Prof. Emil Horozov: Money for Science Is Siphoned Illegally in Bulgaria
Exclusive interview of Novinite.com and Novinite.bg with Professor Emil Horozov, former Director of Bulgaria's Scientific Research Fund.
Professor Emil Horozov is a Bulgarian mathematician working in the field of mathematical physics. He is a lecturer in the Mathematics and Informatics Department at the University of Sofia and a visiting professor at several foreign universities.
Horozov graduated in 1973 with a degree in Mathematics from the University of Sofia. In 1978, he earned a PhD title from the Moscow University, and since 1990 he is a PhD in Mathematics. In 2004, he became a Corresponding Member of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, BAS.
His main scientific interests focus on the bifurcation theory and limit cycles, Hilbert's sixteenth problem, the Hamiltonian systems, the integrable systems, the connection with Lie algebras, and the bispectral problem.
Horozov was appointed Director of the Bulgarian Scientific Research Fund in January 2010. He voiced strong criticism about the state of the Fund that he inherited. In 2010, he established a Commission to probe the work of the unit, which distributes the scarce financing for science and research in Bulgaria. The report of the Commission was submitted to Education Minister, Sergey Ignatov, in November 2010. Horozov resigned from the post in February 2011. In March 2011, he published a summary of the same report, listing "violations of very serious nature," relating to the siphoning of tens of millions in funds for science through several schemes.
In May 2012, it was announced that the Public Financial Inspection Agency (ADFI) in Sofia has confirmed most of the information about scandalous violations in financing of projects through the Fund.
The report, which was also recently sent to the Prosecutor's Office, did not trigger reaction from the Education Ministry and in mainstream media. It received attention only in several publications such as the site Mediapool.bg, seen as an opposition one, and the independent site for investigative journalism Bivol.bg. However, the most prestigious scientific magazine Nature dedicated two articles to Horozov and the alleged corruption at the Fund.
The scientists insist the current Chairman of the Executive Board of the Fund, Rangel Gyurov, was appointed illegally, as he has no habilitation in Bulgaria.
In turn, Gyurov, who denies all charges, announced he was referring Prof. Miroslava Kortenska, a former member of the Executive Board of the Fund, to the Prosecutor's Office for blackmailing members of ad hoc committees and employees of the Fund and because she has authored several dozen reviews under an assumed name
Kortenska also denies the above. She insists that this is retaliation for her becoming a whistle-blower and informing the media that the Fund was preparing to steal BGN 14 M, which is the only money allocated this year for research.
Currently, there is a petition of scientists from BAS and from universities and more than 1 200 people have signed the request to cancel the 2012 bid results.
Just hours ago, hundreds of Bulgarian scientists and researchers staged a protest rally in front of the Education Ministry in outrage of what they say are Ignatov's attempts to cover-up the scandal at the Fund.
Under your initiative, after your appointment as Director of the Fund, a Commission was established to probe the work of the Fund. It prepared a report for 2008 – 2009, establishing rampant violations. Could you tell us briefly about these violations?
Money is granted to projects that have nothing to do with science. For this to happen, reviewers, who have no right to review, are recruited with the task of giving positive feedback. The second way is to conceal reviews. Extremely negative reviews have disappeared, as the internal audit of ADFI also noted. The explanation - those who wrote them forgot to press the button to confirm that they have sent them. But no one has explained how the delay of 160 reviews could have happened, all, without exception, having the lowest evaluations of the winning bids. This way projects with concealed reviews have won BGN 27 M, granted to over 40% of the participants.
Other tens of millions have gone to fund projects that have failed to collect enough points. Single projects or projects merged together. Two unprofitable projects are merged together and this is how they received funding. However, they failed to account that this mix of projects has not been reviewed in their merged form, but separately i.e. the "merge" is illegal.
The money went to companies whose names had something scientific in them, but in reality they engage in "retail sale of a variety of goods in non-specialized stores." I have documents to prove this and the data comes from the Business Registry. I see these as businesses selling cheese and socks. I could not understand why they needed money for research? I was told it was great for companies that produce something to receive grants to develop this production, but this was not the case. Selling basic goods does not require science. The head of the project in question, Professor Irina Koleva, is now scientific advisor to President Rosen Plevneliev.
Why did the probe only involve the 2008 – 2009 period?
Prior to 2008, relatively small amounts were given for research. Suddenly, government officials decided (I guess after pressure from the European Union) that they should increase funding. During these two years BGN 125 M were allocated in the Fund for research projects, assuming that this money was to be paid for the next 3 years or more. Just around that time the mass falsification of results for projects winning large sums begun. Of course, it makes sense to go further back in time, but before 2008 the amounts were relatively small (the violations were probably the same), and in addition, the documentation was in the "Science" Directorate of the Ministry of Education, illegally and contrary to the instructions of the National Audit Office. The Directorate is like a Ministry inside the Ministry, and on top of that it now manages some of the projects of the Fund, which should be a separate legal entity. The Minister has strictly determined functions with respect to the Fund and may not transfer its activities to the Ministry, but through different shady means he imposes rules like these.
You were criticized for the Commission including people whose projects have been rejected for financing. Is this true?
It is true. I am one of these people (without being a member of the Commission). This is not criticism; this is an attempt to find ways to undervalue to findings of the probe. The Commission has not dealt with reviews, but only with tracking documents, sorting, counting, etc. Each of its findings can be checked and does not constitute an interpretation or assessment, but an easily verifiable fact, most often expressed in numbers. The report is published in full and I have not heard anyone object.
Why did you resign in February 2011?
The answer to this question can be found in part in the previous questions and answers. The Ministry flowed conflict between unequal forces – the heavy machine of educational bureaucrats, headed by the Director of the Directorate "Science" and supported by the Minister and the rest of the bureaucratic apparatus, even some of the staff of the Fund, on the one hand, and just myself on the other; I was practically alone. The conflict was waged on whether the above-mentioned projects should be administered by the Fund only, rather than with an unnecessary intermediary – the Directorate.
And should anyone think that I am fighting as a feudal to get back my property, I will say that the violation of the law comes from the fact that bureaucrats are hiring reviewers and are ranking projects, which is not only absurd in itself, but is a violation of the law. To make the picture more vivid, I will add one more detail – the money is still paid by the Fund, which these bureaucrats call their "Finance Department." In other words, with every payment, I too was forced to participate in a violation of the law.
Not to mention that there was no planning for such granting of millions. I learned how much had to be paid only when they served me with the bill. At one point, I refused to pay a foreign reviewer on grounds that those who hired her did not represent the Fund and were not its employees. Naturally, a scandal broke, the Minister arranged a "Comrades' Court" for me. I heard words that I will skip mentioning here. Of course, I restated my opinion that the bureaucrats from the Directorate are not employees of the Fund and shall not deal with any of its business. However, even if they were employees of the Fund, they would not have been entitled to this; only official committees of habilitated academics have such rights.
I reminded the Minister that I have repeatedly informed him of this anomaly and of my proposal to finally apply the law at the Fund, but he did not answer in essence. "So, I do not agree," he replied. - "I manage education and science now and what I say, that's it" Until then, I was deceived in believing the rule of law prevailed, not the person holding a senior post. The next day, I informed the Minister officially that I was resigning because we have differences in our opinions on the management of the Fund.
The notorious report was submitted to Ignatov in November 2010. What happened after that?
Yes, I submitted it on November 10, 2010, and it was not sent to Finance Minister, Simeon Djankov, until the end of December. I suppose they needed 40 days to mull ways to avoid a probe.
However, in May 2012, it was announced that the Public Financial Inspection Agency (ADFI) has confirmed most of the information about scandalous violations in financing of projects through the Fund. You insist these findings are unsatisfactory. Why?
Indeed, the Agency confirmed most of the violations. Moreover, it found others, mainly in 2011-2012, which could have not been the object of the probe of the Commission. That alone should make us happy. And the truth is that there are colleagues who are satisfied with the results of the audit of the Agency. Indeed, it is not normal to be perfectionists. Only, there are a few serous objections to ADFI's work. The first is that virtually no violators were exposed, except some minor administrative violations, on top of all it is doubtful that they were indeed violations. However, please note that the findings established that tens of millions were granted illegally. And all these findings conclude with the following: "an administrative sanction is not to be imposed as the administrative responsibility was not personal, but rather a collective infringement." However, the law governing the Fund provides for legal proceedings in such cases.
Is this report published anywhere?
Yes, on my personal site: http://www.fmi.uni-sofia.bg/bg/lecturers/de/horozov, and on http://sci-society-bg.eu/node/4
Have you had a personal discussion with Ignatov about the report?
You have sent the report to the Prosecutor's Office and the Chief Prosecutor, Boris Velchev, (who is no longer at the post...). Any response, reactions?
Yes, I was informed it has been redirected to the Sofia City Prosecutor's Office, if one can call this a reaction.
This report was largely ignored for a long time, with few exceptions, now media suddenly turned their attention to it. How do you explain this? Does it have something to do with the articles in Nature? And how did you manage to get Nature's interest?
Some small excerpts were published in our press, at the cost of great effort and perhaps at the risk of some journalist. Not one newspaper wrote something concise about the report, and those who wrote something gave the reader the impression that I was the one to be blamed for any possible infringement. For example, on March 18, 2011, "Novinar" (News Reporter) put the following title on their article about the report "Ignatov is not rushing to blame Emil Horozov." So did "Standard", "Telegraph"... Now, they write led by the desire to simultaneously attack the Minister (the opposition publications) and again to not say anything of substance. For these newspapers the report does not exist. As for TV, except for less-viewed channels such as "Alpha" and "Channel 3," this phenomenon is non-existent too. bTV invited me twice and on one of the occasions censured from the recording everything that was significant while the second time they did not let me speak, because it was a live broadcast. And there are simple questions that come to mind. For example, is this a new practice? Did anyone say something about older practices? The only newspaper where I saw the story described honestly was "Trud" from November 26, 2012 (but not in March or April 2011). Including the note "the probe is classified." So it's not very accurate to say that now media are finally showing interest in the case.
Nature magazine is a whole different story. They are interested in science all over the world and write about many countries, from Romania to Pakistan. They have an edition in Arabic. For them the fact that one link in global science is on the brink of extermination is a reason for alarm. In order to maintain this policy, they have hired regional editors, combining scientific knowledge and journalistic skills. This is why their articles (the first one was published as early as April 2011) contain an analysis of facts from the report.
Now a new scandal is raging over the funding of 95 projects (out of 1 025 bids). Scientists say the pathetic BGN 14 M will be distributed without taking into account scientific merits and there is a petition signed by nearly 1 200 researchers from BAS and from universities seeking annulment of the contest. Do you share their opinion?
I fully agree with it. If they don't protest, this status quo will persist for ever.
Do you agree with them that Rangel Gyurov has been appointed illegally and that a circle of businesses related to the private New Bulgarian University, NBU (of which Ignatov was President prior to becoming Minister) have profited from financing from the Fund?
Of course, his selection is in breach of Article 8 of the Code of the Fund, requiring the appointment of a habilitated academic to the post. Mr. Gyurov has no habilitation in Bulgaria. The stories that are spreading that he was professor in Angola and his professorship was accepted in Portugal and therefore must be accepted in Bulgaria (because of the EU membership) are meaningless and have not yet convinced anyone, and it is not important for them to convince anyone except the judiciary. The concept of "alignment" of a professorship does not legally exist in Bulgaria. In other words, Mr. Gyurov is not a professor under Bulgarian law. If the magistrates, who are competent in the matter, decide otherwise, I will personally apologize to him.
The second part of your question needs clarification, and I will give it in my answer. NBU has received numerous contracts for projects with modest or no scientific value, with the participation of people who have not proven they can do science. And the latter is a requirement of all research funds in the world, including ours. And even those who aren't researchers can notice that is not normal for so many NBU projects and projects of the Library University to receive funding and that this is outrageous. Evidence shows their projects have won times more than projects submitted by the University of Sofia and BAS. Both universities are small and have extremely modest scientific capacity. Firms and foundations that have received funding are something different and I have no indications that they are related to NBU. Personally for me, they are equally interesting. Some have won earlier as well through the serious violations described in one of my answers above. These are not "friends of NBU."
Gyurov has not been at the post then. I think (based on data analysis) that a much simpler explanation can be found at the beginning of Gogol's "Revizor" (Government Inspector): "The Mayor is a bit old-fashioned in the office and not at all stupid on his own. Though a grafter, he acts very solidly..."
Are you going to comment on Kortenska's case?
I wish I could say no, but now I must. I will use again a quote, this time from Berthold Brecht, who, in his poem "To Those Born Later" (1939), says:
Ah, what an age it is
When to speak of trees is almost a crime
To me the "case Kortenska" is "a conversation about trees," supported mainly by the Minister, but by some of his "opponents" as well - several dailies wish to forget that there is quite a substantiated and detailed report that lists crimes and indicates the need to change the system as the only way to reduce corruption.
Neither the young people who launched the petition, nor I have anything to do with this TV drama. The petition was initiated by young scientists from the Physics Department of the University of Sofia, contrary to claims in the press that it was also "Kortenska's initiative." These claims, however, gave Ignatov grounds to ignore the true reason for the protests and to say that the General Assembly of BAS has no viable reasons to ask for the cancellation of the contest. According to him, there are four legal cases against Prof. M. Kortenska.
The alleged cases, however, have nothing to do with the protests of the young people, called "parasites" by the current Director of the Fund, Hristo Petrov.
The article on the site Vesti.bg is the top of arrogance, informing that "in an open letter researchers from Princeton University, Harvard, Yale, ...also say they were shocked by the events in recent weeks related to Bulgarian science and in particular to the "Scientific Research" Fund." There is no such thing in their statements. If it was, I would not have signed it. This is what they say regarding the reasons of their shock: "for decades, science has been neglected by those ruling Bulgaria. It is time for strong and continuous public pressure on the government in ministries, academies, institutes and universities. It is high time to throw the "rotten tomatoes" out of Bulgarian Science." Personally, I recommend to all who love their country to sign their petition at: http://www.peticiq.com/za_da_ima_nauka
But, I do not want to omit the fact that Kortenska confronted her former colleagues. And even if the allegations against her are true, I willingly believe her claims of corruption in the Fund because of the simple fact that I was convinced of that by the data collected by the Commission and by personal observations.
What about Ignatov's reaction that the BAS General Assembly has no grounds to demand annulment of the contest? Do you think, as your colleagues, that he is attempting to hush the scandal?
I said already that the goal is to conceal scandals, such as the most current one, which is simply a natural extension of the practice from 2008 – 2009, helpfully covered by mainstream media, both pro-government or "opposition."
Ignatov said recently on State radio that "scientists have been misled by an individual who is throwing empty words without substance and evidence in public space." "If they knew just a little bit of what I know, they would be embarrassed," said he. Any comments? Is he talking about you?
I don't think he is talking about me. This would be novel. I suppose, he is talking about Kortenska, wishing to divert the scientists' attention from their real protest. This is a good place to point that contrary to the ridiculous projects that win bids, these people are scientists dealing with extremely high-level research, top notch study of the very promising material grafen, which received two years ago the Nobel Prize in Physics. Our young scientists conduct their experiments in "homemade conditions," but nevertheless publish their findings in elite international magazines, unlike those who are granted millions.
What is next? Are you continuing the battle?
The battle has never stopped. About a month ago, I informed both in writing and in personal conversations some of the top managers of European science. I wish to expressly name Prof. Anne Glover, EU's top science advisor. The young scientists also wrote to her, and only two hours later she responded. She wrote in a personal message to one of the initiators of the petition, Victor Atanasov, that she has been informed about the issue by Bulgarian colleagues. She said this was a serious problem, adding the EC is currently probing it. Not even one newspaper asked or reported who these Bulgarian colleagues were.
You might say that I should not be so vain. I might agree if any mainstream media had paid attention to the Commission's report from 2010 (for their own peace of mind, I will reiterate that I am not one of its members). So, with the risk of being accused of all sorts of crimes, I will continue to speak laud about everything I can say and know. By the way, the place where I met the Professor is not irrelevant either – it was at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Germany, where a roundtable on the future of European science was held. My invitation to participate came from the Foundation "Falling Walls," the organizer of the conference and of the round table. It was specifically emphasized that all invitations were personal, not institutional. It was hosted by State Secretaries Harald Braun (Foreign Affairs) and Georg Schutte (Education and Science). So, I want to say that the events in Bulgaria have become known at the highest international level.
Do you think that something can be done to halt the years-long illegal practices at the Fund and to assure that the money is indeed given for science?
Yes, it can, and it would not be very difficult. When I was Director of the Fund, I wrote a project for a new Code. It seems I made their lives very difficult since they are hanging around for two years now and came up with a Code not different than the old one. My project was based on rules and practices of leading funds; I particularly used the Austrian one. I want to use this occasion to respond to some writings in some forums that we should not apply the practice of wealthy and orderly countries. No one is saying why, though. My project focused largely on their experience in avoiding corruption. I am not going to comment on it in detail, but I will say that the most significant differences are the solid obstacles to corruption in countries where it is already very limited and our rules, which I believe were created specially to benefit corruption practices. And while we are waiting to have a Code tailored precisely for Bulgaria, the theft will go on.
The Cabinet of the ruling Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria party, GERB, is almost at the end of its term. What is you assessment of this rule and in particular of Minister Ignatov?
I think with all of the above I gave my assessment. However, I have something more to add. The new Strategy for Development of Science is another step in the wrong direction. Last year, I wrote an article, whose title shows the essence of this strategy – "Strategy for Sustainable Development of Ignorance." Of course, no one wished to publish it, except two less popular sites and Sega (Now) daily, but in a much shortened version. I heard rumors that the editor, who allowed this "lampoon," was sanctioned or warned he would be sanctioned. But the article was one of the most read and most commented on on their site for a long time, without the subject being among those that are favorite of the readers.
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