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GERB’s number 2 leaves parliament over ‘apartment scandal’

Tzvetan Tzvetanov announces he is leaving parliament [Dnevnik]

By Krassen Nikolov

Tzvetan Tzvetanov, who is the leader of the GERB’s parliamentary group and the right-hand of Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, announced he is leaving parliament. The reason is the suspicious purchase of an apartment last year for which Tzvetanov paid a sum several times lesser than the market price. However, Tzvetanov will keep his party posts. He is Deputy Chairman of GERB and Chairman of the party’s election team.

The development was expected. Prime Minister Borissov was in a difficult situation. He could not sacrifice his strongest man just before the European elections and the upcoming local elections scheduled for the autumn. Tzvetanov created the structures of GERB. He is the operative leader of the ruling party. Removing him would create tremendous tensions in the formation because the trust between its members is based not on clear procedures but on personal arrangements with Tzvetanov and Borissov.

Over the “apartment scandal” before Tzvetanov resigned the Minister of Justice Tsetska Tsacheva, the Deputy Minister of Sports Vanya Koleva, at whose wedding Tzvetanov was a best-man, and the deputy minister of energy Krassimir Parvanov. All of them have bought apartments at strangely low prices from the “Arteks” construction firm.

“These are the worst punishments in Bulgarian history. We were deprived of extremely important people, “Borissov said on Thursday.  He continued: “We, GERB, suffered a very heavy blow. There is an unpleasant impression left in society. But we showed that we take responsibility even when there was the slightest doubt, “he explained. As for Tzvetanov, Borissov said: “I fear my friends the most. That’s why I’ve always said I have no friends. “

Borissov at a crossroads

Now Borissov has to take a hard and long-delayed decision on which the future of his party depends. Tzvetanov has a huge influence in GERB, but he is also a weak link because of the scandals around him. For the last seven years, he has been involved twice in suspicious deals involving apartments. Borissov has to decide quickly whether to start the process of removing Tzvetanov from his party’s obligations and thus start the renewal of GERB, or to continue to invest in his closest man. The possible successors of Tzvetanov are the Deputy Prime Minister Tomislav Donchev and the former Minister of Interior Rumyana Bachvarova. For Borissov sending Tzvetanov to the European Parliament is one of the possible options for starting the process of removing him.

Tzvetanov said he was leaving the Bulgarian parliament after he returned from the United States on Wednesday. He explained several times that there had been no pressure on him to take that decision and he was doing everything for the sake of GERB’s unity.

“Do you think that position and posts are important to us? I take the political project GERB as a cause, and I have never done anything against the will of our leader and that of my wife,” Tzvetanov said. He explained that he did not do anything illegal with the purchase of the low-priced apartment from the “Arteks” construction company, but escaped the question of whether he did something immoral.

Just before Tzvetanov made the cheap apartment deal, GERB voted a law amendment, which allowed “Arteks” to continue building a skyscraper in one of the most expensive areas of Sofia. Tzvetanov personally also supported the amendment.

“I am the political person who had to be hit just before the election. This is a scenario. I am sick of everything that has poured on me and my party. But the high peaks are the most blown by the winds,” Tzvetanov said, without lack of modesty.

The scandalous deal was revealed by Radio Free Europe and the non-governmental organization “Anticorruption Fund”. Both organizations are funded by the United States. That is why Tzvetanov’s thesis for a scenario does not make sense. In recent years Tzvetanov has actively supported the pro-American line in GERB.

What’s ahead

The scandals are unlikely to come to an end before the European elections. Tzvetanov’s deals have to be checked by the anti-corruption commission. Its chairman Plamen Georgiev, who is a protégé  of GERB and personally of Tzvetanov, was also involved in the scandal.

It turns out that Plamen Georgiev has bought three apartments for less than the market prices. The deals of the anti-corruption chairman are even more suspicious than those of Tzvetanov. The reason is that they are made for less than the tax assessment of properties, which is the minimum possible price according to law. Typically, such deals are registred for two possible reasons: money laundering and tax evasion. Plamen Georgiev has made the three deals at a total price, which is €125,000 below the minimum.

If there are doubts about minimum prices, they are even greater when compared to market prices. “The Anti-corruption Fund” revealed that Plamen Georgiev did not declare a large part (186 square meters) of his dwelling in his property declaration. It was bought in 2017 when he was the head of the Commission for the Confiscation of Illegal Property. The NGO estimates that the market price of Plamen Georgiev’s apartment is close to €340,000 while he declared a €150,000 transaction.

The scandals also hit the chairman of the Supreme Court of Cassation Lozan Panov. He was attacked by the pro-government media for his wife Elisaveta Panova’s deal with “Arteks” at an extremely low price in 2013. Back then she was not in a relation with Panov. They married in 2015 and the owners of “Arteks” Vesela and Plamen Miryanovi were witnesses of the Panovs’ wedding.

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