Bulgaria: Another Agriculture Businessman Testifies in Parliament, Gives Evidence of Racket
Yet another agriculture businessman showed up on in the National Assembly on Monday, May 10, to tell about the racketeering to which workers in this sector are subjected. Pavel Slavchov Stoimenov introduced himself as the largest vegetable producer in Bulgaria and owner of Agro-Bell 2001. "I will describe to you the main problems of our business, I have evidence", commented Stoimenov.
GERB MPs immediately protested and tried to thwart the hearing with a variety of arguments. They said it was unclear what the person wants to report and whether the subject is in the committee's subject matter. By the same logic, all 100 whistleblowers had to be heard.
"The issue at stake is the independence of the Bulgarian people. I voted for you, I personally brought you 1,000 votes", Stoimenov replied outraged by GERB's reluctance to listen to him. Asked if this meant he was paying for votes, he replied that he had simply urged workers and his family to vote for GERB. After this confession, GERB lawmakers let him speak.
Stoimenov explained that he wanted to talk about the racket in Stara Zagora adding that he decided to speak out after watching the arrogant behavior of the head of "Gradus" Ivan Angelov at the previous sitting of the committee.
"There is a cartel – G8 in Stara Zagora under the leadership of the head of "Gradus". We were forced to pay artificially low rents, not to buy farmland. Three of our offices were set on fire, and even my employee's house was burnt, as a warning. We rebuilt her house, but then they set it on fire again. The woman developed diabetes. Because of her, I am here," Stoimenov said.
"This company (G8) called us and said that we need to damage all the owners in the Stara Zagora region through the rent. We didn't agree, and immediately fell victim to arson. Then we decided it was better to put the head in a noose and play by their rules. Until a month ago, we thought things had changed and there would be no more racket.
So we announced new listings, rented up to 200 kg per acre of grain. But an emissary of Angelov came and told us – Ivan calls you to give explainations. We decided to sell our land and move business abroad, because it became impossible to work here. We had negotiated a price and we were able to sell 3,000 acres. Then this man lowered the price under Angelov's dictation again. Even though we had a deal. And we gave up selling," Stoimenov said.
"They give low rents to the entire population of Stara Zagora. This can be easily verified. See where the lowest rents are and what are the differences. Who pays Ivan Angelov's costs? The entire population of Stara Zagora. These people have dependencies and are ready for anything," Stoimenov said.
Asked how he explained the power of the head of "Gradus" Ivan Angelov in Stara Zagora, Stoimenov said: "He said it himself – when they stopped his company‘s truck with eggs, he called up the Prime Minister. This is a dependency", commented Stoimenov. "The Bulgarian Food Safety Agency is under their control as well as the land commissions. We received multiple warnings from the land commissions to take down our rents, not to raise them," Stoimenov added.
He claims that in 2014 the same group stole his company electronically – a company with 50,000 acres of arable land. He then hired notaries, lawyers, to produce a document on how this would never happen again. Indeed, after this case, the law was changed and the transfer of companies is already done after notification to the old owner by text message.
Stoimenov noted that the only proposal that has not been accepted is for a company to be transferred only after presenting certificates from the NRA for lack of liabilities. "It inflicts damages to the state," he said emotionally.
"After they stole my company, they transferred its 80,000 acres to Shumen, to third parties. The court ruled that they were a victim and not guilty. I accepted that. But at least we changed the laws," Stoimenov said.
"After my company was stolen, I became a consultant in theft of companies. Do you know how many companies called me to consult on how to get the stolen companies back? The largest tomato producer in Bulgaria , the Italian Fabrizio, came to teach us business (we are probably talking about Fabrizio Fresci, who was the largest producer of tomatoes). They didn't steal his company, they just replaced him as a manager. The new manager signed a contract with the "Gradus" company for 1,000 tons of sunflower. "Gradus" gave BGN 600,000 to this man without knowing him. Fabrizio understood this, but this man was gone, as was the money," Stoimenov said.
He told of a Greek businessman from Lukovit who was forced to leave and give up business because he was accused of non-existent salmonella in chicken meat. "The private laboratory says that there is no salmonella, the state - that there is. And they killed his chickens. The man broke in tears and left," the businessman explained.
At an explicit request to point out a violation, Stoimenov stated that it is no coincidence that there is a difference in rents between Northern and Southern Bulgaria. "Until three years ago, everywhere theywanted you to prove your legal right to cultivate the land, to show contracts that you owned it. In Northern Bulgaria, these documents entered into force 10 years ago. In Southern Bulgaria, this law came into force three years ago. They do it on purpose, so that these guys can play their dirty games," Stoimenov explained.
The Chair of the Committee Maya Manolova suggested that Stoimenov's revelations should be forwarded to the prosecutor's office because of the evidence of arson and theft of companies.
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