Sofia Faces Hefty EU Sanctions over Woodland Swaps

Sofia Faces Hefty EU Sanctions over Woodland Swaps

Bulgaria faces payment of hundreds of millions of euro, if the European Commission finds that woodland swaps constituted state aid for private individuals, Prime Minister Boyko Borissov told reporters here Wednesday. He said he has got a letter from the European Commission saying that swapping public land with private owners, and subsequently changing the purpose of this land, was essentially aid for private companies and individuals.

If the information that the Commission has, reflects the real situation and if we fail to reply in 20 days, the Commission will open proceedings against Bulgaria, said the Prime Minister.

An interdepartmental commission will be set up on the issue. The Prosecutor General and Parliament have been notified, Borissov said.

"If we don't prove that the swaps were no state aid - and we all know how [former PM Sergei] Stanishev and [Movement for Rights and Freedoms leader Ahmed] Dogan distributed woodland to people close to them, and this has been proven - Brussels will sue us," Borissov said.

For only 15 of 47 swaps, the claim against Bulgaria will be in excess of 55 million euro - or 110 million leva. If the purpose of this land was changed after it was swapped, the sanctions go up to 126 million euro. "We have to get money from the public purse to pay for the schams of this unconstitutional threesome,"

Borissov said, obviously referring to the three parties in the previous government - Bulgarian Socialist Party, Movement for Rights and Freedoms and the National Movement for Surge and Stability, and their leaders Stanishev, Dogan and Simeon


He said his hope was for the Prosecutor General to react after he was alerted on the matter "because we can't pay up".

"We have information that the sanctions can reach 1.5 billion euro," said the Prime Minister.

He said that he is addressing Parliament to see if it has a way to annul controversial swap deals and sell such land to generate income and pay the sanctions to Brussels. "If the forests have been cut down or the area built up, we have no way to escape this grip," he commented.

Agriculture and Foods Minister Miroslav Naydenov said that the EC procedure followed a complaint by an NGO.

The chair of the parliamentary legal committee, Iskra Fidossova, said that the Ministries of Agriculture and of Foreign Affairs have been asked to submit reports on the matter.

Emerging from a meeting with Prosecutor General Boris Velchev over the issue, the Agriculture Minister said that it emerges from documents that the 15 controversial swaps took place during the tenure of the former Forestry Agency chief Stefan Youroukov and ex-agriculture minister Nihat Kabil.

If sanctions are imposed on Bulgaria, claims may be filed against those having benefited from the swaps, Naydeniov also said. Prime Minister Borissov will call the Security Council to discuss the issue next Tuesday. Invited will be also Prosecutor General Velchev and experts. So far data on 47 problematic swaps have been presented, of which 15 have been subjected to financial analysis.

Velchev and Naydenov also discussed the possibility that the state, in the person of the Agriculture Ministry, launches proceedings for the frustration of these transactions.

MP Lyuben Kornezov of the socialists' Coalition for Bulgaria commented that the Prime Minister's remarks demonstrated a lack of legal competence of himself or his advisors. He said it was not Parliament's job to nullify any kind of transactions and only a court of law is competent to do that.

Source: BTA

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