Bulgaria’s justice minister resigns amid probe into luxury property purchases by top ruling party members

By bne IntelliNews March 23, 2019

Bulgaria’s Justice Minister Tstetska Tsacheva and Deputy Minister of Sport Vanya Koleva resigned on March 23 as the anti-corruption body started an investigation into the controversial purchase of luxury property by top members of the ruling Gerb party, including the two ministers.

Yet another scandal involving Gerb, which had ruled for nearly ten years, comes during the campaign for the EU parliamentary election in May, and could further damage its already worsening image, giving the main opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party hope for better performance, although the two parties seem to have been losing voters’ trust equally in the past few years.

Prime Minister Boyko Borissov accepted the resignations of Tsatcheva and Koleva on the same day.

Earlier in March, independent investigative news outlet Bivol.bg published an article saying that Tsvetan Tsvetanov, the leader of Gerb’s parliamentary group, had acquired an extremely luxurious apartment in Sofia for less than 25% of its market price. The property was sold by the company that built it.

In the following days, the anti-corruption NGO Anti-Corruption Fund (ACF), in cooperation with Radio Free Europe and Bivol.bg, revealed that other top Gerb members, including Tsatcheva, Koleva and Vezhdi Rashidov, head of the parliament’s committee on culture and a former culture minister, have also acquired at a luxury apartments built by the same company, Artex Engineering, at a very low cost.

The company admitted it sold the apartments cheaply to the politicians, claiming they were not a bribe. Instead, it issued an official statement claiming the deals were legal and did not aim to buy the company political influence.

However, Bivol.bg revealed that Tsvetanov ordered an investigation against the company four days before buying the property. The investigation did not proceed after the deal.

According to the ACF, Tsatcheva acquired an apartment in the same building as Tsvetanov, also for around a quarter of the market price. She claimed that the deal was legal and even pushed the anti-corruption body and the prosecution to investigate it, but also decided to resign.

Unlike Tsatcheva, Tsvetanov claims his deal was completely legal and there was no reason for him to step down or take any other measures.

At the same time, the anti-corruption commission decided to launch an investigation following a signal from ACF.

The prosecutor’s office has asked the anti-corruption body to probe various aspects. The commission will examine the title deeds and will interrogate all those involved.

The investigation also will probe allegations of influence-trading and conflict of interest related to the company and the deals.

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