Bulgaria Interior Ministry Denies OLAF Probe of Agriculture Minister
Bulgaria's Interior Ministry has confirmed that the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) is investigating a public procurement procedure of the Agriculture Ministry for the popularization of the Rural Development Program on Facebook and Twitter.
The Interior Ministry came up with a statement Tuesday, commenting on a publication of Sega daily titled "OLAF Investigates Agriculture Minister for EU Funds Embezzlement."
The Interior Ministry emphasizes that OLAF is not investigating Agriculture Minister Miroslav Naydenov.
The statement draws attention to the fact that the EU anti-fraud office is checking the facts and circumstances set out in a signal concerning alleged violations in the assignment of a public procurement contract worth BGN 48 000 for the preparation and maintenance of Facebook and Twitter accounts of the Rural Development Program based on information from the AFCOS Directorate (Coordination of Fight against the Infringements Affecting the Financial Interests of the European Union) at the Interior Ministry.
According to the press release, as cited by Sega daily, OLAF requested AFCOS' cooperation for identifying the trustworthiness of the signal for the contract signed on January 12, 2012.
Bulgaria's Interior Ministry informs that the correspondence between OLAF and AFCOS does not mention an investigation against Agriculture Minister Miroslav Naydenov.
The Interior Ministry reminds that OLAF inspections only involve economic operators, not natural persons.
Regarding allegations that the investigation was ordered in person by OLAF head Giovanni Kessler, the statement informs that all investigations conducted by OLAF are opened on the authorization of the Director-General.
The Interior Ministry notes that Giovanni Kessler could not have known about the tip-off during his visit to Bulgaria on 27-28, as Sega daily claimed, because the decision to open an investigation into the public procurement deal was signed by him on October 31, 2012, more than one month later.
Commenting on the three companies which were invited to undertake the project, the Interior Ministry notes that the legal requirements in force at that time were observed, as all 3 bids had an estimated value of less than BGN 48 000.
After the statement of the Interior Ministry, Agriculture Minister Miroslav Naydenov yet again declared that he was not being investigated by OLAF.
He admitted, however, that an investigation was underway into the contracts for the Facebook and Twitter accounts of the Rural Development Program.
Naydenov, as cited by Sega daily, emphasized that he was willing to cooperate with the probe.
He also told journalists that there was intense correspondence between the Agriculture Ministry and OLAF's partner in Bulgaria, AFCOS, on a number of tip-offs, adding that this was normal practice.
Naydenov also claimed that Bulgaria had the highest absorption rate in the sphere of EU funds for agriculture.
He argued that Bulgaria would not have been granted an extra sum of over EUR 2 B for agriculture under the next programming period if there had been suspicions about its EU funds absorption.
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