superficial and easily beatable in court.

However, the SAC is currently in summer recess and won’t review the appeal before September and the deadline for Inercom to finalizes the 370 million euro deal for CEZ is late November. This means that regardless of the court’s eventual ruling if the procedure takes long enough, it will cancel the deal. It is not entirely certain what will happen to the 5 million euro guarantee that Inercom has paid CEZ but Mediapool sources claim that the risk is entirely Inercom’s and should the deal be canceled – whatever the reason - CEZ will keep the down payment.

Inercom’s appeal was officially submitted on Monday by the Chairwoman of the Board of Directors Milena Stoeva.

“We examined the document carefully and analyzed the motives of the anti-monopoly body for the negative ruling in detail. We expect a swift and fair ruling by the SAC”, Stoeva has said, as cited in a press release by Inercom. The release does not provide details as to the grounds for the appeal.

Bulgaria will Implement the Istanbul Convention if it becomes part of EU Law

Atanas Semov

 Bulgaria will be bound to implement the Istanbul Convention regardless of the Constitutional Court’s ruling – which deemed it unconstitutional - if the convention becomes part of EU law, explained law professor Atanas Semov in an interview for the Bulgarian National Radio.

“The Istanbul Convention, which won’t be ratified in Bulgaria as it is not compliant with the constitution, will very soon become a treaty of the EU, likely during the Austrian presidency [of the Council of EU] and as such will be enacted in Bulgaria. Every EU member state is obliged to uphold EU laws. The law of the EU has superiority to the inferior laws of all member states”, Professor Semov explained.

Still, there is a possibility to omit some articled if Bulgaria explicitly states that they are incompatible with the constitutional identity.

“Bulgaria must interpret the concept of national constitutional identity and possibly deny enacting certain articles of the convention, which is something EU law permits.”, Semov said.

In his words, the ruling of the Constitutional Court whose motives have primarily to do with the constitution’s concept of the traditional family and its role can be viewed as Bulgarian national constitutional identity. He added that the demographic crisis should be added to this line of reasoning.

Asked about criticism that the ruling by the court if political in nature, Professor Semov said that while the Constitutional Court’s main purpose is to protect the rule of the constitution, it should also always express social and political sensibility and take into account the current emotional currents and values of society.

Last week all but two constitutional judges ruled that the Istanbul Convention contradicts the Bulgarian Constitution, as it “blurs the borders between the two sexes by introducing the concept of ‘gender’” (or social sex).

Former Movement of Rights and Freedoms (DPS) MP Goes to Trial for Vote Buying

Iliya Iliev

The Prosecutor’s Office has turned over the case for vote buying against former DPS MP Iliya Iliev and his alleged accomplice Ivan Todorov to the court.

According to the indictment the two bought votes in the Roma neighborhood in Yambol before the parliamentary elections in 2014 when both of them ran for DPS MPs there.

The two allegedly offered between 20 and 50 leva per vote. The total amount they spent, according to prosecutors, was 2000 leva. Iliev had also promised more after the election results were in.

The case involves three separate charges for vote-buying against Iliev and if proven guilty he faces between 1 and 6 years in prison. The same goes for his alleged accomplice Todorov.

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