Ousted Health Minister Bozhidar Nanev: I Am Indicted for Serving Bulgaria and Following the Law
Exclusive interview of Novinite.com (Sofia News Agency) with Doctor Bozhidar Nanev – former and first Health Minister in the GERB cabinet.
Doctor Bozhidar Mihaylov Nanev was born on January 19, 1963, in the town of Dimitrovgrad.
Nanev is a graduate of the French Language High School and of the Medical University (Academy) in the Black Sea city of Varna. He is a surgeon specializing in general, chest and pediatric surgery. He splits his time between the St. Marina University hospital in Varna and the Department of General and Operational Surgery, Anesthesiology and Intensive Care at the Medical University "Prof. Dr. Paraskev Stoyanov" where he is a part-time lecturer on pediatric surgery.
In 2008, Nanev was elected Chairman of the Varna Regional Doctors' Union. On January 10, 2009, he became Chairman of the Bulgarian Doctors' Union.
In July 2009, Nanev was appointed as the first Health Minister of the newly elected cabinet of the center-right Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB) party. He resigned from the post at the end of March, 2010, after prosecutors indicted him for concluding deals unfavorable for the State by signing two contracts with the "Roche Bulgaria" company for the delivery of the antiviral medicine Tamiflu. (More on the deal and Nanev's work as Minister read HERE and HERE.)
Nanev is married and has one son. His wife, Inna, is also a doctor – a radiologist. She is the daughter of the former President of the Medical University in Varna, Prof. Temelko Temelkov.
At the time Nanev was appointed Minister, the medical guild in Bulgaria hailed Prime Minister, Boyko Borisov's choice, saying Nanev is honest, reserved, willing to reach consensus, and a man of his word.
What are you charged with exactly?
According to the indictment, I am charged with deliberately concluding unfavorable contracts between the Health Ministry and "Roche Bulgaria" for the delivery of the antiviral medicine Tamiflu. The damages for the Ministry are calculated at BGN 2 454 319.20, which is the difference between the price offered by the British National Health Services through the British Embassy in Sofia and the price negotiated by the Ministry with "Roche Bulgaria."
When did the investigation against you begin?
I don't know when it began exactly and under whose initiative, but the pre-trial proceedings are filed under a 2009 number while in March 2010, the monitoring Prosecutor in the case, Margarita Nemska, told the media that I have been investigated for the last six months.
At the end of March 2010, I was charged for contracts I signed three (not six) months earlier – in December 2009. During the second half of March, 2010, as a witness and a Minister, on four occasions, I gave thorough testimony for the investigation regarding the flu epidemic, its dimensions; how many people were infected; how many died; is there proof they were infected with the АH1N1 virus and not another one; why we purchased antiviral medication; was there a need to purchase it; have we fallen prey of international conspiracy of some pharmaceutical companies, which purposely stirred panic in order to sell their products? It was obvious, the investigation wanted to show there has not been a flu epidemic in Bulgaria; the number of infected people was irrelevant; the antiviral medication had been unnecessary and had been purchased only to benefit the pharmaceutical companies and increase their turnover.
I was outraged by such insinuations and even warned the investigator to be careful to not say this in public because we would become the laughing stock as the only country being reckless about this threat for human life and health, recognized as such by all international health institutions. I tried to explain time and time again, and in vain, we had to act urgently and we had a decision of the Council of Ministers to do so.
I told them how we asked antiviral medication manufacturers in Bulgaria for quantities of Tamiflu and Relenza that would cover up to 5% of the population's needs (compared to 80% to 100% in other EU countries), and prepared contracts for it. The manufacturers, however, said they have difficulties to deliver these quantities over the skyrocketing global demand. We then turned to a number of European institutions asking for help all while flu panic and tensions in the country were mounting. We sent letters to the Embassies of all major EU Member States – Germany, France, the UK. We received several donations from them while the UK Health Services offered to sell them to us.
All this, before I realized a farce was only aimed against myself – the revelation came on March 29, when I was summoned as a defendant.
According to the official charges and to you – are there violations of the public procurement procedures in concluding the contract with "Roche Bulgaria?"
There are no such charges. And I have not committed any violations. Everything was done according to the procedures, rules and the law. This was the conclusion of the probe of the State Financial Inspection Agency.
Why didn't you profit from the UK National Health Services offer to purchase Tamiflu at a lower price?
The answer to this question requires more detailed explanations – we were never faced with the dilemma if we should purchase from Roche or from the UK National Health Services – I mean from one or the other – if it was possible, we would have made a purchase from both. But the Ministry can make deals only under the Public Procurement Act and is authorized to buy medications only from licensed and registered merchants and manufactures. Roche is such merchant; the UK Health Services are not. For this reason, we launched a public tender which ended with the signing of the contracts with Roche I am indicted for.
In addition, the Pandemic Committee (a working group of experts, economists and attorneys, established by the Council of Ministers) met to examine the British proposal. It became clear during the discussion that these 200 000 doses can be purchased only through a bilateral government contract – i.e. to file a project decision with the Council of Ministers; the cabinet to vote the decision; all ministries to coordinate this decision, which was then to be ratified by the Parliament at two readings, and only after all this the contract between the two governments could be signed. I have no idea what the British procedure involves.
Despite the complexity of the process and the fact this was an entirely different procedure, outside the Ministry's authority, we decided to set in motion the purchase of the UK medication. No one could tell how long this deal would take and we were pressured exactly by time – the epidemic was raging, and a second wave was in the forecast.
Around the same time, we received and examined a contract proposal from the British Health Services. Until then we only had an email offer including the price per package, which did, indeed, seem low. But during the examination we realized this was not the final price – it was unclear how much Customs duties, taxes, Value Added Tax (VAT), transportation, shipping etc. would amount to.
In addition, under Bulgarian laws, medications whose packaging does not include instructions in Bulgarian, are banned for sale in the country. These were only in English. Another, very important condition, was their expiration date. The contract proposal was making an offer for quantities with a very short expiration date according to what the UK had available in storage – only a month. The Bulgarian law bans importing medications with an expiration date less than six months. We also wanted to use these doses to cover the second wave of the epidemic. As it happened one year later – we used the medications purchased by Roche this year. Their expiration date was five years.
What is most important, however, is that we had no right whatsoever to make a purchase from the UK or any other third party which is not an authorized manufacturer or a wholesale dealer. There is a European directive that is coordinated with the Bulgarian law: Directive 2004/27/EC of the European Parliament and the Council of 31 March 2004 amending Directive 2001/83/EC on the Community code relating to medicinal products for human use. It clearly lists the route of a medication from the factory to the end-consumer. Under it, there is no option allowing a buyer to buy from a buyer – it is done with the purpose to hold the manufacturer accountable for medication sales - for example if someone is harmed by the use of a certain medication. Or if it is proven that some consignment must be recalled and replaced over defects – all this would be impossible if the medications have not been purchased from their maker.
By the way – the price we negotiated with Roche is the lowest in Europe. This was due to the so-called "referencing process," used in determining prices in Bulgaria. It turned out the UK Health Services price offer was lower than the price Britain purchased the medications for. Of course, they had their own reasons for it.
So you see, in brief, this is how, after this huge effort to do the job the best way possible, even using unconventional ways, I ended up being a defendant.
My charges boil down to the following: Why did you do something to benefit your country and its people and why did you do it by following the law?
Do you feel guilty of depriving the State, as the prosecutor claims, and if not – why were you so quick to resign?
Of course NOT! There is no deprivation of the State whatsoever! Not only have I done everything legally, but in 2011 it became clear my actions were expedient and insightful. This year's flu epidemic developed in the atmosphere of utter calmness. The Tamiflu from the deal I am charged for was used. Doctors already had the necessary experience and used the medication much faster – this led to much fewer complications; maybe hundreds of lives were saved. I feel that I fulfilled my duty. Why did I resign? Because the accusations were tarnishing my name. On the other hand-side, the Prosecutor's Office warned me they would request from the Court to remove me if I fail to do it voluntarily. I could not allow such scandal to be blown out of proportions. I think what I did was dignified.
Did you explain to Prime Minister Borisov what happened?
I did not explain, because he never asked for explanations. I told him that I wanted to bring my resignation to him in person. When I took it to Borisov, I told him everything I had done was right and legal, and requested from him to tell me if he had any suspicions I had committed violations and had personally benefited from the deal. Deputy PM and Interior Minister, Tsvetan Tsvetanov, was with him. They both declared they had probed me, followed me, watched me etc., and were certain I am an honest man and had not stolen a penny.
Do all these "troubles," to say the least, have any connection with the notorious trip to the US? What happened there; was there any conflict of interests as you were accused?
There wasn't any conflict of interest. The checks proved it. And no one had accused me. There were only questions about a possible conflict of interests. I have explained numerous times this trip was coordinated on diplomatic level between the two countries. This was the first such high-level meeting between Bulgaria and the US. The latter were represented by two Deputy Secretaries and other high-ranking State servants, along with NGO and private sector representatives. It was planned for us to be greeted by their Secretary of Health, but a health problem and a surgery stopped us from meeting her in person. I do not see any connection between these "troubles" and "that trip." I do not know about an indirect connection though.
You were the Chairman of the Bulgarian Doctors' Union, respected as an honest man, a man of principle, and outstanding professional. You colleagues continue to see you as such. You have never been a member of GERB. What made you accept the ministerial post?
When I was nominated, a number of your colleagues-journalists wrote that I have an impeccable reputation. Maybe I was elected Chairman of the Bulgarian Doctors' Union at times critical for the guild precisely because I am an honest man, a man of principle. Of course, I also had the skills. I have always given everything to my work; I have always been selfless and dedicated. For seven months, I worked tirelessly to reinstate the trust in the Doctors' Union and to continue its progress. Things were just beginning to stabilize; we got acquainted with the colleagues; we developed a plan of what to do, and the proposal to become a Minister came. It was unexpected. I have NEVER been a member of a political party, and a never strived for a political career. This was the very first time a Chairman of the Bulgarian Doctors' Union was nominated for a ministerial post. Maybe they noticed some qualities in me. At the time, I decided that if I accept a position in the executive power, I could contribute to a better coordination among institutions – the executive and legislative power, professional associations, the National Health Insurance Fund (NZOK), the NGOs and others. This is why accepted. And I worked the hardest to achieve this goal.
Do you feel like a scape goat, and do you regret getting involved in politics?
I do not wish to share my feelings in detail. What I felt in the beginning, after I was first indicted, was embittering disappointment. Now, I am looking forward and enjoying my profession.
For sure for a man with your reputation, the entire story must be very traumatic. Are you dealing with it better and how?
Yes, it was indeed very traumatic and sudden. I isolated myself from everyone for months and did not want to see anyone. Gradually, with the help of my family, friends and colleagues, I was able to shake off the unpleasant feelings. Now, I value my life even more.
Are you afraid of a guilty verdict?
I have no reasons to be afraid – I know I AM innocent and I count on a fair trial.
After the resignation, did you lose friends and colleagues; are they trying to avoid you?
Not at all and under no circumstances! To the contrary – they all openly voice their support for me and I am deeply grateful for that!
What keeps Bozhidar Nanev busy these days?
Mainly my profession. I have three surgeon specialties. I work with children and adults. I see the results of my work. The moral satisfaction is great. During my free time I like to take nature walks. Of course, I follow closely what is going on in the health care sector. This will always remain very important to me.
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