Press Review

Sofia, February 14 (BTA)

VENEZUELA: MONEY LAUNDERING

Hundreds of millions of euro was transferred under the nose of the Bulgarian National Bank (BNB) and the country's special services from Venezuela to a Bulgarian bank despite the embargo on Venezuela's state oil company, and the money eventually flowed out of Bulgaria, Sega reports in its main story. The news about the money laundering ring was unveiled after Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, Prosecutor General Sotir Tsatsarov, State Agency for National Security (SANS) Director Dimiter Georgiev and Interior Minister Mladen Marinov had an emergency meeting with US Ambassador to Bulgaria Eric Rubin.

The tip-off about the money laundering operation came from the US special services. This, according to Sega, means that the Measures against Money Laundering Act is not working because none of the persons under obligation to notify - neither the lawyer nor the bank or the BNB - brought the massive monetary flows to the notice of the financial intelligence unit at SANS. Moreover, SANS itself also failed to detect what was going on, although it has all the powers to do that.

The millions in question came from PDVSA, the state-owned oil company of Venezuela, StandartNews.com specifies. They were transferred to a trust account in Bulgaria and were eventually moved on to banks in other countries. The account holder in Bulgaria is a Bulgarian with name initials Ts.Ts., who also holds other citizenships. He has the right to practice law. Pretrial proceedings are to be launched for money laundering, the website says.

It quotes Venezuelan Ambassador to Bulgaria Orietta Caponi as saying that the news came as a total surprise to her. She said: "I have received no official information about any money coming to Bulgaria. Today's news is part of the United States' persecution of Venezuela, part of the media and economic war against Venezuela. The United States struggles for democracy only in countries which are rich in natural resources."

Capital.bg identifies the receiving Bulgarian bank as Investbank. The transfers were made months ago, before the political turbulence in Venezuela over the last few weeks, the website says, quoting own sources. The sum was at least 80 million US dollars, according to one source, or 140 million dollars, according to another. Given that Investbank assets amount to a little over 2 billion leva (a little over 1.2 billion dollars), such a big transfer could not have gone unnoticed, the website argues.

It quotes Prosecutor General Tsatsarov as saying that the bank account was set up according to the rules and, for now, the suspicions are not targeted at the bank itself. But it is unclear whether the bank alerted the financial intelligence about anything suspicious, and if it did, why no one took any real action until after information was received via diplomatic and operative channels from the United States, Capital.bg says.

The website contacted Investbank CEO Zdravka Rousseva, who asked for questions to be submitted in writing. After those were submitted, the bank did not respond in substance but did not deny the information either. It said it "has always provided and will provide full cooperation to the competent law enforcement authorities in discharging their duties."

Investigative journalism website Bivol.bg and news website MediaPool.bg also say that the Venezuelan money was transferred to Investbank. They put the amount at 60 million euro (68 million US dollars).

GEBREV POISONING

The press covers the latest developments related to the resumed investigation of an April 2015 attempted murder of Dunarit ordnance company owner Emilian Gebrev, his son and the company production director, who were all poisoned but survived the incident. The investigation was reopened in October 2018 after Gebrev told Prosecutor General Sotir Tsatsarov he had reasons to suspect that the poison may have been from the Novichok family. Findings from the investigation unveiled by Prosecutor General Sotir Tsatsarov on Monday point to a possible link between Gebrev's poisoning and three visits to Bulgaria in 2015 by Russian military intelligence officer Sergei Fedotov, known as "the third suspect" in Britain's Skripal case.

StandartNews.com says that Gebrev had dinner with Russian and Polish business partners just before he was hospitalized at the Sofia's Military Medical Academy with symptoms of poisoning. They dined twice: on the evening when Gebrev got the poisoning symptoms and on the previous evening. The facts were reported by Prosecutor General Tsatsarov after the National Assembly Special Services Control Committee gave him a hearing behind closed doors on Wednesday.

According to Tsatsarov, the investigators' efforts are focused on clarifying what contacts the arms business owner had in April 2015, the month of the poisoning. These contacts could provide a clue about the incident, the Prosecutor General believes.

24 Chasssa quotes Tsatsarov as saying: "We are investigating an attempt to murder Gebrev, we are not saying it was food poisoning."

POLITICS

It should be permissible to publicize election forecasts and exit polls on reflection day and on voting day during political elections, according to a proposal by Diana Savateva MP of the ruling GERB party, which was approved by the National Assembly Legal Affairs Committee, Troud says on its front page. Savateva argued that it is better to allow the media to report such information officially than to let them disguise it as allegorical rankings such as would-be music charts.

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A Solomon-like judgment ended the dispute between President Rumen Radev and Foreign Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva about who should be Bulgaria's new ambassador to Paris, 24 Chassa reports. The matter had stalled a number of ambassadorial postings for more than a year. The government proposed Deputy Foreign Minister Yurii Shterk to take up the job in Paris, while the President's choice was diplomat Petko Draganov.

It turns out that neither of them will be posted to the French capital. The term of the current Ambassador to France, Angel Cholakov, will be extended until a third, mutually more acceptable candidate is found. In the meantime, Shterk will become Ambassador to Morocco and Draganov will become Ambassador to South Korea. At a closed-door meeting on Wednesday, the government approved 16 ambassadorial nominations which are to be endorsed by the President, but no names were revealed officially.

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The Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) has refuted the incumbents' contention that municipalities run by GERB-dominated local governments are not financed by the central government as a matter of priority, Douma says in its main story. The daily notes that between July 2017 and December 2018 the cabinet provided 547,812,988 leva in additional funding to municipalities. Almost 400 million leva of the total amount went to GERB-controlled areas. Another 94 million leva was given to communities controlled by the Movement for Rights and Freedoms. Municipalities with BSP-dominated local governments received only 10,869,509 leva. Eighty-eight municipalities inhabited by a total of 1.3 million people did not get a single lev in additional funding.

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Prosecutor General Sotir Tsatsarov recommended the shutdown of the State Agency for Bulgarians Abroad, because, he said, it provides breeding ground for corruption, Troud reports. After a meeting of a committee of inquiry into European and Bulgarian media reports about corruption affecting the Bulgarian citizenship award system, it emerged that the Justice Ministry is conducting a probe into the issuing of 40,000 Bulgarian passports to foreigners, the daily says. It notes that persons convicted or wanted by authorities in Europe for legal offences have obtained Bulgarian citizenship.

ECONOMY

A majority of 460 votes in the European Parliament approved an EU funds regulation proposed by Bulgaria's Andrey Novakov (GERB/EPP), which will give Bulgaria 18 billion leva in EU funding during the programming period 2020-2027, according to a report in 24 Chassa. This is a record-large budget and a record-large budget increase for Bulgaria.

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Wages in the information technology industry showed the highest growth among all sectors of the Bulgarian economy in 2018, reaching 2,788 leva per month on average. That was also the sector which attracted the largest number of new employees, 24 Chassa reports in its top story, citing data from the National Statistical Institute. The hotel and restaurant business is at the bottom of the table, where the average wage in 2018 was lowest, at 705 leva monthly. That was the industry left by the largest number of people.

The average monthly wage in Bulgaria rose above the 1,200 leva mark for the first time, reaching 1,205 leva in December 2018. The wages of the members of Parliament will also increase as they are set at three times the average wage in the country. An MP's base wage will now rise to 3,807 leva per month from 3,519 leva. In addition, a lawmaker may receive a seniority bonus and remuneration for working in a parliamentary committee. The government ministers, the prime minister and the president will earn even more.

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After the Road Infrastructure Agency (RIA) launched public procurement procedures for road maintenance contracts totalling over half a billion leva last summer, the procedures were terminated on February 7, Capital.bg reports, quoting RIA. Complaints filed with the Commission for Protection of Competition in the autumn put the selection of the contractors on hold. In effect, the delay has extended the contracts of the consortiums which have been maintaining Bulgaria's national-grade roads over the last four years.

 

 

 

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