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‘Apartment’ scandal rocks Borissov’s GERB party

Tzvetanov and the building in which he owns a 315-sq m penthouse [Glasove]

By Georgi Gotev

The Bulgarian Prosecutor-General’s Office said it has launched an investigation into a real estate deal by Tzvetan Tzvetanov, the deputy chairman of the ruling GERB party. According to an investigation by Radio Free Europe, Tzvetanov obtained a new luxury apartment in Sofia in June 2018 from a private construction firm in a cash-and-property-swap deal, at prices well below the market. The apartment is a penthouse of 315 square meters with a private elevator, in a prestigious Sofia building.

The investigative website Bivol adds that Justice Minister Tsetska Tsacheva, GERB parliamentary deputy Vezhdi Rashidov, and Deputy Sports Minister Vanya Koleva have obtained apartments from the same company, also at prices below the market.

In Brussels on Thursday (21 March), Borissov responded furiously to the reports and told journalists he was going to make “very hard decisions” after the authorities investigate the case. He expressed anger that the scandal is hitting GERB ahead of the EU elections. According to polls, the difference between GERB (EPP-affiliated) and the opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party BSP is at 2-3%.

Indeed, in social media the scandal is making huge waves, to the detriment of Borissov’s GERB party. Although much bigger corruption is visible in many sectors, the scandal with the apartments resonated more powerfully with the public, possibly because it is easier to understand, and because it reveals how those in power enjoy perks, presumably in exchange of favours such as special treatment in public procurement or passing lobbyist laws in favour of the generous businessmen.

In similar situations previously, Borissov has fired without mercy his subordinates, without any regard for the presumption of innocence until their guilt was proved (it often wasn’t).

At the recent congress of GERB in January, Borissov warned party activists that he would not tolerate graft in their ranks. “If you don’t see the red lamp, I will flash the blue light for you”, he said.

In Brussels on Friday, he reminded of what he had said, adding for those who didn’t understand, the blue lamp is the police beacon.

But Tzvetanov is a very influential figure in Bulgaria and Borissov could come to regret having such a powerful enemy. Unlike Borissov, Tzvetanov is regularly invited to the US, where he finds itself at the time this article is published. Apparently, Washington is investing in Tsvetanov to be Borissov’s heir, and this can only displease the latter.

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