As expected, Plamen Georgiev, a sweetheart of GERB, but also someone with skeletons in his closet, became one of the most powerful people in the country, writes Krassen Nikolov.
Krassen Nikolov is a journalist specialised in judiciary affairs. He works for Mediapool and will be a regular contributor for BulgarianPresidency.eu for the six months of the Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the EU.
Georgiev, former prosecutor and former head of the Seizure Commission, was elected today (8 March) by Parliament as the head of the new Anti-Corruption Commission. This candidacy of the ruling party GERB of Boyko Borissov was supported by all parties in parliament except the opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), who had proposed Nikolay Nikolov, former head of the closed Commission for Conflict of Interest, which also was engulfed by the Anti-Corruption Commission.
The parliamentary debate was marked by mutual accusations between GERB and BSP – which of the candidates is more politically dependent. And there were serious arguments on both sides. GERB revealed that Nikolay Nikolov was a BSP municipal councilor in Lovech. This fact was hidden in Nikolov’s CV on the occasion of his hearing in the parliamentary Anti-Corruption Commission. It turns out that the candidate of BSP has been 12 years municipal councilor in Lovech – from 1999 to 2011.
BSP, in turn, reminded of the suspicions of closeness between Plamen Georgiev and Boyko Borissov. Since the end of 2009 the then head of the Customs Agency Vanyo Tanov has beenwiretapped in connection with an investigation into corruption in customs in Svilengrad. The observing prosecutor was Plamen Georgiev. The scandalous recordings between Boyko Borisov and Vanyo Tanov emerged from these wiretaps. The investigators recorded how Borissov ordered Tanov to stop a check by customs officers at the brewery in Mezdra because, as the Prime Minister said, he had committed not to harass the owner Mihail Mihov, aka Mishho Birata (Misho The Beer). Borissov said he had done so at the request of the then President Georgi Parvanov. Prosecutor Plamen Georgiev explained a few years later that he did not know about this conversation, and that he was not aware of such protection.
In 2011, however, Plamen Georgiev was appointed Deputy Justice Minister in the first GERB government. Two years later, Prime Minister Boyko Borissov personally appointed Georgiev as the head of the Commission for Confiscation of Non-Illicitly Acquired Property. Now GERB helped Georgiev to climb one more step up into the state hierarchy as head of the anti-corruption commission.
The new institution was set up at the end of last year under the pressure of the European Commission, which has been expecting for 11 years real results from Bulgaria in the fight against corruption at the summits of power. The problem is that Plamen Georgiev personally participated in the failure of two significant cases. The first was already mentioned. The second one is the huge case of the hidden privatisation of Sofia municipality property, which took place in the period 1997 – 2003. A large part of this property was sold through the municipal company “Sofiyski Imoti”, and the prosecution was not activated until 2007. Finally, the case ended in failure for the prosecution. Plamen Georgiev participated in this investigation until 2011, when he was appointed Deputy Justice Minister in the first cabinet of Boyko Borissov.
The ghosts around Plamen Georgiev
The leader of the GERB parliamentary group, Tzvetan Tzvetanov, attacked BSP with the argument that Plamen Georgiev was able to reach verdicts against Sofia’s politicians, but in the end it was the elapsing terms and other circumstances have overturned the process. He said that in the case there were also defendants from BSP, trying to show why the socialists didn’t like Georgiev. Tzvetanov did not mention that his family friend Judge Vladimira Yaneva terminated one of the Sofia estate cases against the rules and made it more difficult for the prosecution. Then it turned out that Yaneva’s father had bought property from the company, and Yaneva was the proxy of her father in the deal.
Georgi Svilensky (BSP), who was one of the defendants at Sofia Property, used the case to tell about his courtroom experience.
“I was 10 years defendant, accused by the Prosecutor’s Office, thanks to Mr. Plamen Georgiev and Mr. Plamen Panayotov (a politician from the now defunct NDSV party of Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha). At the one-but-last plenary session, the expert witness Sasko Nikolov told the court he had been pressed by the Prosecutor’s Office for eight years. He gave up his expertise. The judge sentenced the expert witness to a fine of 2000 leva, because he was concealing the truth for eight years. I want to ask, has Plamen Georgiev put pressure on the expert? The defendant in this case, Simeon Simeonov, condemned the state [in Strasbourg] for compensation of 40 000 leva (€20,000), Toshko Dobrev for 50,000 leva (€25,000). There are another 38 people who will condemn the state. Is this the way we going to fight corruption”, asked Svilensky. Plamen Georgiev did not answer.
However, Tsvetanov said he regretted Svilensky’s predicaments. The Chief of the Legal Commission Danail Kirilov (GERB) commented that the MPs do not know what Plamen Georgiev has been doing in his cases as prosecutor.
BSP leader Kornelia Ninova said that Plamen Georgiev is being imposed as chief of the anti-corruption commission and that GERB starts with the wrong foot. “The key word is trust. You don’t have it. Fighting corruption is a matter of trust. Europe does not trust us, “Ninova said.
The parliamentary debate did not mention two of the biggest scandals in the career of Plamen Georgiev.
Several weeks ago, it became known that under the direction of Plamen Georgiev, the Commission for the Confiscation of Illegal Property has lifted distraint for assets to the cost of 23 million leva, owned by a defendant prosecuted for money laundering to the amount of 1.6 billion leva. The person in question is is a Finnish national of Russian origin Elisabeth Elena von Messing. The lifting of the distraint occurred in 2015. Georgiev himself explained that his decision has already been inspected by the prosecution, which did not find anything wrong.
The other case concerns the distraint imposed at the end of last year on property for nearly 200 million leva of property of businessman and owner of the media group “Economedia” Ivo Prokopiev. The confiscation commission seized the assets even though they were generated by the completely legal transaction of the sale of Kaolin to the German company Quarzwerke GmbH in 2012. Ivo Prokopiev accused Plamen Georgiev of acting in favour of Prosecutor Sotir Tzatzarov , which is often criticized by the businessman’s media.
The new Anti-Corruption Commission, which will be led by Plamen Georgiev, brings together five institutions – the Confiscation Commission, the Anti-Conflict Interests Commission, a unit of the State Agency for National Security (DANS), the National Audit Office and BORKOR, the Center for Prevention and Countering Corruption and Organized Crime.
The new commission will also have the right to eavesdrop on citizens outside of the rules of the criminal process. Because of its enormous powers, it is becoming one of the most serious factors in the country, along with the Prosecutor’s Office and the interior ministry. Unofficial information in the political circles points to Plamen Georgiev as the main favorite for new Chief Prosecutor after the mandate of Tzatzarov expires in 2019. Georgiev himself did not comment on the subject, but said today: “I am a prosecutor and sooner or later I will return to prosecution “.