Misuse Scandal Shakes Bulgaria's Scientific Research Fund
Bulgaria's Ministry of Education is preparing to launch a probe in the country's Scientific Research Fund, after a number of reports of criminal misuse of its resources.
Scientists have repeatedly insisted, louder in recent days, that there are rampant violations in granting State money and manipulations in selecting the winning bids.
The Fund's leadership countered boldly that for the first time this year financing has been distributed under strict rules.
Education Minister, Sergey Ignatov, pledged to check the allegations and assign an audit of the entity.
The Fund is one of the very scarce options for Bulgarian scientists and researchers to find financing for their projects.
In 2012, 95 out of 1 200 projects have been approved for financing in the total amount of BGN 14.8 M, triggering outrage in the scientific community over what they see as lack of transparency and conflict of interests.
Many insist the money is actually given to companies close to the private New Bulgarian University, NBU, of which Ignatov was President before becoming Minister.
According to a publication of Sega (Now) daily, 17 of the winning bids belong to firms and foundations without any scientific potential, registered only in the last couple of years. Some are said to be close to the Fund's Director, Rangel Gyurov, who is a lecturer at NBU.
Gyurov's appointment in March 2012 stirred a scandal which traveled all the way the Parliamentary Education Subcommittee. His opponents insist he was illegally appointed by Ignatov without having the required credentials. Gyurov boasts the title Professor, which he has gotten in Angola in the 80s of the 20th century. He recently obtained a PhD from the University of Library Studies and IT, despite having a degree in Geology and leading the NBU's Earth and Environmental Science Department.
One of the reviewers of Gyurov's thesis "Informational Architectures of the Geodynamic Behavior of the Earth's Core" has received an honorary award while another one has obtained financing from the Fund. The Library University, on its part, has won financing for four projects in the amount of nearly BGN 1 M.
Outraged by all of the above, several days ago, the scientists sent a letter to the Parliamentary Education Subcommittee demanding a probe in the case; in the granting of money for projects, and in the recent dismissal of Professor Miroslava Kortenska from the Fund's Executive Board on grounds she has been the one embezzling money.
On her part, Kortenska says she was fired because she threatened to become a whistle-blower about all violations, conflict of interests, and trading influence, as scientists claim in their letter as well.
The researchers further voice outrage from the winning bids being announced without the number of points each has received and because the reviews would not be made public until January 20, 2013, when the candidates will be allowed only to see their own, but not those of others.
The scandal is likely to even reach the European Commission, Sega writes.
Meanwhile, Gyurov and Kortenska clashed furiously Monday morning in a bTV program where the first accused the second of embezzlement and of document forgery of contracts won by the Southwestern University in Blagoevgrad.
Gyurov claimed Kortenska had blackmailed members of the Fund and had used fake names to write reviews since she could not do it over her post with the Executive Board. According to him, she had received BGN 10 000 for influencing the outcome through the said reviews.
Gyurov labeled the reports about companies close to the Education Minister "non-sense."
Kortenska, on her part, demanded from him to present evidence and accused him of having fake credentials and sealing a barter deal with the Library University in exchange for project funding. She also announced in the live broadcast that Gyurov has been an agent of the former Communist State Security.
The former Director of the Fund, Prof. Emil Horozov, said he has sent a report about the violations to the Prosecutor's Office, stressing the situation that is now emerging on the surface has been known for quite a while, but has been hushed.
"The Scientific Research Fund grants money for science but in violation of the rules. One example is the mysterious disappearance of reviews of the projects," he explained.
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