MEP adds cases of presidential advisers to resolution on Bulgaria

Metsola explained why the amendment about Bozhkov has been withdrawn: "The EPP Group never said or intended to say everyone protesting in Bulgaria is paid"

Roberta Metsola

Reports of possible links between criminal groups and public authorities in Bulgaria and between foreign intelligence services and advisers to the country's president to be included in the resolution on the rule of law in Bulgaria, insists Maltese MEP Roberta Metsola on behalf of the EPP Group.

The final text of the resolution authored by Juan Fernando López Aguilar, Spanish MEP from S&D Group and Chair of the EP's Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, will be voted on Thursday by the full House. The numerous amendments made by the political groups were put to the vote on Wednesday afternoon.

Metsola added that “in the course of criminal proceedings initiated and conducted by the Bulgarian Special Prosecutor’s Office, investigators conducted an extensive analysis of the evidence collected (including audio recordings) and found that two advisors to the President of Bulgaria were involved in criminal activities”.

The Maltese lawmaker supplements that the two have been charged with crimes committed in the line of duty, including the illegal possession and storage of a large number of documents containing a security seal under the Classified Information Protection Act, obtained illegally by the State Intelligence Agency. In addition, the MEP points out “the participation of the two advisers in a criminal conspiracy created for the purpose of trading in influence, as part of criminal activity and exercising influence to obtain Bulgarian citizenship from a Russian citizen”.

Metsola also complement the text with "welcomes the decision of the Bulgarian Government to expel diplomats who have allegedly conducted military espionage and gathered information classified as state secrets with the intention of passing it on to a third country”.

She suggests as well in the resolution to be included a number of examples of the country's successful fight against fraud. She points out that despite the challenges, the Bulgaria’s system for management and control of the European Structural and Investment Funds has improved and is functioning properly, citing the Commission's data indicating that financial corrections implemented as a percentage of payments received from the EU budget stood at only 0.9 % in Bulgaria, which is half the EU average.

Among the amendments she puts forward is “welcomes the fact that in 2019 Bulgarian authorities imposed over €40m of financial corrections in the field of agriculture, which is twice the EU average".

Metsola proposes to be added that according to OLAF the country’s authorities detected and reported around 1 100 irregularities and cases of fraud, and the financial impact of those cases is 1.7 % of the total payments, lower than the EU average, and  welcomes the fact that during the 2015-2019 period, as a follow-up to OLAF’s recommendation, Bulgaria opened 10 investigations as compared to the EU average of 7. She underlines Bulgaria’s role as one of the most active Member States when it comes to reporting in the ARACHNE risk scoring tool and that according to the European Court of Auditors, Bulgaria was already in 2017 one of the ten Member States with a fully-fledged strategy for combatting crime.

In the proposed amendments the MEP initially included the case of “a prominent gambling, tourism and construction magnate in Bulgaria with 18 criminal charges filed against him, who has allegedly been channelling financial resources into the ongoing protests”.  Without mentioning name, it was apparent that this description is referring to Vasil Bozhkov. The Office of the Prosecutor General opened in January investigations into Bozhkov, who is now hiding in Dubai.

Later on Wednesday, it became clear that this item had been withdrawn from the amendments, and the MEP tweeted that “the EPP Group never said or intended to say everyone protesting in Bulgaria is paid. In fact, many of our amendments strengthen the right to protest. We do understand though that the amendment in question has been open to misinterpretation and has been withdrawn”.

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