Bulgarian MEP Nikolay Barekov (ECR) has many assistants, but most of them would find it hard to justify what exactly they are doing in support of his very modest activities.
Fake job contracts have been exposed recently involving French MEPs Marine Le Pen and Jean-Luc Mélenchon. But the practice in the European Parliament is possibly more widespread, as documents concerning the parliamentary staff of Barekov show.
Barekov is one of the least active MEPs, as the survey ‘Mepranking’ has shown.
I have seen an email by MEP Julie Girling, who informs Barekov that she is taking over from him a shadow rapporteurship of the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) on behalf of the ECR group, because of what she says is ”lack of participation in shadow meetings so far”. (Girling has since moved to the EPP group.)
Barekov is a former TV journalist who in 2014 founded Bulgaria without Censorship political party, a populist force which took part in the 2014 European elections in coalition with the nationalist VMRO-BND, and jointly obtained two seats. He and VMRO-BND politician Angel Dzhambazki are affiliated to the Eurosceptic ECR, when the UK Tories and the populist PiS party of Jarosław Kaczyński sit.
In his 2014 election campaign Barekov used ample financial resources. He is the only Bulgarian politician whose name is mentioned in the prosecutions charges against the failed Corporate Commercial Bank (CCB of KTB, also known as Corpbank).
Just like the bank, his party, Bulgaria without Censorship, is now defunct. However, Barekov nourishes ambitions to continue as MEP after the European elections, possibly campaigning in tandem with far-right Ataka leader Volen Siderov.
At least two people working for Barekov are paid by the EU taxpayers to be his parliamentary assistants, while in reality, they act as his drivers and bodyguards in Brussels and in Bulgaria, documents I obtained testimonies I heard reveal.
EP rules allow for one person paid by the EU taxpayer to act as the MEP driver in his home country, but in this case, at present in addition to the official driver, one assistant acts as driver. Previously, Barekov has had three assistants acting as extra drivers in Sofia.
Ample evidence, including documents, show that two of the assistants of Barekov, Nikolay Andreev in Brussels and Tsvetan Spasov in Sofia, act as the MEP’s drivers and servants (the assistant’s job is not to be a driver and certainly not a servant).
While MEP Barekov has been taking the plane to go from Sofia to Frankfurt en route to the Strasbourg European Parliament session, Andreev has been driving by car the journey the journey Brussels-Frankfurt, to pick him up at the airport and drive him to Strasbourg. There Andreev acts as his driver in Strasbourg, and at the end drives his boss to Stuttgart or Frankfurt airport, where Barekov takes the plane to Sofia.
All these expenses are refunded by the European Parliament, as documents show, but some have been refunded twice. The MEP travel has been refunded, and so was Andreev’s, as he invoices the European Parliament for his journey show, meaning that for Strasbourg-Stuttgart or Strasbourg-Frankfurt the EP has paid double.
As any MEP, Barekov is allowed to use the chauffeur service (limousine and professional driver or shuttle buses) of the European Parliament, but he has seldom made use of it, preferring his assistants to do the job.
It may look strange that the European Parliament accepted as assistants people with no qualifications for such a position. The CV of Tsvetan Spasov shows that he has worked as barman (2001-2002), pusher (2003), unarmed security (2005-2007), bookmaker, and driver from 2010 to 2015. He was unemployed before being hired by Barekov as MEP assistant.
Nikolay Andreev was the owner of a bodyguard service, Kovar Group, now defunct. His wife Magdalina Andreeva also works as accredited assistant to Barekov. Each one of them has a salary to the tune of €4,000.
Internal correspondence seen by this website shows that other assistants of Barekov advised him not to try to enlist Spasov as an assistant, as he obviously cannot justify such qualification. Other correspondence shows that Spasov has tried to be appointed as Barekov’s bodyguard by the European Parliament, but was refused.
Both Andreev and Spasov, as well as two other parliamentary assistants of Barekov, Kiril Angelov and Petar Peshev, have previously worked in Andreev’s bodyguard company Kovar group.
Servants, election activists
Testimonies by other staff member of Barekov suggest that the MEP is also using the four “assistants” named so far and several more as “servants” for his household. Such activities include babysitting, paying bills, cleaning his house, preparing his luggage, and making sure a bottle of champagne is there when the MEP returns.
One of the staff members of Barekov has tried to reach to the EU anti-fraud office OLAF to investigate the irregularities, but apparently there had been no reaction. This person says that if the European Parliament services would check on the activities of Andreev and Spasov, as well as of more than half of Barekov’s staff, it would be “impossible” for them to justify their employment as assistants.
Peshev has in the meantime left his European Parliament job. Another Brussels assistant, Georgi Balabanov, who now works for the ECR group, has been heavily engaged in activism in preparation of Bulgaria’s local elections of October 2015 in the city of Sliven, while he was paid by the European Parliament, and without requesting prior authorisation. Such activity is not allowed at the European Parliament expenses. Internal emails show that he has repeatedly traveled to Bulgaria during several months without notifying his employer.
Once the scandal became known by the EP authorities, Balabanov was covered by the ECR group with posterior notifications about his absences, copies of which I have seen.
Conflicts of interest?
As the Bulgarian website Capital has already reported, Magdalina Andreeva is a partner in a company “Invesitsiya BG”, apparently created with the purpose of acquiring an expensive house in Dragalevtsi, a posh suburb of Sofia, in 2013. Barekov has soon after rented the house, for a monthly rent of €1,000. Normally real estate with similar facilities can be rented out for €4,000 or more.
Barekov didn’t reply the question if the generous salary to the Andreev and Andreeva family with EU taxpayers money was to compensate them for the excellent deal he gets from renting their house. Barekov has previously said he chose this house, because it offers good security facilities.
Another possible conflict of interest is that the paying agent of Barekov as MEP is the company “Info M Konsult”, owned by Mihail Mladenov, who is also the accountant of the party “Bulgaria without censorship”. The second accountant of “Bulgaria without censorship” Emil Kisyov worked as Barekov’s assistant in Bulgaria together with his wife Elka Andreeva. What exactly there were doing in support of the MEP remains a mystery.
Barekov’s office is aware of the risks of checks on the activities of his assistants. A recent internal communication seen by EURACTIV asks them to exchange emails to imitate activity, with messages in the subject line such as “Please check and provide additional information”, in order to justify their work, in case checks are conducted.
Barekov has had four jurists paid by the European Parliament. Three of them are activists from his party “Bulgaria without censorship” and one is a protégé of his paying agent. What have been the activities of the jurists in support of the MEP remains another mystery.
Among his assistants Barekov has had in Sofia is Joanna Noamerue, known in Bulgaria as a dancer. Barekov fired her after she appeared in a TV talk show, where she spoke about her employer in a manner he didn’t consider as respectuous.
I have a list of six other former female assistants of Barekov in Sofia with “zero official activity” in support of the MEP work, as people familiar to their work told me. The latest appointment as assistant in Sofia is a young woman with experience as nutritionist and masseuse.
I have asked the European Parliament if internal checks had been conducted whether his assistants, or some of them, really work as assistants. Also, I asked the EP services if checks were made on ECR staff conducting a campaign in Bulgaria while they are paid to work in Brussels.
The head of the spokesperson team of the European Parliament Marjory van den Broeke answered that they would not comment on individual people working for MEPs.
Asked to comment on their employee Georgi Balbanov, Gareth Goldsmith, Head of Press and Communications of the ECR group said the accusation of “posterior notifications” was “wholly untrue and we refute such allegations in the strongest possible terms”.
However, I am in possession of emails dated from December in which Goldsmith personally instructs Balabanov how to declare a posteriori his political activities in Bulgaria which took place two months before that.
Barekov has not replied to my invitation to comment. Maybe he just takes pride in milking the EU cash cow.
His case raises an important question. Barekov is obviously an anti-EU politician, as a public even he organised las March has shown. Anti-EU politicians have previously said they take pride in “milking the EU cash cow”. With so many anti-EU politicians ambitious to join its ranks, maybe the European Parliament should scrutinise more strictly how the taxpayers’ money is spent?