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Corruption in Bulgaria’s triangle of power

Sofia Lagro, of The triangle of power [iSofia]

The campaign for the European elections in Bulgaria entered a hot phase. Krassen Nikolov tells the story.

Two weeks ago, Elena Yoncheva, a key figure of the opposition BSP, was charged by the prosecution for “money laundering” to the tune of €330,000 from the bankrupt Corporate Commercial Bank. Yoncheva who is a former journalist responded a week later.

She first compared Prime Minister Boyko Borissov with the head of the Sicilian mafia. BSP supported her.

Her second move was to organize a press conference in which she revealed a corruption scandal allegedly involving the minister of culture of Borissov’s government.

Yoncheva broadcasted three secretly made phone wiretaps of minister Boil Banov, who was appointed with the protection of GERB. These recordings appear to show that the minister helped a contractor of a European project for reconstruction of Sofia’s city center to avoid a fine of €350,000, contractually due because of a 33-day delay in the works. The minister was recorded ordering these 33 days to be “covered up”, so that the reason for the penalty would “disappear”.

The doubts about corruption concern the “Ancient Serdika” project. It was executed in a very symbolic place in the center of Sofia. It revealed the ruins of the ancient city of Serdika, which lies between what are today the buildings of the Council of Ministers, the parliament and the presidency – the so-called triangle of power in Bulgaria. The EU has contributed €7.5 million for the project, which has been criticized by experts as tasteless. However kitsch was not the only problem. Defects occurred less than a year after the completion of the reconstruction. They had to be repaired but are still visible.

The case involving Boil Banov is yet to unfold because the prosecution started an investigation immediately after the press conference. The Minister defended himself by claiming that a lawsuit about penalties had been stated by the Ministry of Culture has brought against the contractors of the European project. At first instance, however, the ministry lost the case. It can be assumed from the court judgment that it will also lose at second instance.

Banov also said that he had been blackmailed by a former employee for these wiretaps for years. Trump-style, GERB stated that Yoncheva’s story was “fake news”

The story with this employee is also very curious. The minister said the wiretaps were made by Angel Angelov. He is a former head of the department for European projects at the Ministry of Culture. He was fired for not being capable of doing his job. Curiously, Angelov has the same position now, in the Ministry of Education.

Who benefits from scandals?

Even if the corruption scandal beneath the triangle of power in Sofia turns out to be a balloon, GERB and BSP will have already benefited greatly from it. They will monopolise the election campaign through scandals. The exchange of corruption charges is a common Bulgarian tactic to attract the voter’s attention. Thus corruption remains a media show, because corruption in Bulgaria has never been uncovered where it should – in the courtrooms.

The GERB-BSP scandal will be kept up the next four months. These two parties will present themselves as the only possible alternative to each other. The voter should believe either in GERB or in BSP. Others do not deserve media attention.

GERB launched the first attack through the prosecution. The prosecution will be a main player in the team of the ruling party against the BSP.

The mandate of the Prosecutor General Sotir Tsatsarov expires at the end of the year and he will have to arrange his further career appropriately. That depends on the ruling party. His predecessor, Boris Velchev, did it brilliantly and now is the chairman of the Constitutional Court, where he was appointed by President Rosen Plevneliev (GERB). Velchev’s predecessor, Nikola Filchev, was less successful: he was sent ambassador to Kazakhstan.

The BSP’s weapon is called Elena Yoncheva. The former investigative journalist has the full support of her party and enjoys a good reputation in society. Most likely she will lead the Socialist list for the European elections and will attract attention in the coming months.

Poll agencies reacted quickly. Gallup International published a study dedicated specifically to Yoncheva. According to 38% of the interviewed the money laundering accusations against Yoncheva were “repression against a brave MP and a journalist who shows corruption in power”. Another 22% of the people thought this was “an accusation against a corrupt woman who deliberately attacks the government”. 17% do not share either opinion and 18% are not interested.

Yoncheva enjoys a relatively high trust for Bulgarian politicians (34% support her). This is a few points higher than Borissov’s current rating.

Corruption is a weapon

Corruption scandals between GERB and the BSP are their strongest weapon for attracting attention. Among the scandals, the two forces are likely to be able to push through some other social messages, and also promote their leading figures in the electoral lists. This is also a tactic to end the narrative the nationalists started at the beginning of the year, by pumping ethnic tensions between Bulgarians and Roma.

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