Graft scandals weigh on upcoming Bulgarian elections

From let to right, three of the ministers in the caretaker cabinet who uncovered skeletons in Borissov's closets: Assen Vassilev Kiril Petkov Violeta Komitova. [Dnevnik]

In the two months before the 11 July parliamentary elections in Bulgaria, a series of corruption scandals have shed light on the country’s governance during the rule of Boyko Borissov’s GERB party. According to the latest polls, support for GERB is falling.

After the 4 April elections, the 240 elected MPs were unable to form a government and on 11 May, President Rumen Radev appointed a caretaker government led by his chief of cabinet, Stefan Yanev. Both Radev and Yanev are former army generals.

Although the horizon of a caretaker government is short, several of the ministers took it as a priority to investigate allegations of corruption.

Caretaker Minister of Economy Kiril Petkov revealed, on 16 May that the Bulgarian Development Bank (BDB), a state institution the main mission of which is to support SMEs, provided loans of 946 million BGN (around €500 million) to only eight companies.

Reportedly, four of the companies are connected to controversial businessman and media mogul Delyan Peevski, who was recently targeted by US sanctions under the Magnitsky Act.

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“Over 118 million BGN have been received by each firm, huge state funds have been given to only eight companies. This money could have been used to finance 946 companies”, commented Petkov.

“I studied economics at Harvard. My dream is to bring in the positive programs that can make Bulgaria wealthy. Unfortunately, a lot of my time has been spent fighting some institutions that should be working quite normally”, the caretaker minister said.

Wiretapping scandal

In another scandal, Atanas Atanasov, a politician from the centre-right Democratic Bulgaria party, which is critical to GERB’s hopes of forming a government, claimed that more than 30 opposition politicians had been illegally wiretapped before the 4 April parliamentary elections.

On Facebook, Slavi Trifonov the leader of “There is Such a people” (ITN), the party which came second in the 4 April election, compared the case with the Watergate scandal.

The caretaker Interior Minister Boyko Rashkov confirmed the claims, saying that the number of politicians under surveillance was even higher, and that the caretaker prime minister had been among them.

Further evidence presented by the party Stand Up.BG suggest that the government spied on people who protested against Borissov’s government during the summer of 2020.

According to Atanasov, the materials were shredded and destroyed by the interior ministry’s internal security directorate.

GERB’s political opponents say that it is unlikely that the prosecution service will dig into the case, but reportedly the ministry of interior is conducting its own investigations.

Billions distributed without call for tenders

On Wednesday (30 June), the caretaker Minister of Finance Assen Vassilev announced that over BGN 8 billion of public money (over €4 billion) was distributed to private companies without calling tenders.

“From 1 January 2019 until 30 April 2021, contracts worth a little over BGN 20 billion (€10 billion) have been concluded. Of these, 8,6 billion BGN were distributed to firms without tenders, said Vassilev.

Reportedly, in the poorest EU’s member state, 8,6 billion BGN (42-43% of the state funds distributed during these two years) were allocated through the so-called in-house assignments. The mechanism should be used in case of “urgency” and not for large-scale projects, Vassilev explained.

Impact on the electorate

GERB won the 4 April elections with 26,18% of the votes, but according to the latest polls, its rating has eroded by 5%. In April, the flamboyant Slavi Trifonov and his anti-elite party “There is Such a People” (ITN), surprisingly became second, gathering 17.66% of the vote. Less than two weeks before the elections ITN is expected to receive 20.2% and could potentially win the elections.

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The three political forces stemming from last year’s summer protests (There is Such a People, Democratic Bulgaria and Stand Up.BG) are gaining momentum, but their aggregate results according to polls remain below what will be needed to form a stable majority.

[Edited by Benjamin Fox]

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