Jeleva chaired firm set up by communist secret services, says MEP

Commissioner-designate Rumiana Jeleva was the CEO of a company established by the former communist secret services in Liechtenstein, a leading socialist MEP told EURACTIV yesterday (18 January) as the European Parliament’s legal service appeared to clear Jeleva of any wrongdoing.

Ivaylo Kalfin – a former Bulgarian foreign minister (in office before Jeleva) and currently an MEP from the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) group and vice-chair of the Parliament’s budget committee – said that companies established by Bulgaria’s former communist services are still the best-kept secret of the country’s transition, and are deemed to be responsible for stealing much of the country’s wealth. 

The association of Ms. Jeleva with such a company, ETKO Schneiders, is a serious blow to her integrity, he said. 

In 1999, Jeleva, 30 years old at the time, was appointed CEO of ETKO Schneiders, documents from public registers show. 

At that time, 49% of the firm belonged to ETKO Dunavia – a Bulgarian subsidiary of ETKO European Trading Establishment – a company which was registered in Vaduz, Liechtenstein in 1988, one year before the collapse of the communist regime in Bulgaria. 

According to a recent investigation led by Dnevnik, the partner publication of EURACTIV in Bulgaria, as well as allegations by a former prosecutor who has written a book on the subject, this firm was one of the former Bulgarian communist secret services’ iconic foreign companies. 

The information linking Jeleva to controversial firms, first disclosed by Paris-based Bulgarian journalist Atanas Chobanov, was taken up by the Bulgarian media on Monday (18 January). 

Chobanov told this website that he had put together the information exposing Jeleva’s past occupations from public sources, with the help of his colleague in Bulgaria, investigative journalist Assen Yordanov. 

Chobanov, who spelled out his centre-right political convictions, said the new GERB party to which Jeleva is affiliated was walking all over genuine EPP values in Bulgaria. 

The new revelations represent another blow to the EPP group leadership, who just hours before the latest development had strongly backed Jeleva, who is EPP vice-president. 

Referring to a recent letter by Commission President José Manuel Barroso, who after days of controversy said that Jeleva’s Declaration of Interests, deposited with the Commission, was in conformity with the code of conduct of commissioners (EURACTIV 15/01/10), Joseph Daul, EPP group leader in the European Parliament, called on her opponents to “apologise”. 

“I am waiting to hear these apologies,” said Daul in a written statement. 

Meanwhile, the legal service of the European Parliament yesterday issued an opinion – seen by EURACTIV – on the Declarations of Interest, which the EPP said proves Rumiana Jeleva conforms fully to the code of conduct for members of the European Commission. 

However, it might appear that Jeleva was “cleared” rather hastily, as more doubts surrounding her declarations of interest continue to emerge. 

When becoming Bulgarian Foreign Minister in July 2009, Mrs. Jeleva declared that she had left ETKO Schneiders before taking office. However, the website Mediapool, close to the centre-right DSB party of former Prime Minister Ivan Kostov, claims that Jeleva still holds her CEO position with ETKO Schneiders. 

Also, according to the public registry, the company ‘Global Consult’ of which she was the owner and which she claims to have sold for 5,000 leva (2,500 euros), had at that time a bank account containing 20,000 leva (10,000 euros). 

“The value of the company obviously was well above 5,000 leva at the time of the sale, and it was sold at one fourth of its book value. It would appear that Ms. Jeleva has evaded tax,” Kalfin said, adding that he would ask his centre-left group to reject the Barroso II team should Jeleva remain part of it.

The European Parliament’s legal service was asked to investigate her ties to Global Consult Ltd., a Bulgarian privatisation consultancy she once managed, and concluded on Monday that there was nothing wrong, officials said.

After the clearing of Jeleva by the Parliament’s legal service, the EPP vice-chairman added: “At this stage I hope that the political groups, who have been attacking Ms. Jeleva and her family with unfounded and slanderous allegations since her nomination to the Commission was announced, will cease this hostile and aggressive behaviour. We will continue with the remainder of the hearings in as calm and professional a manner as possible and I hope all political groups can do the same.”

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With the exception of the European People's Party (EPP), European Parliament members have rallied across party lines against Rumiana Jeleva, Bulgarian commissioner-designate for humanitarian aid and crisis response, who failed to impress during her parliamentary audition on 12 January. 

Before her appointment as commissioner-designate, Jeleva was Bulgaria's foreign minister. She was also recently elected EPP vice-president. 

Jeleva was already seen as the most problematic of the 26 commissioners-designate, mainly due to allegations of conflict of interest, for which she had failed to provide a satisfactory explanation in the run-up to the hearing (EURACTIV 17/12/09  and 08/01/10). 

By backing Jeleva on 15 January, Commission President José Manuel Barroso put himself on a collision course with the European Parliament's socialists and liberals, who loudly called for her replacement (EURACTIV 15/01/10). 

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