By Krassen Nikolov
The chairman of the anti-corruption agency (Commission for Combating Corruption and the Withdrawal of Illegally Acquired Property – KPKONPI) Plamen Georgiev has serious difficulty to justify what income allowed him to buy a luxurious apartment in Sofia two years ago. KPKONPI has exclusive power to investigate high-level corruption and illicit enrichment of politicians. The anti-corruption agency is also in charge of verifying conflicts of interest and private assets of high level officials, investigating allegations of malpractice among such officials, conducting procedures for the seizing and confiscation of illicit assets. Although KPKONPI does not have independent powers of criminal investigation, which rest with law enforcement authorities and the prosecution, it has extensive competence to carry out surveillance and intelligence measures within its remit.
All this makes Plamen Georgiev one of the most influential people in the country. Media investigations that revealed Georgiev’s suspicious purchase of an apartment led to an institutional crisis in the country just ahead of the European elections.
KPKONPI was established in the beginning of 2018 under the pressure of the European Commission, which criticised Bulgaria for lack of results in the fight against high level corruption. Now it may turn out that Plamen Georgiev embodies this impunity.
What is the problem?
In 2017 Georgiev bought a posh apartment on the last two floors of a building in one of the best neighborhood in Sofia – “Geo Milev”. Somehow he managed to negotiate a price of €150,000. The apartment is 230 square meters and has a terrace of 186 sq.m. The owner of the property evaluated it at €265,000 just before Georgiev bought it. Even the experts of the bank, which granted Georgiev’s credit for the flat, valued the property at €190,000. Their ratings are usually conservative and below market prices.
There is also a problem with the huge terrace of the apartment. The documents published by the media show that Plamen Georgiev has mortgaged the terrace as security on the loan. He claims that he does not own the terrace and it is common property of all the people who hap apartments in the building. The problem is that his family are the only people who use terrace. He has built a barbecue, a jacuzzi and a sauna for six there.
If Plamen Georgiev has declared untrue data in order to get a bank loan, he can be sued for a crime. The concealment of the real cost of the dwelling is also serious violation of rules because it leads to tax evasion. The biggest problem is that Georgiev could not prove a legal income to buy the apartment at its market price.
Who’s affected by the scandal?
The scandal with Georgiev’s apartment has many political dimensions. It shows that the reforms made under the European pressure do not work if the Bulgarian authorities do not have the will to appoint people with impeccable integrity. Georgiev made the deal for the apartment one year before he was elected by the parliament as chairman of KPKONPI. This leads to the conclusion that the applicant has not been thoroughly checked.
Plamen Georgiev’s nomination was imposed by the former leader of GERB’s parliamentary group, Tsvetan Tsvetanov. Tsvetanov himself resigned a week ago because of a suspicious apartment deal. The anti-corruption chairman was also supported by the Turkish minority party DPS. He is one of the positive characters in the media of DPS MP Delyan Peevski.
His good relations with GERB and DPS made Georgiev the perfect candidate for the next Chief Prosecutor. The mandate of current Chief Prosecutor Sotir Tsatsarov expires at the beginning of 2020. The scandal with the apartment destroyed Georgiev’s chances of reaching the most powerful position in the Bulgarian justice system.
Now the Bulgarian authorities have to prove that they can react in such a delicate situation. The European Commission is still monitoring the country, and the anti-corruption commission is one of the monitored institutions. Plamen Georgiev’s authority is in serious doubt. Investigating the concealed incomes of high-level officials is a part of his powers. He may be fired by the parliament if the prosecution confirms the media revelations about the deal.
Relations with GERB
Plamen Georgiev is a protégé of GERB. His career started as a prosecutor. Ten years ago he was leading an investigation about corruption in the National Customs Agency. In this case the special services recorded a scandalous conversation between Prime Minister Boyko Borissov and Vanyo Tanov who was the Director General of the agency back then. On the recording Borissov ordered Tanov to stop a customs Inspection in a brewery because Borissov had promised to its owner that he would not be checked. A few years later Georgiev claimed that this tape was hidden from him while he was in charge of the case.
Only two years after the customs scandal, Plamen Georgiev was appointed Deputy Justice Minister in the first government of GERB. Then he was appointed for the chairman of the Commission for the confiscation of illegal property. In 2015 this commission found mismatch of BGN 119,000 (€59,500) between revenues and property owned by Tzvetan Tzvetanov. But no action has been taken against him. The documents were opened and published by the civil organization “Boetz”.
In 2018 with Tzvetanov’s protection Plamen Georgiev was elected to be the KPKONPI chairman and he had the chance to be a leading candidate for the next chief prosecutor.
This may cause additional problems for GERB in the campaign for the European elections. The party has already lost the leader of its parliamentary group Tzvetanov because of a similar scandal. 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.
The scandal also has a positive effect. For the first time in many years people in power have been removed from their comfort zone by media revelations.
Ironically, on Tuesday, Plamen Georgiev gave a speech at the conference “Ethics in Public Administration”, organized by the German “Konrad Adenauer” Foundation. In his statement to the media afterwards he furiously refused to explain the problems with his property.
“I will not give explanations for nonsense. It is obvious that this is an attempt to be discredited, and it is obvious who is doing it, there are people who own the media, oligarchs against whom we have started procedures for the seizing and confiscation of illicit assets, people who have 198 million reasons to lead a war for discrediting me. I am sorry for you, the media, you are trying to put yourself in the service of these people, “Georgiev said.
He claimed that his life was threatened. So now five bodyguards from the the National Service for Protection are taking care of his personal security.