Notorious Bulgarian GERB MP Built Pool on State Terrain

Society | January 9, 2013, Wednesday // 13:16| Views: 2723 | Comments: 0
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Notorious Bulgarian GERB MP Built Pool on State Terrain: Notorious Bulgarian GERB MP Built Pool on State Terrain Emil Dimitrov, GERB MP and close friend of Bulgaria's Prime Minister. Photo by BGNES

Emil Dimitrov, the controversial Member of the Parliament from Bulgaria's ruling party GERB, has initiated in 2011 a procedure to purchase a State-owned terrain in a protected area using a well-known scam.

The information was published Wednesday by the site for investigative journalism and official WikiLeaks partner for Bulgaria, Bivol.bg, citing documents they found in the Cadaster, the Trade Registry and files of the Agriculture Ministry for changing the statute of the State land from the forestry fund.

Bivol writes that the MP needed the 2.5-acre land plot since it was located between another 11-acre one he acquired through a land swap, and the "Hawaii" hotel he owns. The hotel's pool was even built on the said 2.5-acre plot before Dimitrov had purchased it.

The outragious revelations come on the heels of the so-called "Dunes Gate" scandal in the country revolving around the sale of State lands in protected areas to be used for private construction activities and exposing a company close to a friend of Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister, Tsvetan Tsvetanov.

The scandal with construction activities on 29 decares of protected area between Ravda and Nessebar on the Black Sea coast erupted in the last days of 2012 when environmentalists said that the area was part of the Aheloy-Ravda-Nessebar protected area from the Natura 2000.

As a result, it became clear that the area was sold without a tender based on an older law that was in force until 2010. The new Forestry Act, passed in 2011 with Dimitrov's active lobbying, technically does not provide any way of selling State land without tenders but it said it allowed procedures that started before 2010 to be completed under the older law.

Dimitrov's procedure for changing the statute of the land plot from the State forestry fund and its the acquisition has started in October 2011.

According to the 2011 amendments to the Forestry Act, changes of the statute of lands in the State forest fund are admissible only for the construction of transport facilities sites (ports, airports, railroad stations), industrial plants, exploration of natural deposits, tailings, cemeteries, power plants, dams, purification stations, and other hydro facilities.

Dimitrov's application needed only a decision of the Regional Forestry Directorate and after an examination of the land plot, in June 2012, it issued a letter that there were no protected tree types in the property.

As Bivol notes, the pool that was already there seemed to have remained unnoticed and/ or was interpreted as something close to a dam in order to allow the change in the land statute.

Dimitrov's deal is not yet finalized and further developments around the fate of the land plot also remain unknown, but according to the latest pledges of officials from the ruling Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria party, GERB, any such changes in the State land statute would be halted and the law would be amended once again.

The company owner of the "Hawaii" hotel and of the adjacent lands is Express Tours, which is owned by several other firms, among them "Eleonora Trans," belonging to Dimitrov's mother, 72, and a former member of the notorious alleged criminal croup SIK, Slavyan Trifonov, Bivol has further discovered. Trifonov is also listed as the manager of the company, while the other manager is Georgi Nikolov, known as an individual close to controversial oligarch and banker, Tseko Minev.

Emil Dimitrov is currently being probed by the Parliamentary Committee on Conflict of Interests in connection amendments to the Forestry Act, the Hunting and Game Preserving Act, and the Farming Lands Act.

The probe started in June 2011, but Dimitrov is yet to be summoned to a hearing to present his side of the story.

The GERB MP firmly denies being involved in conflict of interests and lobbyist legislation.

A former GERB Deputy Agriculture Minister, Georgi Kostov, insist Dimitrov was in "serious conflict of interests" such as proposing to share the game concessions profits among all game and hunting estates and farms instead of only among those owned by the State.

Dimitrov is a former concessionaire of two of Bulgaria's largest hunting estates. In 2010, he was involved in a scandal revolving around a swap deal with public lands before he entered the Parliament, during the term of the previous cabinet.

The MP is also seen as the mastermind behind the controversial Forestry Act that resulted in mass protests in the capital Sofia. He was the one to make the scandalous statement: "Bulgaria is ours and the forests are ours."

His nicknames Emo the Cigarette Butt and Emo the Rothmans stem from his long-running history of being involved in cigarette trade. He is considered to be very close to Prime Minister, Boyko Borisov.

Another scandal erupted last summer when it was alleged that the PM ordered the government aircraft to fly to the Black Sea city of Varna two football teams close to him and Dimitrov after losing a bet in a card game.

Bulgaria's image as a hunting destination was tarnished in 2005 when a German Barron shot a reindeer in a hunting estate owned by Emil Dimitrov, and the trophy was declared a world record. Investigative journalistic reports, however, revealed that the reindeer had been raised in a farm in Austria and fed by hormones. The record was annulled in the aftermath.

Borisov has so far defended his friend's involvement in the 2010 land swap, saying he did it before he became an MP.

In addition, according to Bivol's investigation, the company, co-owned by the SLE Group, which purchased the sand dunes in the protected area between Ravda and Nessebar, and a business of Todor Boyadzhiev, a friend of Interior Minister, Tsvetan Tsvetanov, has recently purchased half of the stakes in a Black Sea Coast hotel from a company linked to Emil Dimitrov.

Boyadzhiev and Dimitrov are also tied through the cigarette business where both have interests.

A recent check with the Public Procurement Agency has shown that the TVB company, owned by Minister Tsvetanov's close friend, has won public tenders in the amount of BGN 9 M since GERB took office.

According to an October 2010 publication in the anti-government Galeria weekly, 3 legal cases and 4 prosecution orders have been logged against Boyadzhiev on charges of cigarette smuggling. The article further claimed that for many years his cover-up has been Ivan Petrov, former Chief of the police in the southern city of Haskovo and current GERB MP.

Bivol reminds that former MP, Tatyana Doncheva claimed in 2010 that in 2000 Boyadzhiev has been involved in a brazen highway robbery when truckloads of cigarettes have been stolen near Haskovo with the participation of policemen as some of the thieves. The perpetrators were caught 3 years later while the probe established that the stolen cigarettes had been taken to Boyadzhiev's warehouses.

Doncheva also insists that Boyadzhiev is connected with SIK.

In the aftermath of the scandal with the sand dunes, Borisov ordered Bulgaria's Ministers of Regional Development, Agriculture, and Environment to update the Forestry Act, the Environmental Protection Act, the Biological Diversity Act, and the Black Sea Coast Organization Act "so that such deals and construction projects couldn't be allowed."

The PM also vowed that all deals will be probed by a special ad hoc committee, but it remains unclear if this will involve the ones that were not finalized.

On Monday, the Minister of Regional Development and Public Works, Lilyana Pavlova, pledged that legal amendments will be tabled ASAP to lead to a full ban on construction activities in Bulgaria on plots listed as sand dunes.

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Tags: SLE Group, Boyko Borisov, protected area, NATURA 2000, Nessebar, Miroslav Naydenov, GERB, land swaps, NATURA 2000, European Commission, state aid, Miroslav Naydenov, Black Sea, Nessebar, Sand dunes, beach, Toma Belev, Wikileaks, Bivol, Forestry Act, conflict of interests, MP, Emil Dimitrov, Lilyana Pavlova, Todor Boyadzhiev, Interior Minister, Tsvetan Tsvetanov, Galeria, apartments
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