EU watchdog probes suspicious funding for Twitter, Facebook accounts in Bulgaria

  

The European Anti-Fraud Office, OLAF, has launched an investigation into allegations that €50,000 in rural development funding was due to be paid for opening and running a Facebook page and a Twitter account in Bulgaria, EurActiv has learned.

OLAF officials said the investigation related to "allegations concerning possible irregularities in the framework of EU subventions of the rural development programme in Bulgaria, supported by European Agricultural Rural Development Fund [EARDF] funding."

"This investigation is ongoing but, at this stage, no conclusions can be drawn,” said Pavel Borkovec, an OLAF spokesman.

The request to OLAF followed reports in Bulgarian news media that Agriculture Minister Miroslav Naydenov had responsibility for overseeing the programme. OLAF said Naydenov was not under investigation, but confirmed that the projects under his authority were.

In August 2012, the Bulgarian daily Sega exposed the generous contracts awarded to two former junior employees of the Food Agency, part of the Agriculture Ministry.

The Sega investigation found that three companies had applied for the contract, all established on the same day. The winning company, called  K.M.Com, is owned by Kristina Spasova, 25, and Lora Dimitrova, 24, both of whom were until then responsible for public relations in the Food Agency.

It remains unclear how the contract was awarded to the company, which was established just before the tender was published and had no prior activity. The tender required a minimum of three-years experience in advertising and a turnover of similar contracts of at least €75,000.

K.M.Com was awarded 47,500 leva (€24,300) for opening a Facebook page for the Programme for Development of Rural Regions of the Ministry of Agriculture, as well as a Tweeter account. The Facebook page posts press releases of the Ministry, and the Twitter account tweets new press releases. The Twitter account has 78 followers.

The Ministry of Agriculture has advertised a second tender to maintain the Facebook page and run the Twitter account, for the sum of 50,000 leva (€25,560). The second contract is aimed at increasing the impact of the Facebook page and Twitter account.

Asked to comment, Naydenov first denied that OLAF had opened an investigation, but pressed by the evidence, he said on Tuesday (12 February) that it did not concern him personally.

Asked who signed the documents awarding the funding, he said that it wasn’t he and that possibly a deputy minister could have signed the contracts.

Sega reported that it possessed documents showing the contracting party is represented by the Minister of Agriculture and the ministry’s chief accountant.

Reports show that 15,800 leva (€9,500) had been spent so far on the “advertising” contract, the remaining payments being frozen as a result of the investigation.

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