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• (DF) President Radev to Attend Moscow Victory Day Parade at Russian President's Invitation
February 18 (BTA) - Bulgarian President Rumen Radev has accepted an invitation by his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to attend the May 9 observances in Moscow, his press secretariat said on Tuesday. President Radev initiated a phone conversation with Russian President Putin in connection with the bilateral negotiations on the prices of Russian natural gas deliveries for Bulgaria. "I hope that through political will on both sides we'll achieve mutually beneficial prices and terms for the deliveries of natural gas from Russia to Bulgaria," said Radev. President Radev voiced satisfaction that his talk with Russian President Putin at the Saint Petersburg Economic Forum in June 2019 was a strong impetus in that direction. Russian President Putin said he expected a positive development and a mutually beneficial decision in these negotiations. RI/PP //
• (DF) Number of Intercepted Cars Without ?-Vignettes Tripples after Start of Road Camera System
February 18 (BTA) - The number of vehicles intercepted without e-vignettes has tripled after the launch of the video control of the future toll system. In just one day, the toll system cameras caught 805 cars without a vignette, Georgi Balabanov, an expert at the National Toll Administration told Nova TV on Tuesday. So far, the mobile teams intercepted 250 to 300 cases a day. Balabanov said that 295 stationary camera gantries have been installed on roads across the country, each with two or three cameras depending on the number of lanes. These cover 10,800 km of the national road network. On roads that are not covered by the cameras, e-vignette compliance is enforced by mobile teams of the road toll administration. Where a vehicle is caught by a camera without a vignette and is then stopped by a patrol of the National Toll Administration, the driver has the option of immediately paying a lower fine of 70 leva, or else have a ticket for an administrative violation and pay the maximum - one-off weekend - rate of 10 leva. If a car is caught on camera without an e-vignette but is not stopped by a toll system patrol, a ticket is generated by the control system and sent by post to the offender, after which the offender has 14 days to pay the fine. Otherwise, a higher fine of 300 leva follows. /LN/BR //
• (PE) Press - Review
Sofia, February 18 (BTA)
• (DF) Bird Flu Outbreak Registered in Southern Bulgaria
February 17 (BTA) - The Bulgarian Food Safety Agency (BFSA) has registered on Monday the first avian influenza outbreak this year in Bulgaria. The National Reference Laboratory has confirmed an outbreak of the highly pathogenic H5N8 influenza virus on a poultry farm in the southern town of Rakovski, Plovdiv Region. A total of 5,830 ducks are being raised on the farm. All affected and exposed birds will be culled in a humane manner under official supervision. The disease is not transmitted to humans and the bird meat and products from the farm do not pose any danger to human health. A 3 km protection perimeter and a 10 km observation zone have been set up around the farm. A total of 25 poultry farms (136,669 ducks) fall within the 3 km zone, while there are 24 farms with 167,349 ducks and 127,550 chickens in the 10 km zone. Official control is exercised over the trade and transportation of domestic, wild and other birds, eggs, poultry and related products. Bird fairs, markets and exhibitions are banned, as well as the relocation of birds for the purpose of renewing wild populations. The last bird flu outbreak in Bulgaria was registered last April, BFSA recalled. Poultry farms across the country have been subjected to increased control since 2018 as part of the cooperation within the sector in response to the avian influenza crisis in recent years. The BFSA has ordered on January 23 a heightened state of epizootic readiness across all regions in Bulgaria in response to the avian influenza. Raising all species of domestic birds out in the open has been banned, meetings with poultry farmers have been held, and an information campaign is being carried out targeting poultry farmers, bird owners, hunters, veterinarians, etc., to ensure compliance with biosecurity measures and the immediate notification of a veterinarian or the mayor in case of health problems or increased mortality among birds. A total of 31 outbreaks of the H5N8 influenza subtype have been registered across poultry and personal farms in Europe since the end of 2019. The outbreaks were in Poland (20), Slovakia (3), Hungary (4), Romania (2), Czechia (1) and Ukraine (1), BFSA said. LN/MY
• (DF) President Radev: Prime Minister Borissov Uses Services for His Political Purposes
February 17 (BTA) - Taking a question on Monday, President Rumen Radev told journalists that Prime Minister Boyko Borissov is using the services for his own political purposes. In Radev's words, Borissov instructs the prosecution service who to crush and even the police have been put to work on instilling respect among disagreeing Bulgarians. He was commenting on wiretaps that the prosecuting magistracy made public on January 28 implicating Radev in criminal conspiracy.
• (NW) Incomes per Household Member Grow by 13.7 Per Cent in Fourth Quarter of 2019
February 17 (BTA) - The average quarterly income per household member in a household of four people (two adults and two children) in Bulgaria was 1,770 leva in the fourth quarter of 2019, increasing by 13.7 per cent compared with the fourth quarter of 2018, the National Statistical Institute reported on Monday. The average quarterly expenditures were 1,670 leva per household member, increasing by 10.7 per cent.
• (PE) Press - Review
Sofia, February 17 (BTA)
• (DF) Bulgaria Has Not Been Notified by UAE of Gambling Magnate's Reported Release
February 16 (BTA) - The Foreign Ministry Sunday said Bulgaria has not been informed by the UAE about a release from custody of gambling magnate Vassil Bojkov. Ambassador Bogdan Kolarov has sent an urgent enquiry to the UAE authorities to confirm or deny earlier Bulgarian media reports claiming that Bojkov had been released. Bojkov was charged in Bulgaria with evasion of fees, money laundering, extortion, bribery, murder, rape, leading an organized crime group since 2014, trading in influence and unlawful possession of cultural valuables. He left the country before the attack against him went in full swing and was later arrested in the UAE, from where Bulgaria hopes to get him extradited. RI/DD //
• (DF) PM Borissov's Meetings at 56th Munich Security Conference
February 16 (BTA) - Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov held a series of bilateral meetings on the sidelines of the 56th Munich Security Conference, the Government Information Service said. Meeting with American Jewish Committee (AJC) CEO David Harris on Saturday, Borissov thanked the Jewish community for its support for Bulgaria during the years of transition to democracy, in the process of the country's accession to the EU and NATO, and in the expansion of bilateral dialogue with the United States. Borissov said Bulgaria will continue to rely on the support of the American Jewish organizations to promote the untapped potential for economic and trade cooperation with the United States. The Prime Minister said Bulgaria supports the AJC's effort in counteracting anti-Semitism and extremism and protecting the rights and freedoms of all people. Borissov next met with Moldovan President Igor Dodon. This was their second meeting in less than a year. Borissov said that the active dialogue at the highest level between Bulgaria and Moldova is proof that they see each other as important partners. He said steps should be taken to reverse the drop in two-way trade, noting that the intergovernmental commission for economic cooperation should step up its work. Borissov also talked about the Bulgarian community in Moldova, saying that the 60,000 Bulgarians there are a natural bridge of friendship and cooperation. Borissov conferred with the Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir. The Prime Minister noted that Bulgaria and Saudi Arabia play an important role in their regions and outlined possibilities for expansion of the bilateral partnership in security, anti-terrorism, the economy, investments, farming, hi-tech, energy and tourism. The two officials expressed a wish for a regular exchange of views on important international and regional matters. The Bulgarian Prime Minister met with his Armenian counterpart Nikol Pashinyan. Borissov voiced Bulgaria's support for the government led by Pashinyan and the reforms it implements, noting that the progress of the reforms and keeping the political stability in Armenia will contribute to the welfare of the Caucasus region. Trade between Bulgaria and Armenia stood at 19.576 million US dollars in January-June 2019 and was dominated by Bulgarian exports worth 18.343 million dollars. Borissov and Pashinyan discussed bilateral cooperation in culture, science, education and tourism. Conferring with the Prime Minister of Kosovo, Albin Kurti, Borissov congratulated him on the election to the post. In Borissov's words, the formation of a cabinet in Kosovo showed a high level of political maturity. Borissov said that there is untapped potential in cooperation in the economy, investments and tourism, adding that the record-high commercial exchange of 77. 6 million euro in 2018 gives grounds for optimism. Borissov paid special attention to the European integration of the countries of the Western Balkans, which he said is of strategic interest to Bulgaria. In his Facebook account Borissov wrote about his meetings with the President of Armenia, Armen Sarkissian, with Wolfgang Schaeuble, the President of the German Bundestag, with the former prime minister of Qatar, Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber bin Mohammed bin Thani Al Thani, with former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, with Serbia's European Integration Minister Jadranka Joksimovic, with North Macedonia's President Stevo Pendarovski, with Masrour Barzani, Prime Minister of Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government, with former US secretary of state John Kerry, and with Admiral James Gordon Foggo III, Commander, US Naval Forces Europe and Africa and Commander, NATO Allied Joint Force Command Naples. * * * During a roundtable dedicated to security on the Balkans Borissov said, as quoted by the information service of the Bulgarian government, that the countries of the Western Balkans are no longer at a crossroads, having made the strategic choice of a European future. Borissov voiced a hope that the EU-Western Balkans Zagreb Summit in May will lend a new dynamic to the EU enlargement process. He also said that the focus on the European integration of the countries of the Western Balkans remains one of the key priorities of Bulgaria's foreign policy. Borissov noted the importance of transport and digital connectivity and energy cooperation. RI/ZH/DD //
• (DF) Deputy PM Nikolova Stresses Importance of UAE as Bulgaria's Trading Partner
February 16 (BTA) - Meeting with UAE Economy Minister Sultan bin Saeed Al Mansoori in Dubai on Sunday, Deputy Prime Minister for Economic and Demographic Policy Mariyana Nikolova said the UAE is an important and promising trading partner to Bulgaria among the Persian Gulf states. The sides agreed that the Mixed Economic Commission would hold its first session before Expo 2020 Dubai, which opens on October 20, the Government Information Service said. Regarding support for small and medium-sized business through stronger cooperation in all economic areas, Al Mansoori suggested that the two countries sign a memorandum of cooperation focusing on SMEs. The potential for cooperation in innovation and aviation received special attention at the meeting. It was attended by Boyko Takov, head of the Executive Agency for the Promotion of Small and Medium-sized Enterprises. Later in the day, Nikolova attended the opening of the 25th edition of the Gulfood trade exhibition. Twenty-one Bulgarian companies are showcasing their products at the national stand. RI/DD //
• (PE) Press - Review
Sofia, February 16 (BTA)
• (DF) 54 Containers With Italian Waste Will Be Re-exported By Sea
February 15 (BTA) Loading started on Saturday evening of 54 containers with Italian waste which will be re-exported by sea, Environment and Water Minister Emil Dimitrov said in Varna, on the Black Sea. The containers are part of a total of 127 containers of waste from Italy found at the Port of Varna-West which have been subject to pre-trial proceedings since mid-January. The containers had arrived in early October 2019, and waste they carried was visibly different from what was declared in the import documents. The shipment was left at the port for 90-day temporary storage. Media reports about suspicious waste deliveries from Italy have been snowballing in recent weeks. They were triggered by the interception by Italian Carabinieri on December 11, 2019 of an 815-tonne undocumented waste shipment near Milan and presumably destined for unlawful destruction or landfilling in Bulgaria. The lack of information in some cases and the odd circumstances about the way waste is stored, paired with endemic air pollution, have given rise of widespread suspicions that waste, possibly hazardous, is being incinerated in Bulgaria in violation of the rules //
• (DF) Foreign Minister Zaharieva Attends 56th Munich Security Conference
February 15 (BTA) - At the sidelines of the 56th Munich Security Conference, Bulgarian Foreign Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva conferred with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, Ayman Safadi, Zaharieva's Ministry said in a press release. The situation in the Middle East topped the agenda of the meeting. Zaharieva confirmed Bulgaria's position that negotiations are the only way for a fair and lasting solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The two officials discussed various aspects of the Middle East peace plan of US President Donald Trump and reviewed the hot spots in the regon. The two also discussed the visit to Bulgaria of Jordanian King Abdullah II for the next meeting of the Aqaba Process on May 27 and 28 which will be held in Sofia. Zaharieva also conferred with US Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs Rene Clarke Cooper. The meeting was requested by the US side and discussed follow-up actions after the first session of the Bulgaria-US strategic dialogue held in Sofia in January. Zaharieva again raised the issue of Bulgaria's possible inclusion in the visa waiver programme, noting that this will boost the trade and economic cooperation between the two countries and the contacts between the people. Zaharieva said she was looking forward to the visit in Sofia in March of US Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Carl C. Risch. Zaharieva also presented Bulgaria's progress in the preparations to join the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the defence priorities in the ten-year road map 2020-2030 agreed during the first session of the strategic dialogue between Bulgaria and the US, and spoke about cyber-security issues. RI/ZH//
• (PE) Press - Review
Sofia, February 15 (BTA)
• (NW) Bulgarians among the Optimists about EU's Future
Sofia, February 14 (Lora Metanova of BTA) - Bulgarians are once again among the optimists regarding the future of the European Union, according to a Eurobarometer survey presented at the European Council Representation in Bulgaria on Friday. One in two Bulgarians believe that...
• (DF) Bulgarian Trade Unions Declare Readiness to Protests against European Green Deal
February 14 (BTA) - The Confederation of Independent Trade Unions in Bulgaria (CITUB) and the Podkrepa Confederation of Labour declared readiness to start a series of protests against the so called European Green Deal, the two trade unions' presidents, Plamen Dimitrov and Dimiter Manolov, told a Friday news conference here at CITUB's headquarters. The trade unions are not against making the economy greener, but not with this intensity and time span. Bulgaria must not support the stated intention to reduce CO2 emissions by 55 per cent by 2030, compared with the 1990 levels, CITUB's President Plamen Dimitrov said. According to him, if this is adopted almost all sectors of the economy will be subjected to additional restrictions. The so called Green Deal is a good intention, but is impossible to carry out, mostly because of the set time span and intensity, he explained. The two trade unions demand that the Government creates a standing body to assess the deal's impact on all sectors of the economy. According to CITUB and Podkrepa, there should be derogations in place that would ensure no TPPs are decommissioned until at least 2030, Dimitrov added. Podkrepa's President Manolov recalled that in recent months, from a net exporter, Bulgaria has turned into a net importer of electricity. There is a shortage in production, but this is becoming a lasting trend, Manolov noted. RY/MY /??/
• (DF) PM Borissov Attends 56th Munich Security Conference
February 14 (BTA) - Prime Minister Boyko Borissov and Foreign Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva arrived in Munich on Friday to take part in the 56th Munich Security Conference (MSC), the government's information service said. Upon arrival Borissov was met by a team of the You Tube channel of the event. The Bulgarian Prime Minister said that Europe, the United States and Canada should engage more actively through diplomatic means in the multitude of hostilities and negotiate peace - in Libya, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and everywhere where a problem exists. Borissov said that at the moment terrorism, illegal migration and the new coronavirus "cause panic in the world," noting that diplomacy and peace are the way to cope with all these challenges. Later on Friday Borissov conferred with Markus Soeder, the Minister President of Bavaria. The two officials expressed satisfaction with the active political contacts in recent years and the dynamic ties in the area of home affairs, security and tourism. They also discussed details of a future meeting in Sofia suggested by them of the Bavarian and Bulgarian business, which will provide fresh incentives to the expansion of the bilateral economic relations. NV/ZH//
• (NW) Unemployment at 4.1% in Q4 of 2019 - Official Statistics
February 14 (BTA) - In the fourth quarter of 2019, unemployed people totalled 138,500 of which 58.2 per cent men and 41.8 per cent women, the National Statistical Institute said Friday. The rate of unemployment was 4.1 per cent. It was down by 0.6 percentage points from this time the year before, the decrease being equal for men and women. Of all unemployed, 9.5 per cent had university education, 45.9 per cent high school education and 44.6 per cent primary education or lower. The unemployment rate was therefore 1.3 per cent for university graduates, 3.3 per cent for those with high school education and 13.8 per cent for primary education and lower. During the review period, there were 73,600 long-term unemployed, or 53.1 per cent of the total number of jobless people. As many as 25,500 jobless (18.4 per cent) were looking for a first job. The jobless rate was 6.7 per cent in the 15-29 age brackets, which was 0.7 percentage points lower than in the fourth quarter of 2018. Jobless men outnumbered jobless women (with rates of 7.2 per cent and 5.9 per cent, respectively). NV/LN/ //
• (DF) RSF Condemns Verbal Attacks against Journalists by Senior Bulgarian Politicians
February 14 (BTA) - Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has called on the Bulgarian authorities to stop trying to intimidate the country's journalists. In a statement on Thursday the organization said that journalists have been subjected to a series of verbal attacks and threats by very senior officials since the start of the month.
• (PE) Press - Review
Sofia, February 14 (BTA)
• (DF) Prosecutor General Geshev: Pre-Trial Proceedings Found Coal-Mixed Waste Being Burned at Bobov Dol TPP
February 13 (BTA) - After meeting with Bobov Dol regional administration, Prosecutor General Ivan Geshev said that pre-trial proceedings have established the illegal burning of waste mixed with coal at the Bobov Dol TPP. Investigations revealed that the permit for test waste burning at the plant has expired and that a site near the TPP stores waste that does not meet indicators of the so-called RDF (Refuse-Derived Fuel). In regards to a Ministry of Environment and Water check of all TPPs ordered by the prosecuting magistracy, Geshev commented that in all probability not all fuctioning requirements are met, and neither are all environmental ones. In January, Minister of Environment and Water Emil Dimitrov officially said that a Ministry check found that the Bobov Dol power plant has not been burning hazardous waste. The manager of waste buyer Blatsion, Macedonian national Goran Angelov, told the Macedonian news agency MIA that the containers with waste were bound for the Bobov Dol coal-fuelled power plant for incineration but never went there because in the meantime the power plant's licence for waste incineration expired. Angelov also said that Bulgaria does not have a ban on the import of scrap wood, textiles and glass. Greenpeace' Meglena Antonova is widely quoted by media outlets as saying that the Bobov Dol power plant is not designed to burn waste. Geshev sarcastically commented that its much easyer for the businessmen that deal in these ventures to buy fancy cars "like the Mercedes-Maybach" (starting price 170,000 dollars) than to invest money in proper air quality devices that would cost around 100-200 million leva. He added that the prosecuting magistracy has made a commitment to the citizens of Bobov Dol to conduct constant checks of the TPPs burning activities and to be in constant contact with the district and regional prosecutor, representatives of the settlements and the district police director in order to be alerted right away of any environmental violations. "A comprehensive review of compliance with the eco-legislation of the TPPs is yet to be carried out and competency actions will be undertaken to ensure air quality," said Geshev. He also commented on the topic of large cargo trucks heading for Bobov Dol, saying: "Checks are to be conducted on the matter, including of the ownership of the vehicles". Later, Environment Minister Emil Dimitrov said that "out of all power plants, only one TPP has the right to burn waste and this is the one in Sliven." He noted that all plans for which the prosecution service requested a check would be included in a special report. RI/DT /DT/
• (DF) Parliament Amends Safe Use of Nuclear Energy Act
February 13 (BTA) - Parliament on Thursday passed on second reading amendments to the Safe Use of Nuclear Energy Act. Under the changes the technical supervision of high-risk facilities on the premises of a nuclear plant which are specifically designed to be used in nuclear technology and are central to nuclear safety will be implemented by a specialized unit subordinate to the head of the licensee which operates the nuclear facility and under the methodological guidance of the chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Agency. The government may designate special status areas above specific nuclear facilities where airspace ban and restrictions are introduced. In the plenary hall National Front for Salvation of Bulgaria leader Valeri Simeonov withdrew a proposal for hydropower plants in protected territories to renew their right to abstract water. The amendment was put to the vote between the first and second reading of amendments to the Safe Use of Nuclear Energy Act and concerned the enactment of provisions of the Water Act. The Water Act bans the abstraction of surface waters for electricity generation in protected territories. Valeri Simeonov proposed an exemption for water abstraction permits issued until August 9 2010. His proposal was seen by environmental groups as a way to allow industrial activities in protected territories. During the meeting environmentalists protested outside Parliament. RY/PP //
• (NW) Q4 2019 Wages Averaged Lv 1,313, Up by 5.1% M/M
February 13 (BTA) - In the fourth quarter of 2019 the average monthly wages and salaries increased by 5.1 per cent to 1,313 leva from the previous month. according to preliminary data of the National Statistical Institute releases on Thursday. The highest increase was reported in education - by 14.8 per cent, and in financial and insurance activities - by 9.2 per cent and electricity, gas, steam and air conditioning supply - by 9.1 per cent. The average monthly wages and salaries of the employees under labour contract in October was 1,296 leva, in November 1,294 leva and in December 2019, 1,349 leva. The highest growth rates were recorded in real estate - 19.8 per cent, education - 16.9 per cent and other service activities - 15.7 per cent. In comparison with a year earlier the average monthly wages and salaries in public sector grew by 12.2 per cent while in private sector - by 12.1 per cent. According to preliminary data at the end of December 2019 the number of employees under labour contract decreased by 23,700 or down by 1 per cent quarter on quarter to 2.29 million. Year on year the number of employees under labour contract decreased by 2,600 or by 0.1 per cent. RY/PP //
• (DF) Embattled Gambling Mogul Vassil Bozhkov Charged with Two More Crimes, to Add up to 11 Charges
February 13 (BTA) - Two more charges have been pressed against the embattled gambling mogul Vassil Bozhkov. The spokesperson of the Prosecutor General, Siika Mileva, told a news briefing on Thursday that he has also been charged with trading in influence and unlawful possession of cultural valuables. Considered to be the wealthiest Bulgarian with assets worth between 1.5 and 3 billion leva, Bozhkov was first charged with leading an organized crime group, coercion, extortion, attempted bribery of an official and incitement to malfeasance in office. Several days later the law-enforcers said they are also probing him for murder and rapes. They, however, don't have him as he fled the country days before the first charges were brought against him. He is currently in the United Arab Emirates. He was remanded in custody there and Bulgaria will try to bring him back. The Prosecutor General's spokesperson explained Thursday that the application for his extradition is over 200 pages long and by the end of this week the Prosecution Office will have a translation of the document is Arabic and send it to the Justice Ministry to forward it to the competent authorities in the UAE. The prosecution service has also pressed charges against Bozhkov's aides and the two last chairpersons of the State Gambling Commission, who are believed to have provided an umbrella for the gambling tycoon. NV/LN/ //
• (PE) Press - Review
Sofia, February 13 (BTA)
• (DF) Counter-Corruption Commission Ascertains Conflict of Interest in Respect of Three Senior Public Office Holders
February 12 (BTA) - Bulgaria's Counter-Corruption and Unlawfully Acquired Assets Forfeiture Commission (CCUAAFC) said on Wednesday that it had ascertained a conflict of interest in respect of three senior public office holders. Peter Iliev, member of the Board of Directors of the Bulgarian Energy Holding EAD and Executive Director of the National Electric Company (NEK) EAD, made it possible for himself to draw a supplementary remuneration under his NEK EAD management contract when he voted for the adoption of NEK's 2017 and 2018 annual financial statements and a report on the implementation of the company's business plan, which allowed the payment of supplementary remunerations to members of management. Kolyo Dinkov, in his previous capacity as Rector of the University of Food Technologies-Plovdiv, appointed himself a project leader under an operational programme, for which he drew remunerations. Tsvetomira Doncheva, in her former capacity as Director of the Shoumen Regional Inspectorate of Environment and Water (RIEW), endorsed requirements for holding a competition for the office of RIEW director in such a way that she herself met the conditions. At its meeting on Wednesday, the CCUAAFC instituted proceedings for the ascertainment of a conflict of interest against the Director of the Sofia Regional Health Insurance Find, acting on an alert that her husband works at the same place and has been appointed as part of her subordinate staff. RY/LG //
• (NW) 2019 Q4 Household Cost of Living at Lv 2,517 Per Month -Trade Union
February 12 (BTA) - During the fourth quarter of 2019, the monthly household (2 adults and 2 children) cost of living was 2,517 leva, according to the latest survey of the Institute for Trade Union and Social Studies with the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions in Bulgaria. It was unveiled at a press conference on Wednesday by CITUB leader Plamen Dimitrov and expert Violina Ivanova. The figure comprises expenditures for foods, utilities, healthcare, education, healthcare, transport, clothing and recreation. The per capita cost of living was 629.33 leva. In order to meet the cost of living each adult member should receive a net wage of 1,259 leva. By comparison, the average net wage for the period was 969 leva, by 23 per cent short of the cost of living threshold. In Sofia, the household cost of living was 3,312 leva and the per capita cost of living was 812 leva. Sixty-eight per cent of households live under the per capita cost of living threshold. By comparison in 2018 they were 69.8 per cent and in 2017 - 72.2 per cent. CITUB leader Dimitrov said that there is a downward trend but still seven out of ten households live on less than the required means. Dimitrov said that numbers of the poor have increased and nearly 25 per cent live below the poverty line. In 2019, 1.8 million Bulgarians received per capita income below the poverty line and of these 1.3 million are pensioners. The survey also found that big regional income disparities continue to exist. The GDP generated by Sofia City accounts for 40.4 per cent of the national GDP and five regions of Sofia, Varna, Burgas, Stara Zagora and Plovdiv make up around two thirds of the national GDP. The region of Vidin is at the bottom where the average wage was 35 per cent of the country's average. The 4.4 per cent increase in the cost of living in a year was driven mainly by the higher prices of foods and meat. The price of meat and meat products increased by 15.6 per cent. Thirty per cent of households fail to pay their utility bills on time. The proportion remains unchanged. By comparison they were 31 per cent and in 2018 were 30 per cent. RY/PP //
• (PE) Press - Review
Sofia, February 12 (BTA)
• (DF) Prosecutor General Tasks National Security Agency to Probe Entire Privatization Period
February 12 (BTA) - Prosecutor General Ivan Geshev has tasked the State Agency for National Security (SANS) to carry out a comprehensive probe of the entire process of privatization in Bulgaria and of post-privatization control, the prosecution said on Wednesday. The check will span all privatization deals, the type of payments and post-privatization oversight. SANS has to establish whether contractual penalties, interest, compensation and bank guarantees have been recovered in full. The agency also has to establish whether steps have been taken to cancel any privatization deals where the contracts have not been implemented. The probe has to check post-privatization control records, post-privatization oversight public registers information. The probe will review reports by the National Audit Office and the measures taken in response to the recommendations. The parliamentary parties supported the actions of the Prosecutor General. In statements to journalists in Parliament MPs of GERB, United Patriots, the Bulgarian Socialist Party and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms hailed the initiative and expressed hope that it is not just a publicity stunt. GERB deputy floor leader Krassimir Velchev said: "I am convinced that what the Prosecutor General is doing is right." He said that such a probe is belated. National Front for Salvation of Bulgaria leader Valeri Simeonov praised the actions of the prosecution. Socialist opposition leader Kornelia Ninova also congratulated the Prosecutor General for the initiative. "I hope that the truth about the transition period will come to light, the check will be comprehensive and people will be held to account." MRF leader Mustafa Karadayi said that the public wants to know all about the privatization. The process of privatization in Bulgaria began in the 1990s with the fall of communism during the so-called transition to democracy. This will be the first comprehensive privatization review despite repeated calls over the years. RY/PP //
• (DF) Bulgaria's Parliament Chair in Skopje: Our Two Countries Used to be Neighbours, Now We Are Strategic Allies within NATO
February 11 (BTA) - Bulgaria's Parliament Chair Tsveta Karayancheva met with her North Macedonian counterpart Talat Xhaferi in Skopje. She expressed her satisfaction with North Macedonia's successful journey toward NATO accession, as well as her hope that the two countries will soon be partners in the EU, the National Assembly press service informed on Tuesday. Karayancheva pointed out that Bulgaria and North Macedonia "were just neighbours and now they are strategic allies in NATO". She added that Bulgaria's Parliament will continue to support the efforts of North Macedonia, and Bulgarian MPs will gladly share their experience in fields of interest to their North Macedonian colleagues. She also emphasized that Bulgaria was one of the first countries to ratify North Macedonia's NATO accession protocol. She pointed out that Bulgaria continues to be one of the staunchest supporters of North Macedonia's EU perspectives, but that our support has never been unconditional. Karayancheva added that Bulgaria expects all political parties in North Macedonia to act responsibly and show foresight when discussing the Good Neighborliness Treaty with Bulgaria, especially in the run-up to the elections. Bulgaria will support a decision of the European Council as early as in March 2020 on the start of accession talks with North Macedonia and Albania. Later on Tuesday, Karayancheva conferred with President Stevo Pendarovski. Meeting with him, she recalled that the Goodneighbourliness Treaty with North Macedonia was supported by all parliamentary groups in the Bulgarian Parliament. It is important for Bulgaria to see this document fully implemented and this implementation will remain a condition for Bulgaria's support after a decision is made on the start of talks with the EU, regardless of the composition of the new government in North Macedonia, said Karayancheva. She expressed Bulgaria's expectation for the joint multidisciplinary commission on historical and educational issues to resume work immediately and produce tangible results. The Bulgarian parliamentary delegation was invited to attend the sitting of North Macedonia's Parliament when the protocol on North Macedonia's NATO accession will be ratified. The Bulgarian delegation also included the chairman of the parliamentary friendship group Bulgaria - North Macedonia, Boris Vangelov, deputy chair Toma Bikov and members Zhelyo Boychev, Velislava Krasteva and Polina Tsankova-Hristova. RY/MT/LN/ //
• (NW) Employer and Trade Union Organizations Object Against Idea about Euro Referendum
Sofia, February 11 (BTA) - In a statement on Tuesday the nationally representative employer organizations and trade unions objected against attempts to manipulate the public through campaigns for a referendum on the adoption of the euro. The organizations said that the idea g...
• (NW) Employer and Trade Union Organizations Object Against Idea about Euro Referendum
February 11 (BTA) - In a statement on Tuesday the nationally representative employer organizations and trade unions objected against attempts to manipulate the public through campaigns for a referendum on the adoption of the euro. The organizations said that the idea goes counter to Bulgaria's EU accession treaty under which the country is obliged to join the ERM II and adopt the euro. The amendments to article 29 of the Bulgarian National Bank Act, requested by the European Central Bank in the course of the negotiations, eliminated the last legal obstacle to Bulgaria's entry to ERM II and the eurozone. At the same time they support fully the decision of the National Assembly which mandated the government to remove the country from the ERM II mechanism if a different exchange rate between the lev and the euro is proposed. The business and trade union organizations are ready to participate in the negotiations on Bulgaria's accession to ERM II and the eurozone so that information is delivered promptly and accurately to the citizens that they represent. Last week Vesselin Mareshki, leader of the parliamentary Volya party and Kostadin Kostadinov of the extra parliamentary Vazrazhdane party called for a referendum on the adoption of the euro citing a survey which shows that 58 per cent of Bulgarians are against Bulgaria's entry to the eurozone. RI/PP //
• (DF) Deputy Prime Minister Nikolova Confers with HOTREC Vice President Van Muylders
February 11 (BTA) - Deputy Prime Minister in charge of economic and demographic policy Mariyana Nikolova on Tuesday conferred with Marc van Muylders, Vice President of HOTREC, the umbrella association of hotels, restaurants and cafes in Europe, the government information service said. During the meeting Nikolova said that for years Bulgaria has been enhancing its tourist products and today is among the countries which offer a variety of recreational opportunities. The leadership of the Bulgarian Hotel and Restaurant Association participated in the meeting. Since the beginning of the year the Association has been a regular member of HOTREC. Deputy Prime Minister Nikolova said that the Bulgarian tourism industry accounts for 12 per cent of the national GDP. HOTREC has 46 national organizations from 26 European countries. RY/PP //
• (DF) Children, Disabled People in Institutions Are Most Vulnerable - Ombudsman's Annual Report
February 11 (BTA) - Disabled children and people in social care institutions are the most vulnerable groups, Ombudsman Diana Kovacheva told journalists. On Tuesday she presented the eighth annual National Preventive Mechanism Report 2019. Last year, the Ombudsman's team made 55 checks at prisons and detention centres, psychiatric hospitals and centres, 24-hour detention facilities, refugee centres, as well as resident social services for children and adults. The process of deinstitutionalization is quite delayed and very slow. It is expected to be completed in 2035. There are insufficient community-based services. The homes for people with dementia are overflowing with over 300 people on waiting lists. There are not enough specialists and the staff is badly paid and work in bad conditions. The attitude to institutionalized dementia patients is often inhuman and violation of the rights of disabled have been registered in some homes, Kovacheva said. Also, there are no daycare centres for dementia patients. The unsatisfactory condition of state psychiatric help is also a major problem. It requires thorough reforms and adequate funding. According to Kovacheva, the living conditions for patients endanger their health and life. A patient's meal costs 0.63 leva and that is totally inadequate. Psychiatric hospitals also provide social functions because of the lack of daycare centres and protected homes. Checks at institutions for children have found that some children spent there 11 years and their parents never get stripped of parental rights. It is high time for the state institutions to establish a consistent practice and case-by-case approach to at-risk families, and offer them support instead of simply remove the children and place them with social institutions, Kovacheva said. Another persistent problem has proven determining people who are legally authorized to represent unaccompanied refugee children. Medical service at refugee facilities have not improved, mainly due to poor communication, the report says. Checks at correctional institutions and detention locations have shown that some of the buildings have been rehabilitated but some remain overcrowded. The quality of healthcare in prisons remains poor. Inmates are often kept handcuffed for days which threatens their health; during visits inmates and visitors are separated by paritions; and working inmates have their work incorrectly reported, the Ombudsman also said. She recommends that the prison in Sofia and the prison hostels in Kremikovtsi, near Sofia, and in the northwestern city of Vratsa be closed down. NV/BR //
• (PE) Press - Review
Sofia, February 11 (BTA)
• (DF) Justice Minister's Proposal for Dismissal of Judge Implicated in Corruption Is Deficient and Unclear - Supreme Court President
February 11 (BTA) - Bulgaria's Supreme Court of Cassation (SCC) President Lozan Panov said on Tuesday that Justice Minister Danail Kirilov's proposal for Judge Andon Mitalov's dismissal is deficient and unclear and does not specify the acts by which Mitalov damaged the prestige of the judiciary and breached his official duties. On February 7, Kirilov approached the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) with a proposal to release Mitalov from office as judge at the Specialized Criminal Court after a February 5, 2020 statement by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo which designated the judge and barred him, his wife and his daughter from entering the US because of his alleged involvement in "significant corruption". "In his official capacity, Mitalov was involved in corrupt acts that undermined the rule of law and severely compromised the independence of democratic institutions in Bulgaria," Pompeo's statement said. Mitalov was the first Bulgarian national to be designated according to that procedure. The SCC has received a letter from the Inspectorate with the SJC, which confirms that instituting a check against Mitalov is unwarranted. In early November 2019, the Inspectorate was asked by then Prosecutor General Sotir Tsatsarov to check how the allowed Russophiles National Movement leader Nikolai Malinov in late October 2019 to travel to Moscow to receive the Order of Friendship from Russian President Vladimir Putin despite having been charged with spying for Russia and barred from leaving Bulgaria. "A question that is very frequently asked is why nobody is convicted for corruption in Bulgaria. To have such convictions, there should be a case, an indictment, and pre-trial proceedings. The word 'corruption' implies that somebody must have obtained a gain, which presupposes a criminal case, and nobody has pointed to such a case," Panov noted. "Disciplinary prosecution of judges on account of judicial instruments they have issued, deviating from the prerequisites of Article 132 of the Constitution, will have a bloodcurdling effect on the rest of the judges, will impact adversely the freedom of forming an inner conviction in the exercise of judicial review in pre-trial proceedings, when material restriction of fundamental human rights is sought and, ultimately, will lead to devastating consequences for citizens and the independence of justice," the Bulgarian Judges Association (BJA) wrote on Tuesday in a letter to the SJC Judges Chamber in connection with Kirilov's proposal. The reference is to a constitutional provision which exempts judges, prosecutors and investigating magistrates from criminal and civil liability for acts they perform in their official capacity and for instruments they issue unless what they have done constitutes an intentional publicly prosecutable offence. The BJA argues that "neither the Justice Minister nor the SJC, as an administrative authority, is competent to determine whether the judge has misapplied the law. The only competent authority to do so is the court in the appropriate criminal procedure." Also on Tuesday, Panov's Chief of Cabinet said that the SCC President had sent letters to Prosecutor General Ivan Geshev and to the Counter-Corruption and Unlawfully Acquired Assets Forfeiture Commission (CCUAAFC), reminding them that he had not received information he requested from them on February 6. Panov asked Geshev whether pre-trial proceedings in connection with a publicly prosecutable offence had been instituted against Mitalov and queried the CCUAAFC whether it had received any alerts and/or complaints against Mitalov over wrongful activity and whether any checks had been conducted against him in this connection. The SCC President insists that the information requested is urgently needed for a response by the Bulgarian judicial system to the US Secretary of State's statement alleging Mitalov's involvement in corrupt acts. In a related development, the SJC Judges Chamber on Tuesday gave Justice Minister Danail Kirilov one week to present evidence supporting his proposal for Mitalov's dismissal. The Chamber adopted this decision by 12 votes in favour, and only one member (Sevdalin Mavrov) recused himself. Kirilov is supposed to specify the date and place where the judge committed the violation, a particular case, and the provisions of the Criminal Procedure Code that had been violated. NV/LG
• (DF) PM Borissov Confers with US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Palmer
February 10 (BTA) - On Monday Prime Minister Boyko Borissov met with US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, Matthew A. Palmer, the government information service said. Borissov is quoted as saying that Bulgaria and the United States are allies and strategic partners, and that the cooperation between the two countries continues to expand not only in the bilateral ties but also in NATO and within the EU-US relations. Borissov said that security and defence are two key aspects of the bilateral dialogue. The PM went on to note that the two countries' armed forces take part in many joint exercises, including such within NATO, and that Bulgaria's acquisition of eight F-16 Block 70 jet fighters is a big step in the modernization of the country's Air Force. Another focus of the meeting was how to boost further the economic exchange between Bulgaria and the United States. The participants in the talks noted the steady increase in the two-way commercial exchange which grew 3.7 per cent in January-September 2019 compared to the like period in 2018. Borissov said that Bulgaria's possible inclusion in the US visa waiver programme would certainly open new ways for economic cooperation and strengthen contact between the people. The participants in the meeting assessed in positive terms the bilateral cooperation in the area of energy, noting that it contributes to Bulgaria's energy security and diversification of energy sources and routes. The two officials also discussed the Euro-Atlantic integration of the Western Balkans. Borissov said that the viable prospect for accession to the EU and NATO remains a key driving force for the positive transformation in the region. He said that NATO and the EU should cooperate closely to achieve good interaction in their communication with the countries in the Western Balkans. RI/ZH //
• (NW) Construction Production Slips 0.7% in December 2019, Month-on-Month
February 10 (BTA) - According to preliminary data, in December 2019 the construction production index, calculated from seasonally adjusted data, was 0.7 per cent below its level of November 2019, the National Statistical Institute reported on Monday. In December 2019 the building construction production index fell by 1.4 per cent, month-on-month, while the civil engineering production index rose by 0.3 per cent. In December 2019, working day adjusted data showed a decrease in the construction production compared to the same month of 2018 by the same margin: 0.7 per cent. Year on year, December 2019 saw a decrease of construction production, calculated from working day adjusted data, as a result of a 1.3 per cent decline in civil engineering and a 0.3 per cent drop in building construction. RI/LG //
• (PE) Press - Review
Sofia, February 10 (BTA)
• (DF) Prosecutor General Geshev: Recently Publicized Recordings Likely Featuring President Are Part of Investigation against Armed Forces Contractor
February 9 (BTA) - In an interview to the Bulgarian National Radio on Sunday Prosecutor General Ivan Geshev said that the wiretaps which the prosecuting magistracy released on January 29 implicating President Rumen Radev in criminal activity are part of an investigation against a contractor of the Armed Forces in the modernization of the army.
• (DF) Revisions to Gambling Act Expected to Raise Transfers to Sports Ministry, State Licence Tax by Nearly Lv 60 Mln in 2020
February 8 (BTA) - According to estimates of the State-owned Bulgarian Sports Totalizator (BST), the entry into force of the amendments to the Gambling Act no later than mid-2020 will lead to an increase of the transfers to the Youth and Sports Ministry and the State licence tax by nearly 60 million leva this year, by 78 million leva in 2021, and by 101 million leva in 2022, Vladimir Toshev MP of GERB commented for BTA. In his words, that means more money for sports federations, sports clubs, sports for the disabled and pupils, and reconstruction and modernization of Bulgaria's sports infrastructure.
• (NW) Parliament Bans Privately Operated Lotteries
Sofia, February 7 (BTA) - Without a debate, Bulgaria's National Assembly Friday conclusively amended the Gambling Act practically banning privately operated lotteries in the country and making this business a State monopoly. Under the amendments, a licence to organize lott...
• (DF) Parliament Bans Privately Operated Lotteries
February 7 (BTA) - Without a debate, Bulgaria's National Assembly Friday conclusively amended the Gambling Act practically banning privately operated lotteries in the country and making this business a State monopoly. Under the amendments, a licence to organize lotteries may be issued solely to the State, and the State-owned Bulgarian Sports Totalizator (BST) alone will be able to administrate lotteries with the exception of raffles, Bingo, Keno and their varieties. The revisions do not provide for a transitional period, and immediately after they enter into force all private lotteries, including the immensely popular Lottery Bulgaria and National Lottery (operated by companies owned by gambling mogul Vassil Bojkov) will automatically forfeit their licences and will have to discontinue the distribution and sale of tickets and cards for participation in their games and to destroy the unsold tickets until the end of 2020. The bill's sponsor, Valeri Simeonov MP of the United Patriots, expects the law to be gazetted next week. This must be done within 14 days of the passage of the legislation, unless the President vetoes it. Simeonov reasoned his motion by a scratch card lottery craze that has gripped Bulgaria in recent years and has assumed epidemic proportions, especially among adolescents and socially disadvantaged people. Capital weekly estimates that 100 million scratch cards were sold in the country in 2017, and a Gallup poll found that 57 per cent of Bulgarians engage in some form of gambling. Experts rank Bulgaria's gambling industry (employing 177,000 people) as the second biggest in the EU after Malta's. Bulgaria is the only EU Member State in which the law does not require lottery operators to donate a portion of their profits to good causes. TV commercials of lotteries and scratch cards are technically banned, but broadcasters are allowed to show draws and interviews with winners, as a result of which they dominate the TV slots for commercials. Gambling companies were the biggest advertisers on Bulgarian television in 2017. Neither Simeonov's bill nor the version adopted, however, provide for a restriction of another, just as dangerously addictive and burgeoning form of gambling: one arm bandit halls. The BST will have to carry out its gambling activity on own or rented premises, which are self-contained and expressly marked as such. Lottery winnings may not be paid out outside the designated outlets or outside banks. Games of chance can no longer be organized in buildings constituting condominium ownership without the consent of the owners given at a general meeting. Lottery tickets, coupons and cards may not be sold to persons aged under 18. Parliament voted down a motion by BSP for Bulgaria to impose a total ban on advertising for gambling. Simeonov described the proposal as "very apt and bold" but he himself abstained when it was put to the vote because, he argued, this restriction would expose to a risk the existence of a number of sports clubs and federations which rely on advertisements as a source of income. After the vote, Socialist MP Kroum Zarkov said that his parliamentary group did not back the so-called etatization of this business because it did not see sufficient guarantees for it. BSP for Bulgaria proposed a restriction on aggressive advertising as it leads to "addiction to this dangerous product". The Socialists also supported a limitation of the sale of lottery tickets. Simeonov told journalists that all unpaid winners can take action to get their winnings according to the common rules of the games concerned or can sue the organizers. He does not think that the State can be a respondent in such cases because the bets have already been made and the draws have already been held. The MP said that the number of scratch cards imported and released for sale in Bulgaria is suspected to mismatch the number registered with the State Commission for Gambling (SCG), and this discrepancy will be probed shortly. Simeonov dismissed as fake news allegations that the gambling market is being redistributed from one private operator to another, arguing that the BST may not be awarded to a concessionaire or privatized. The Gambling Act amendments came to the limelight after a massive crackdown on Vassil Bojkov in recent days. An audit found that his lotteries had paid lower licensing fees than the BST with the SCG turning a blind eye, while the Exchequer had lost half a billion leva in revenue. Law enforcers conducted checks at the Commission, and its former and incumbent chairmen were arrested. Bojkov himself was charged with evasion of fees, money laundering, extortion, bribery, murder and rape, and leading an organized crime group since 2014. He left the country before the attack against him went in full swing and was later arrested in the United Arab Emirates, from where Bulgaria hopes to get him extradited. RY, LN/LG //
• (DF) Ruling Party Decides Not to Start Impeachment Procedure against President
February 7 (BTA) - The Executive Committee of the ruling GERB party decided on Friday not to initiate or support a possible impeachment procedure against President Rumen Radev. "The main reason is that the party does not want a war of institutions," Deputy Prime Minister and GERB Executive Committee member Tomislav Donchev told a news conference. Besides that, the power-holders do not want to foster division in society, according to him. The idea about impeaching the President under Article 103, Paragraph 2 of the Bulgarian Constitution was put forward after President Radev stripped the government of confidence on February 4. Radev claimed that the government was not acting in the interest of the Bulgarian citizens and was responsible for an acute crisis of society. In Bulgarian politics, there has never been a successful procedure for terminating the powers of the President on a motion by members of Parliament, although the Constitution provides for such a possibility. In 2010, the National Assembly defeated an impeachment proposal against the then president, Georgi Purvanov. RY/VE //
• (NW) Romania's Petrom to Install Charging Stations for Electric Cars at Its Fuel Stations in Bulgaria
February 7 (BTA) - Petrom, the leader of the Romanian fuel distribution market, announced plans to install charging stations for electric cars at 30 petrol stations in Romania and Bulgaria in the next two years, said the Economica.net e-zine for business news. Petrom, which manages the largest fuel distribution network in Romania and has gas stations in Moldova, Serbia and Bulgaria, will start installing electric car charging stations, as stated by, director responsible for downstream oil division within the company. Petrom director Radu Caprau said that they have already chosen the equipment provider but would not name it for reasons of confidentiality. He also said that the gas stations will charge motorists for the charging. The company will likely install one or more such stations in each gas station, depending on demand. Currently, the company has only one electric charging station, in an OMV gas station in Bucharest. Petrom manages a network of petrol stations of about 700 stations in the four markets under the brands Petrom and OMV. It has 93 OMV stations in Bulgaria. LN/ //
• (NW) Ranked Low in Electric Car Sales for 2019
Rome/Sofia, February 4 (BTA) - Bulgaria is at the bottom of electric vehicle sales rankings with 181 (-6.7 per cent) units sold for the whole of 2019, with none registered in the last quarter, shows European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA) data released Thursday an...
• (DF) Foreign Ministers of Bulgaria, Belarus Discuss Potential to Advance Bilateral Cooperation
February 6 (BTA) - Deputy PM and Foreign Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva and Belarusian Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei discussed ways to deepen cooperation between their two countries in the area of economy, energy, tourism, education and technology here on Thursday. Speaking after the meeting Zaharieva said that just as Bulgaria can be a gateway for the Belarusian business to the EU market, Belarus can serve as a gateway for Bulgaria to the region. The Bulgarian Foreign Minister said that this year officials of the Bulgarian Small and Medium-sized Enterprises Promotion Agency and business representatives will visit Minsk. Minister Zaharieva noted the positive development of trade, adding however that still there is untapped potential for both countries. Some 74,000 Belarusian citizens visited Bulgaria in 2019, Zaharieva said. Education and culture are also among the areas where relations can be enhanced, said Zaharieva. She voiced satisfaction with the fact that already seven classes of the Belarusian State University have graduated in Bulgarian studies. The sides agreed that the culture ministries of Bulgaria and Belarus will begin work on a cooperation plan in the area of culture. Also, negotiations are underway on drawing up agreements on social security and labour exchange between the two countries. The Belarusian Foreign Minister underscored a shared opinion that contacts between the governments of the two countries and peer organizations should be expanded in areas of mutual interests. Minister Makei said that the two sides see potential for furthering cooperation in industry, agriculture, IT, science, research and investments. This is the first visit to Bulgaria by a Belarusian foreign minister after the countries established diplomatic relations in 1992. RY/PP
• (DF) Bulgarian Prosecutor General Geshev, EC Executive Vice President Timmermans Discuss Strengthening of Rule of Law in EU
February 6 (BTA) - Bulgarian Prosecutor General Ivan Geshev held a working meeting on Wednesday in Brussels with Executive Vice President of the European Commission Frans Timmermans, the Prosecuting Magistracy said in a press release Thursday. The two officials discussed the planned introduction of the new enhanced rule of law mechanism covering all EU Member States. Geshev, who took the post as Prosecutor General in January, pledged to inform the EC of the work of the Prosecuting Magistracy in countering corruption, organized crime and misuse of EU funds, as well as of the current state of the processes pertaining to the rule of law in Bulgaria. Geshev said that the Prosecuting Magistracy is in favour of an open dialogue and partnership with the European institutions. RY/ZH //
• (NW) General Labour Inspectorate Finds More than 170,000 Irregularities in 40,200 Checks Performed in 2019
February 6 (BTA) - In 2019 the General Labour Inspectorate (GLI) performed 40,200 checks for health and safety at work in all economic sectors and found more than 170,000 irregularities, the GLI said in a press release Thursday. The highest number of checks, 5,800, were conducted in construction, followed by 5,170 checks in plant-growing. One in every four checks was in either of the two sectors, as they are perceived as high-risk in terms of occupational health and safety. GLI conducted 9,850 checks in implementation of mandatory prescribed actions. Failure to implement such actions was established in a little over one per cent of the cases. The two most frequent irregularities concerned labour relations and provision of proper health and safety at work. Among the labour relations irregularities, the most frequent concerned labour remuneration, in particular, failure to pay additional remuneration for length of service and experience, for working during official holidays, for night work, and non-payment of due compensation. GLI imposed 164,540 coercive administrative measures on employers. There were 300 cases when machinery, facilities and working stations which were found to pose a direct risk to human health and safety, were ordered to be shut down. The total amount of the effective penalties imposed by the GLI is close to 13 million leva. RY/ZH //
• (DF) Bulgaria Wants to See Proofs Implicating Judge Mitalov in Corruption after U.S. Issues Ban on His Entry
February 6 (BTA) - A day after the US State Department said it bars Specialized Criminal Court judge Andon Mitalov from entering the United States because of his alleged involvement in "significant corruption", the Presidents of his court and of the Supreme Court of Cassation asked that any proofs implicating Mitalov in corruption be made available to the competent Bulgarian authorities. An extraordinary meeting of the judges college of the Supreme Judicial Council decided unanimously to ask, through the Foreign Ministry, the US State Department to provide all information is has about Mitalov. The Wednesday announcement by the US State Department made Mitalov a household name but he had come in the spotlight even earlier for his controversial decision to allow the leader of the Russophiles National Movement, Nikolai Malinov, to travel to Russia despite the espionage charges against him and a ban on leaving the country. Malinov's trip to Moscow in early November 2019 to receive the Order of Friendship from Russian President Vladimir Putin, was on the agenda of a meeting of Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov with US President Trump in the White House late last year. Borissov said he could not offer an explanation of how it was possible to charge a man with spying for Russia and then allow him to travel to Moscow. The President of the Specialized Criminal Court, Marieta Raykova, said that she heard about Mitalov's "designation" from the news media and asked the specialized prosecution if they have probed the judge for corruption. She also said that nobody has ever complained to her about Mitalov's work and that he enjoys the confidence of the other judges and the US announcement came as a shock for all of them. Supreme Cassation Court President said he has asked information about any probes against Mitalov from the Inspectorate of the Supreme Judicial Council, the Prosecutor General and the counter-corruption and asset forfeiture commission. In a comment for the press, Panov said that the case again raises the issue of how the specialized courts were created and manned. Also on Thursday, the Supreme Judicial Council Inspectorate said it has not found any violations in the work of judge Mitalov on the Russophiles leader's case and declined to open a disciplinary procedure. The Inspectorate was asked to look into Mitalov's decision by former Prosecutor General Sotir Tsatsarov. It pointed out Thursday that it is not within its competence to review court decisions. The Inspectorate also said it has not received any other alerts against Mitalov. Nikolai Malinov: The US actions humiliate Bulgaria The leader of the Russophiles Movement, Nikolai Malinov, commented in a bTV interview Thursday morning that the actions of the United States place them above the Bulgarian court and humiliate Bulgaria. While he pointed out that the US never said their decision was prompted by judge Mitalov's decision in his case, he argued that the US sanctions against the specialized court judge seek to sour Bulgaria-Russia relations. Malinov denies any acquaintance with judge Mitalov or having offering him anything to secure a permission to travel to Moscow. He also dismissed the prosecution office' allegations that he failed to ask a permission from the supervising prosecutor to travel to Moscow, and insisted that he did that. LN/MT //
• (DF) US State Department Designates Judge Andon Mitalov Due to Involvement in Significant Corruption
February 5 (BTA) - In a statement published by the US Embassy here on Wednesday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo publicly designated judge Andon Mitalov due to involvement in significant corruption. "In his official capacity, Mitalov was involved in corrupt acts that undermined the rule of law and severely compromised the independence of democratic institutions in Bulgaria," according to the press release. This designation is made under Section 7031(c) of the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, 2020 (Div. G, P.L. 116-94). Under Section 7031(c), once the Secretary of State designates officials of foreign governments for their involvement, directly or indirectly, in significant corruption, those individuals and their immediate family members are ineligible for entry into the United States. "This is the first such designation in Bulgaria and reaffirms the US commitment to combatting corruption in Bulgaria and globally," the press release says. Andon Mitalov is a specialized court judge who allowed Russophiles National Movement leader Nikolai Malinov, who had been charged with espionage in Bulgaria and banned from leaving the country, to travel to Moscow to receive the Order of Friendship from Russian President Vladimir Putin in early November 2019. Prosecutor General Sotir Tsatsarov subsequently asked the Inspectorate with the Supreme Judicial Council to carry a check of Mitalov. RY/PP
• (NW) Bulgaria Ranks Last on EU Collaborative Economy in Transport List
February 5 (BTA) - Bulgaria, Cyprus and Greece are the EU countries where online transport services and car-pooling are used the least, by a mere 2 per cent of people aged 16-74, according to a Eurostat 2019 survey, released on Wednesday. Over the same period, 8 per cent of the rest of the EU have resorted to peer-to-peer bookings for transport services. Carpooling is most popular in Estonia (29 per cent), Ireland (26 per cent) and Malta (25 per cent.) According to the data, in 2019, 21 per cent of EU residents have used mobile apps or web sites to book accommodation from another individual. This was done mostly through dedicated sites and apps, but also via other platforms and social networks. RI/MT
• (DF) President Radev: Japan is Bulgaria's Key Partner in Eastern Asia
February 5 (BTA) - Japan is Bulgaria's key partner in Eastern Asia, not only by way of economic and trade cooperation, but most of all for the opportunities it represents: we have already attracted Japanese investment, and we are glad that they are in the high technology and other sectors with high added value. This was the message of President Rumen Radev on Wednesday in his office during a meeting with representatives of leading Japanese corporations and Bulgarian businessmen. The main topic on the agenda was the opportunities for expanding the investment cooperation between the two countries. President Radev invited the Japanese businessmen to draw on the experience of Japanese companies who have already invested in Bulgaria, and see for themselves that this country does provide excellent business conditions: a strategic location, economic opportunities, a motivated young workforce. Radev also invited the Bulgarian businessmen at the meeting to make the most of this unique opportunity to cooperate with Japanese companies and corporations whose annual turnover exceeds 390 billion dollars. Minister of Economy Emil Karanikolov pointed out that Japan is a pillar of stability for Bulgaria in Eastern Asia, and that Bulgaria has become a pillar of stability on the Balkans over the recent years. He also praised Bulgaria's macroeconomic and financial stability. According to Karanikolov, this country's main advantages are the low taxes and operation costs, the qualified workforce, and the legislature encouraging investments. Petar Kunev, chair of the economic policy and tourism committee in Parliament, pointed out that the exchange of goods between Bulgaria and Japan does not correspond to the economic potential of the two countries, and it could be developed further, especially in the tourism sector. Japan's Ambassador to Bulgaria Masato Watanabe said that the business relations between Japan and Bulgaria not only generate profit for the companies of both countries, but also have the potential to grow beyond their borders. According to him, Bulgaria is considered a valuable business hub and access point by Japanese companies who are opening trade channels to the Western Balkans and the EU. RY/MT /??/
• (DF) Prosecutor General Approaches European Institutions over Difficulties in Extradition of Fugitive Banker from Belgrade
February 5 (BTA) - Prosecutor General Ivan Geshev has sent a letter to the office of the Secretary General of the Council of Europe and to the European Committee on Crime Problems, in which he once again alerts the institutions of the difficulties in the implementation of two requests for extradition sent to the Serbian authorities concerning Bulgarian banker Tsvetan Vassilev (pictured) who has fled to Belgrade, the Prosecuting Magistracy said in a press release Wednesday. In Sofia Tsvetan Vassilev is tried in his absence for syphoning the Corporate Commercial Bank where he was the majority holder. The bank went down in 2014 after a run on deposits. In the letter Geshev argues that the absence of a final court decision of the approached competent authorities in Serbia in connection with the criminal proceeding against Vassilev conducted in Sofia "casts doubt on the effective implementation of the European Convention on Extradition in respect of the obligation of the approached country to pronounce within a reasonable time". The letter reminds that nearly five and a half years have passed since the first request for Vassilev's extradition was duly sent to the Serbian authorities, and four years and eight months since the second request. A copy of the letter was also sent to the President of the European Parliament and the President of the European Commission with a view of the future assessment regarding Serbia's readiness as a EU applicant country and the principle of the rule of law in court proceedings. Geshev sent a letter to the Supreme Court in Belgrade in which he voices puzzlement in the delay of the extradition decision. He notes that the charges against Vassilev in the Corporate Commercial Bank case "are unprecedented in the history of the administration of justice in Bulgaria and carry huge significance for the country's economy and financial stability". RI/ZH //
• (NW) Varna, Bourgas AirportsProcess 4.9 MillionPassengers in 2019
February 4 (BTA) - Over the last year, the airports in the Black Sea cities of Varna and Bourgas have serviced 4.9 million passengers on 35,000 flights of Bulgarian and foreign air carriers. This transpired on Tuesday in a news release by the concessionaire of the two airports, Fraport Twin Star Airport Management AD. The figures reflect a year-on-year decrease in passenger flow.
• (DF) President Radev: "I Officially Strip the Government of Confidence"
February 4 (BTA) - In an address to the nation on Tuesday, President Rumen Radev said he was stripping the Government of confidence.
• (DF) Varna, Bourgas Airports Process 4.9 Million Passengers in 2019
February 4 (BTA) - Over the last year, the airports in the Black Sea cities of Varna and Bourgas have serviced 4.9 million passengers on 35,000 flights of Bulgarian and foreign air carriers. This transpired on Tuesday in a news release by the concessionaire of the two airports, Fraport Twin Star Airport Management AD. The figures reflect a year-on-year decrease in passenger flow. In 2019, Varna Airport has worked with 66 airlines to 117 destinations in 45 countries, servicing over 2 million passengers, which is a decrease of 8.6 per cent compared to 2018. For the same period, Bourgas Airport has worked with 72 airlines to 132 destinations in 37 countries. The airport has serviced over 2.85 million passengers, or 12 per cent fewer than in 2018. Varna Airport has opened 4 new destinations, and started working with 9 new airlines. Another two destinations will be opened this year: Varna-Vienna on March 31 and Varna-Nantes on April 14. For its part, Bourgas Airport is opening a direct flight Bourgas-Vienna on March 31 that will be departing twice a week. The airport operator's information service announced that over the concession period (2006-2019), they have invested over 395 million leva in the infrastructure of the two airports and their modernization. For 2019, the investments amounted to 8.6 million leva, and the concessionaire is planning to invest over 12 million in 2020. RY/MT /??/
• (DF) Prosecutors, Restorers Seize Items from Businessman Bozhkov's Art Collection
February 3 (BTA) - Prosecutors and restorers Monday entered Nove Holding's office to impound items from the collection of businessman Vassil Bozhkov, a major art collector, who was charged last week with tax fraud and extortion among other crimes. Meanwhile, it became clear that valuable paintings had been removed from his home, the Bulgarian National Radio (BNR) reported. As experts voiced concern that the paintings and the collection of some 3,000 antique artifacts would be treated unprofessionally, Culture Minister Boil Banov Friday gave assurances that the valuable objects would be preserved. About 20 paintings have already been removed from Bozhkov's home, the Culture Ministry said. The collector's items will be stored in two locations - the National Art Gallery and the National History Museum. National Art Gallery Director Yaroslava Bubnova told BNR that the paintings were being seized by a commission made up of gallery staff, a restorer and art historians. Each work is catalogued, its condition is detailed, then it is packed by restorers and removed by the gallery's staff. "This will be a very long process," she said, explaining that she was following instructions from the Specialized Prosecution Office and an order by the Culture Minister. Bozhkov's collection is yet to be valued. He himself told the Troud daily in the early 2000s: "I buy from people who buy from treasure hunters." Speaking to the Bulgarian National Television on Monday, history professor Ivan Marazov said Bozhkov owns the world's best collection of antique toreutics: "It includes many rhytons, many more than all museums worldwide. It also features numerous kylixes and phiales. The collection gives an idea of the development of that art not just in ancient Thrace but across the ancient world. That is why I believe that its study and its place in academia is of exceptional significance." Prof. Marazov is a member of Bozhkov's Thrace Foundation, which promotes and supports the preservation of cultural property which is part of Bulgaria's and the world's cultural and historical heritage. He believes that it is one of the State's prime tasks to preserve the collection. It should neither be scattered nor sold, but should remain as one of the most remarkable museum collections in Bulgaria. Asked why the objects are not in a museum but in a private collection, Marazov said it is probably because museums cannot spend 2.5 million euro to buy a rhyton, which is what Bozhkov did. Asked why Bozhkov was a collector, Marazov quoted Bogomil Rainov, a prominent figure in Bulgarian art circles, who said that collecting is an illness. In that sense, Bozhkov was an ill man. He was very happy when he bought something good and was proud to show it. "I assume it was the desire to make the best collection that spurred him on. He also supported archaeological excavations," said Marazov. Questioned about the recommendations he made as the collection grew, Marazov recalled that Bozhkov invited him in 2005 and he recommended collecting ancient Greek and Thracian objects. By then Bozhkov had acquired numerous Roman artifacts. In just five years, he bought a huge number of artifacts unparalleled in museum exhibitions worldwide. He also established his own laboratory where the objects underwent conservation and restoration. Marazov argued that the items should all stay where they are now. Commenting on the seizure, the professor said they would be stored in the art gallery and the museum, away from both the public and experts. The professor's team did everything in their power to enter them in academic circulation. This is extremely important because the more objects one knows, the better picture of antiquity one can assemble. For example, one of the rhytons features a scene from the late 5th century BC inspired by a lost Euripides tragedy. And since the exact date of its staging is known, the object itself can de dated precisely. LN/BR
• (DF) Two Bulgarians Flown Back from Wuhan Test Negative for New Coronavirus
February 3 (BTA) - Two Bulgarian youths who were evacuated from Wuhan on a French plane as part of a Europewide airlift operation and who arrived in Bulgaria via Istres, Southern France, late on Sunday, have tested negative for the new coronavirus, head of the Infectious Diseases Unit in the Military Medical Academy (MMA) Georgi Popov told a briefing, The two youths who were flown to Bulgaria on board a Spartan military transport plane were admitted to the MMA in good health condition. They will be quarantined and kept under observation for 14 days. The coronavuris tests will be repeated in the middle of the incubation period. Chief State Health Inspector Angel Kounchev said that all necessary preventive measures have been put in place. Medical teams have been dispatched to the airports in Sofia, Varna and Bourgas. RI/ZH//
• (DF) "It's Official: Fugitive Gambling Mogul Bozhkov Has Been Arrested in UAE" - Prosecutor General
February 2 (BTA) - Bulgaria's Prosecutor General Ivan Geshev said here on Sunday that the United Arab Emirates had officially confirmed that wanted gambling mogul Vassil Bozhkov and one more person had been detained in Emirati territory. Geshev explained that all documents needed to request Bozhkov's extradition will now be drawn up. The Prosecutor General broke the news during a news briefing after a police operation against conventional crime in the region of Varna.
• (DF) First Containers of Waste from Italy to Be Re-exported Next Week - Environment Minister
February 2 (BTA) - The first 28 containers of a waste shipment from Italy, detected at the Port of Varna-West, will be re-exported next week for the consignor's account, Bulgarian Environment and Water Minister Emil Dimitrov said here on Sunday. A couple of weeks ago, acting Varna Regional Prosecutor Vladislava Panayotova said that her prosecution office had instituted pre-trial proceedings over 127 containers of waste from Italy found at the Port of Varna-West. The containers had arrived on October 9, 2019, and waste they carried was visibly different from what was declared in the import documents. The shipment was left at the port for 90-day temporary storage. Shortly later, prosecutors launched a probe after 20 containers of waste from Italy were found at the port of Bourgas, and it turned out it had been there since early September 2019.
• (DF) Victims of Communist Regime in Bulgaria Commemorated
February 1 (BTA) - A prayer service honoured the victims of communism in Sofia, while wreaths and flowers were laid in front of the National Palace of Culture memorial wall. Observed since 2011 on the proposal of two former Presidents, Zhelyu February 1 marks the anniversary of the day on which a People's Court installed by the new communist regime in Bulgaria in 1945 passed the most death sentences on politicians, including the three regents, for being responsible for embroiling Bulgaria in the war on Hitler's side. The twelve panels of the People's Court tried a total of 135 cases with 11,122 defendants and sentenced 9,155 people including 2,730 to death and 1305 to life imprisonment. Those on death row were executed in the night between February 1 and 2, 1945. The Bulgarian elite was destroyed, including the regents, eight royal advisors, 22 cabinet ministers, five former prime ministers, 67 MPs, 47 generals and senior army officers.
• (DF) Bulgarians Advised against Travelling to China amidst Corona Virus Outbreak
February 1 (BTA) - An alert level 4 has been declared on Saturday, warning Bulgarians against travelling to China, Foreign Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva said after a meeting with Prime Minister Boyko Borissov amidst the corona virus outbreak in China. Bulgarians who are not in China are urged to refrain from travelling there. The warning is valid for both Bulgarian citizens who are currently in Bulgaria and those abroad, she explained. A series of measures have been set for protecting Bulgarians' health. There is readiness to declare a level 5 alert next week, which would ban travelling to China altogether, the Bulgarian Foreign Minister said. The meeting with Borissov was attended by Health Minister Kiril Ananiev, Interior Minister Mladen Marinov and representative of the responsible bodies monitoring the developments surrounding the corona virus outbreak.
• (DF) Bulgaria, Greece Begin Work on Joint Presentation as Tourist Destination on Distant Markets
January 31 (BTA) - Bulgaria and Greece begin work on a joint presentation of the two countries as a tourist destination on distant markets, starting with the US, it transpired at a joint news conference of Tourism Ministers Nikolina Angelkova of Bulgaria and Haris Theoharis of Greece here on Friday. Other discussed markets include China, Japan, and South Korea. During Theoharis' working visit to Sofia on Friday, he and Angelkova also signed a programme for joint actions in tourism in the 2020-2022 period. Angelkova said that all details about the joint product of Bulgaria and Greece will be discussed by a working group of experts, whose names will be specified on February 3. "We will begin with cultural and historical, balneological, and spa tourism so as to test these tourist products, then the experts will propose common marketing activities for advertising this joint product," she added. The next step will be related to the integration of the tourism sector which will provide this product. Angelkova recalled that last year Bulgaria was visited by over 9.3 million foreign tourists. Greece is traditionally among the top three important markets for Bulgaria, and in 2019 Greeks ranked second among foreign tourists who visited Bulgaria; their number grew by 12 per cent in the last four years alone. Over 1.4 million Bulgarians visit Greece, Angelkova said. Minister Theoharis said that tourism is the universal ambassador of friendship, and added that the signing of the programme in this sector will deepen the strategic cooperation between Greece and Bulgaria. Bulgarian tourists are in the top three for Greece in terms of their number, he noted. He expressed the hope that the two countries will make joint efforts to improve the crossing of their border control checkpoints, as the business wants. RI/DS /??/
• (NW) Todes Dance Company Back in Bulgaria with "#Continued"
Sofia, January 31 (BTA) - Russian modern ballet company "Todes" is returning to Bulgaria with its new show, "#Continued". The performances are scheduled for March 23 in Sofia and for March 25 in the coastal city of Varna, the organizers from Degris said. The Todes Ballet was ...
• (NW) Bulgarian Companies Can Export Thermally Processed Poultry Products to Argentina
January 31 (BTA) - Argentina has approved Bulgaria's certificate for export of thermally processed poultry products in a procedure launched in 2019, it emerged from a meeting in Buenos Aires between Bulgaria's Agriculture, Food and Forestry Minister Desislava Taneva and Argentina's Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries Minister Luis Eugenio Basterra. Basterra assured Taneva that Bulgaria will be certificated for export of fresh poultry as soon as possible. The two ministers signed a declaration on agriculture cooperation and agricultural trade promotion. "Agriculture is key to both countries. Bulgaria is a global leader in lavender production and has the best quality rose oil on the world market. We have a potential to increase two-way trade in these sectors," said Taneva. Some 30 per cent of Bulgaria's cheese production is export oriented, said Taneva. Its exports to Argentina are mostly plants used in perfumery and medicine, chocolate and temporarily preserved cherries. Raw peanuts are Bulgaria's largest export from Argentina. The two ministers also discussed scientific and technological cooperation in organic agriculture between Bulgaria's Agricultural Academy and Argentina's National Agricultural Technology Institute. RI/DD //
• (DF) Prime Minister Borissov Confers with Turkish Foreign Minister Cavusoglu
January 31 (BTA) - At a meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu here on Friday, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov said that the stable and sustainable development of the bilateral relations with Turkey is an important part of Bulgaria's foreign policy, the Government Information Service reported. During the talks, Borissov noted the active bilateral political dialogue conducted in accordance with the principles of goodneighbourliness and mutual respect. Borissov said that Turkey is Bulgaria's neighbour, an ally in NATO and an important partner of the EU for handling a series of challenges, such as the migration pressure on Europe, the fight against terrorism, energy supplies and energy security, infrastructure, agriculture, trade and economy. In the Prime Minister's words, Bulgaria highly values Turkey's commitment to the application of its 2016 Joint Declaration with the EU on migration, as well as the excellent bilateral cooperation in this field that ensures a zero migration pressure on the common border. The Bulgarian Prime Minister put an emphasis on the bilateral cooperation in relation to the development of the intersystem connectivity of the two countries' gas transmission networks, which will contribute to the diversification of the gas supply routes. An emphasis was also put on the existence of significant potential for a further development of the trade and economic relations between Bulgaria and Turkey. Borissov noted that two-way trade grew by 10.7 per cent in January-September 2019 compared to the like period of 2018, reaching 3,017 million euro. Tourism was also mentioned as an area of cooperation with big opportunities for development. During his visit to Bulgaria, the Turkish Foreign Minister is also scheduled to meet with his Bulgarian counterpart Ekaterina Zaharieva and President Rumen Radev. RY/DS /??/
• (DF) Parliament Issues Mandate for Entry in Euro Area Only at Lev-Euro Rate of 1.95583
January 30 (BTA) - The National Assembly Thursday adopted with 140 votes in favour, 2 against and 66 abstentions a resolution on determining the conditions for negotiating a central lev-euro rate in accordance with paragraph 2.3 of the Resolution of the European Council on the Establishment of an Exchange-rate Mechanism in the Third Stage of Economic and Monetary Union Amsterdam. When negotiating a central lev-euro rate in accordance with paragraph 2.3, the Finance Minister and the Bulgarian National Bank Governor will continue to propose, uphold and vote in favour of a position on a central rate of 1.95583 leva per 1 euro. Bulgaria will not participate in the Exchange Rate Mechanism II (ERM II) if the central rate is different, Parliament's resolution reads. Yordan Tsonev MP of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, co-sponsor of the draft resolution, said during the parliamentary debate that the document sends a clear signal both to Bulgaria's European partners and to Bulgarian citizens that Bulgaria wants to enter the euro area but not at all costs. In his words, the second part of the resolution states that should any of the euro area countries plus Denmark propose a different lev-euro rate, Bulgaria will leave its path to the euro area. Kristian Vigenin MP of BSP for Bulgaria opposed the hasty manner in which such an important decision was being taken and said his parliamentary group would abstain during the vote on the resolution. Toma Bikov MP of GERB accused BSP for Bulgaria of being about to destroy the consensus on Bulgaria's entry in the euro area. On Wednesday, Finance Minister Vladislav Goranov told a news briefing in Parliament after a meeting with the National Assembly's leadership, that political consensus exists in this country on its accession to the euro area. He said that everybody also agrees that the present lev-euro peg should remain unchanged. RY/DS /??/
• (NW) Business Climate Improves in January
Sofia, January 30 (BTA) - Bulgaria's General Business Climate Index rose by 1.4 points in January 2020 compared with December 2019 thanks to improved business conditions in industry, the National Statistical Institute reported on Thursday. The index component which descri...
• (NW) Electricity, Gas, Steam Prices Up by 8.7% in December 2019
January 30 (BTA) - According to data of the National Statistical Institute published on Thursday, the Total Producer Price Index in December 2019 increased by 3.5 per cent compared to December 2018. Prices rose in electricity, gas, steam and air conditioning supply by 8.7 per cent, in the mining and quarrying industry by 7.3 per cent, and in manufacturing by 1.8 per cent. In manufacturing, prices increased more tangibly in the manufacture of leather and related products by 4.8 per cent, the repair and installation of machinery and equipment by 3.9 per cent, and food products by 3.2 per cent. Prices fell significantly in the manufacture of paper and paper products by 3.3 per cent and of wood and wood and cork products (except furniture and articles of straw and plaiting materials) by 2.8 per cent. The Total Producer Price Index in Industry in December 2019 remained unchanged from the previous month. Higher prices were registered in the mining and quarrying industry by 1.0 per cent. Prices in electricity, gas, steam and air conditioning supply fell by 0.4 per cent and remained unchanged in manufacturing. In manufacturing, the prices of base metals increased by 1.9 per cent, of food products by 0.8 per cent and of motor vehicles, trailers and semi-trailers by 0.6 per cent. A significant decrease in prices was reported in the manufacture of basic pharmaceutical products and pharmaceutical preparations by 1.2 per cent and in the manufacture of rubber and plastic products by 1.0 per cent. /RY/MT //
• (DF) Prime Minister Borissov: "Italy Is Important EU Partner, NATO Ally to Bulgaria"
January 30 (BTA) - Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov Thursday conferred with his Italian counterpart, Giuseppe Conte, who is on an official visit to Bulgaria at the invitation of Borissov, the Government Information Service said. "Italy is an important partner to Bulgaria in the EU and an ally in NATO. We have excellent bilateral relations, for the advancement of which we continue an active political dialogue at all levels, as well as cooperation on issues of common interest," noted the Bulgarian Prime Minister. During the meeting, Borissov emphasized the excellent trade and economic cooperation between the two countries and expressed the desire to increase Italian investments in Bulgaria and to expand the presence of Bulgarian products on the Italian market. Two-way trade grew by 10.2 per cent in 2018 compared to 2017, amounting to 4.86 billion euro. The Bulgarian Prime Minister noted the desire to intensify the bilateral partnership in the energy sector, given Italy's role in implementing the strategic Southern Gas Corridor project and improving energy security in the region. Italy's role is also important in building Balkan Stream up to the border with Serbia, a contract for which was signed last September between Bulgartransgaz and the Arcad Consortium (Saudi Arabia and Italy). The expansion of Bulgaria's gas transmission network, along with other important projects, aims to contribute to strengthening Bulgaria's energy security and diversifying its energy routes. The talks between Prime Ministers Borissov and Conte also focused on the exchange of good practices and expert opinions in the field of road infrastructure and construction, taking into account Italy's experience and the comparative advantages of the two countries. Borissov noted there are also opportunities for joint projects and the promotion of tourism, pointing to Bulgaria's natural assets for sea, mountain, cultural, spa and eco-tourism. He also expressed his desire to cooperate with Italy in the field of cultural heritage. He stressed how rich in artifacts Bulgaria is, as it ranks third in Europe in this regard, just after Italy and Greece. RY/DT
• (DF) Business Mogul Vassil Bozhkov Charged on Seven Counts
January 29 (BTA) - The prosecution service has pressed charges against business mogul Vassil Bozhkov on seven counts, Prosecutor General Ivan Geshev told a news briefing on Wednesday. The news came amid a law enforcement operation in Sofia targeting the gambling regulator. Bozhkov, whose lottery operations got into the public eye recently, is accused of masterminding an organized crime group and engaging in coercion, blackmail, attempted bribery of a public official and incitement to commit malfeasance in office. He is on a nationwide wanted persons list. A European arrest warrant has been issued against him and he is actually wanted internationally, because he has left Bulgaria. Geshev said that if the supervising prosecutors collect enough evidence to warrant an indictment, Bozhkov will be brought to justice. "We will make every effort to ensure that he is brought to court," the Prosecutor General added. He described Bozhkov as "yet another Bulgarian oligarch who has fled the country." Geshev said: "It makes no sense to owe more than 559 million leva to the state for a year for all your lottery games - which would be enough to increase every monthly pension in Bulgaria by 100 leva - and yet to claim that you are being repressed, as will likely be the case." He said it is about time that everyone pays for their own doings. "If there is evidence, the prosecution service will seek criminal liability from all persons, regardless of what office they hold, which political party is behind them, how many billions are behind them, what clout they have with the media, or what foreign forces are backing them." Over 16 people have been arrested so far in connection with an investigation against the Gambling Commission, Geshev said. The Commission chair, Alexander Georgiev, has been arrested and taken into 24-hour custody. Geshev also said: "It is about time that this criminal Transition comes to an end. It is time we say: Enough!!" He was referring to the post-1989 transition to democracy and a market economy in Bulgaria, which some observers believe has not been completed yet. RY/VE //
• (DF) Protests Block Central Sofia
January 29 (BTA) - Hundreds protested in central Sofia on Wednesday, blocking traffic at various points. Owners of SMEs, hotels and restaurants came out on the streets to demand lower VAT and protest against a controversial ordinance that regulates the registration and reporting of retail sales by cash registers. The protest was held despite the fact that it was decided during a meeting between business representatives and Finance Minister Vladislav Goranov on Tuesday to postpone by six months the deadline for meeting the requirements set by the ordinance. The protest rally was joined by supporters of the Vuzrazhdane Party and Maya Manolova's civil project "Izpravi se, Bulgaria!" (Stand up, Bulgaria!), who demand the government's resignation. Vuzrazhdane's supporters joined another protest in Sofia recently against the water crisis in the western city of Pernik, during which there were clashes with police after protestors tried to storm the Regional Development and Public Works Ministry's building. Dnevnik quotes a certain professional association of restaurant and bar owners as saying that they are distancing themselves from the Vuzrazhdane party's actions, as it has no place in this protest, which is organized by businesses that have no political demands. Later in the day, the protest blocked the busy Eagle's Bridge intersection./MY /??/
• (DF) Gambling Regulator Chair and Seven Other Officials Taken in for Questioning
January 29 (BTA) - The chairman of the Gambling Commission, Alexander Georgiev, was taken in for questioning Wednesday along with seven other officials. The move was announced by the prosecution service after an operation of police and prosecutors, which is part of a probe at the Gambling Commission over unpaid fees by operators.
• (DF) Government Survives Fourth No-Confidence Vote
The government of Prime Minister Boyko Borissov survived Wednesday a no-confidence vote initiated by the opposition Sofialists over what they see as a failure if the policy in environment and the water sector. The no-confidence motion was voted down by 124-102 voted with 9 abstentions. The Bulgarian Socialist Party for Bulgaria group and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms voted against the government. Borissov's own GERB party and the nationalists of the power-sharing United Patriots coalition supported the government, as did eight independents. Volya abstained. It was the fourth vote of no-confidence against the third government Boyko Borissov. The vote was taken amid multiple crises affecting the environment: a severe water shortage which has led to the rationing of potable water for 100,000 in the western town of Pernik, endemic air pollution and suspicions that some businesses in Bulgaria thrive on unlawful handling or incineration of imported waste.
• (DF) At 14th Annual Conference, Government, Business Discuss Bulgaria's ERM Entry, EU Green Deal, Labour Shortage
January 28 (BTA) - Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, Deputy Prime Minister Tomislav Donchev, Finance Minister Vladislav Goranov, Labour and Social Policy Minister Denitsa Sacheva and Bulgarian National Bank (BNB) Governor Dimitar Radev were among top officials who attended the 14th Annual Government Meets the Business Conference here on Tuesday. The event, organized by the "Capital" weekly, this year explored ways to prepare business for the synchronized slowdown of the global economy. Bulgaria in ERM II Borissov said that every effort is being made for Bulgaria to join the Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM II) at the end of April 2020. Both Radev and Goranov were adamant that the lev/euro exchange rate will not be changed upon entry in the ERM II. The central bank Governor explained that the Foreign Exchange Act amendment does not alter the fixed rate but merely says that it will be approved within the EU legal framework, aligning Bulgarian legislation with the EU rules. The European Central Bank has been consulted on the legislative revision. "Bulgaria is very close to a strategic breakthrough on its European integration road. By that step, the country will join key institutions at the core of the EU," he added. The PM assured his audience that after Bulgaria enters the eurozone, prices will not rise and the currency board arrangement will be kept. He sees the joining of ERM II as a guarantee that there will be no more bank failures and the country will no longer be put at risk but will share in decision making. Green Deal Borissov accused some EU countries of being "green hypocrites", as they import steel from China and India where limit standards are hardly observed and the air is polluted globally. He stressed that Europe generates 8-9 per cent of carbon emissions and even if it cuts them to 3-5 per cent, this will not make a difference on a global scale. To meet the EU green requirements, Bulgaria alone has to invest some 20 billion. At the same time, the country now relies on coal for 60 per cent of its electricity. "We have a reason to support the direction in principle, but we are sceptical about the speed of greening," Donchev said for his part. "Nobody wants us to be green and poor," he argued, describing as "overambitious" the noxious emissions reduction programme: the national target is 40 per cent by 2030, while the European Commission proposes 55-60 per cent. Goranov said that the sectors affected by the Green Deal employ 94,000 people and that the green transformation will be a challenge to Bulgaria. Donchev said that the Council of Ministers will shortly consider an Industrial Zones Bill, which will speed up the process of establishing such zones as part of an economic transformation. Employment Sacheva said that 20 per cent of almost 400,000 enterprises and companies countrywide will be hiring next year, according to the National Employment Agency. Over the next 12 months, employers will need some 90,000 university degree holders - mainly engineers, IT professionals, educators and nurses. In the lower-skilled occupations, 64,000 workers will be in demand. The public sector is also understaffed. The Minister said that specific measures will be proposed for the 170,000 people aged 15-29 in Bulgaria who neither study nor work, once a statistical profile on them is ready within two months. * * * Borissov said at the meeting that the Foreign Ministry has been assigned to explore options for bringing back home the three Bulgarian students who are stranded in quarantined Wuhan, China. "If they allow us, I will send a plane to fly them out, regardless of the cost," the PM said. "I can imagine how scared they are". RI/LG //
• (DF) Sofia City Council Green Lights Water Transmission to Pernik
January 28 (BTA) - The Sofia City Council on Tuesday voted to provide additional water supply to the southwestern city of Pernik through the capital's water network. All 56 councilors from the different political parties attending the meeting voted in favour of the decision, only Volen Siderov of Ataka abstained. Sofia Mayor Yordanka Fandakova later expressed satisfaction that the council voted nearly unanimously on such an important matter. She also said that there are guarantees that the water supply to Pernik will be stopped at the slightest sign of danger for Sofia's water supply. All investment costs for the new pipeline will be covered by the state, Fandakova underscored. The decision paves the way for a definitive solution to the city's water supply problem which for weeks has been in the focus of public attention expert discussions, public protests and a no-confidence vote in Parliament. As a solution to ease drinking water rationing in Pernik, water will be supplied to the western city from the Belmeken Dam in Mt Rila using the infrastructure of Sofia's water utility./RY/BR //
• (NW) Road Agency to Extend Lv 40 Mln for Archaeological Works over 4 Years
January 28 (BTA) - The Road Infrastructure Agency said on Tuesday that it will allocate 40 million leva for archaeological works in the next four years along the routes of major road projects. The Agency will launch an open procedure to conclude a framework agreement for salvage archaeological works. When implementing major road projects the Agency commissions the construction works and the archaeological excavations. The contract is estimated at 40 million leva exclusive of VAT and will be for a period of four years. RY/PP //
• (DF) Energy Minister Pays Working Visit to United States
January 28 (BTA) - During a working visit to the United States, a Bulgarian delegation led by Energy Minister Temenouzhka Petkova discussed opportunities to promote bilateral relations, Petkova's ministry reported on Tuesday. On Monday, the Minister talked with Under Secretary of Energy Mark Menezes, President Donald Trump's Deputy Assistant for International Economic Affairs Thomas Storch, Assistant Secretary of State for Energy Resources Francis Fannon, Commercial Service Deputy Director General Dale Tasharski, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation Ann Ganzer, and representatives of the US liquefied natural gas (LNG) industry. According to the press release, Bulgaria will continue to seek diversification of the sources from which it receives natural gas and the routes of supply. Bulgaria and the United States have ample opportunities for cooperation in the field of LNG. Petkova said that 50 per cent of natural gas consumption in Bulgaria will be diversified by the end of this year. This means that 1.5 billion out of 3 billion cubic metres of gas consumed annually in the country will come from sources other than Russia. These will include Azerbaijan and the United States. LNG deliveries from the United States to Bulgaria began in June 2019. By the end of 2019, Bulgaria received half a billion cubic metres of LNG. Petkova commented: "This was an important step forward in building a transparent, financially liquid and reliable market in natural gas not only in Bulgaria but also in the region." During her meeting with Under Secretary of Energy Mark Menezes, Petkova presented the progress achieved in infrastructure projects of key importance to Bulgaria, including the construction of the Greece-Bulgaria Gas Interconnector. Talking with the President's Deputy Assistant Thomas Storch, Petkova said: "The United States is a strategic partner to Bulgaria in the field of energy." The Energy Ministry in Sofia recalled in its press release that an agreement to continue bilateral energy cooperation was reached between Prime Minister Boyko Borissov and President Donald Trump when they met in the White House last November. Petkova also told Storch that cooperation between Bulgaria and the United States will help her country reinforce its energy security and diversify its energy supplies. She said Bulgaria appreciates the support provided by the US partners for major infrastructure projects, such as the building of the Greece-Bulgaria Gas Interconnector and the LNG terminal at the Greek port of Alexandroupolis. In the context of the two countries' strategic dialogue, US experts in natural gas and nuclear energy will visit Bulgaria in the coming months. At Monday's meeting, Petkova and Storch discussed the process of licensing US nuclear fuel for Bulgaria as a way to diversify nuclear supplies. Officials of Bulgarian energy companies are expected to meet with LNG producers in Houston, Texas to consider increasing LNG supplies to Bulgaria. RY/VE //
• (DF) Unprecedented Pesticide Pollution in Maritsa River, Tonnes of Dead Fish
January 28 (BTA) - The level of pesticide-caused pollution of the Maritsa River has never been higher, tonnes of fish are dead. This was announced before the media on Tuesday by Marin Marinov, head of the Monitoring Directorate with the East Aegean River Basin Directorate, at a joint press conference of district governor Dani Kanazireva and directors Stefan Shilev of Plovdiv's Regional Inspectorate of Environment and Water and Kamen Yankov of the Bulgarian Food Safety Agency. The press conference took place after multiple reports of dead fish in large amounts floating in two rivers in southern Bulgaria, Maritsa and Chaya, were submitted to the authorities during the weekend. Samples have been taken at 19 locations in the Pazardjik-Plovdiv region, and the water has been tested for 86 agents that could cause such toxic pollution. Cyanides, arsenic, mercury, dissolved oxygen and undissolved substances all gave negative results. However, the experts measured a twice-than-normal concentration of two pesticides in the Pishmanka River which flows into the Maritsa. The two substances are highly toxic, and are used for plant protection, Marinov explained. The monitoring will continue with monthly sampling of the river waters. Tonnes of fish is dead; the total damage caused is yet to be calculated. The company responsible for this grave crime against nature will be fined in compliance with the Environmental Damage Act, and the fine can reach dozens of thousand of leva, Marinov pointed out. Currently, the water in the Maritsa is back to normal, said Plovdiv's district governor, adding that there is no risk to the potable water in the city. However, fishing and watering animals along the Maritsa remain restricted. Checks are being carried out to control fish trade at unregulated markets. Dani Kanazireva said that she is assembling a committee to monitor the six remaining depots for expired pesticides in the Plovdiv district. RY/MT
• (DF) Prime Minister Borissov Attends Memorial Ceremony for75th Anniversary of Auschwitz Liberation
January 27 (BTA) - Prime Minister Boyko Borissov Monday attended the ceremony in Poland commemorating the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp. Borissov took part in the memorial service outside the Gate of death in the former death camp. The Bulgarian Prime Minister believes that "all of us should remember that we have a resonsibility to not allow tragedies like the Holocaust to happen again", said his press office. "We have an obligation to be guardians of the history of the Holocaust and to not allow distortion or downplaying of the suffering of people during World War Two." The Prime Minister believes that Bulgarian people - especially young Bulgarians - have all reason to be proud of the rescue of Bulgarian Jews from the Nazi death camps, and that this rescue teaches a lesson of tolerance, understanding and love among people of different ethnicity, religion and culture, the government press office said. NV/PP//
• (DF) Ukrainian Accused of Acid Attack on Anticorruption Campaigner Kateryna Handziuk Detained in Bulgaria
January 27 (BTA) - At a briefing here on Monday, the prosecuting magistracy said that a Ukrainian national was detained in Bulgaria on January 24. He is on an Interpol Red Notice with charges for an acid attack which caused death of the victim, the chief secretary of the Executive Committee of the Kherson Municipal Council (Southern Ukraine), on July 31, 2018. The detainee is currently banned from leaving Bulgaria, and a procedure for his extradition is to be launched. According to information published on the website of the Prosecutor General Office of Ukraine on January 24, the detainee is Oleksii Levin, who is suspected of having participated in the acid attack against Kateryna Handziuk. Handziuk, 33, was known as a vocal critic of corruption in law enforcement agencies. She had campaigned against pro-Russia separatism but had recently shifted her focus to corruption and attacks on civic activists, accusing the police of passiveness in investigations of the attacks. The Bulgarian Prosecution Office specified at Monday's briefing that the Ukrainian national was not detained upon his entry in Bulgaria through the Dourankoulak border checkpoint, because Interpol's Red Notice was issued at a later date. The Ukrainian was arrested following the assistance of the Ukrainian services and undercover observations by the Bulgarian police. To avoid detection, he had changed his appearance and gait. Ahead of his arrest, a Ukrainian delegation led by Ukraine's Deputy Prosecutor General arrived in Bulgaria and held a meeting with Bulgarian Prosecutor General Ivan Geshev, the Bulgarian Prosecution Office said. Geshev invited his Ukrainian counterpart to a meeting aimed at improving the cooperation between the two prosecution services. RI/DS /??/
• (NW) Leading International Experts to Present Successful Solutions for Fruit and Vegetable Production and Marketining at Sofia Forum
January 27 (BTA) - An international conference, InteliFresh 2020, is bringing together in Sofia fruit and vegetable producers, major retail chains, Bulgarian and foreign traders and processors, as well as providers of technology and services. They will discuss here solutions for high quality production and successful marketing of Bulgarian fruits and vegetables. Due on January 31 at Sofia's Inter Expo Centre, it will be the third edition of the forum organized with support from the Embassy of the Netherlands and with the participation of leading experts from Italy and Hungary. Over the last five years, fruit and vegetable fields in Bulgaria have been expanding and so gas production, say the InteliFresh organizers, InteliAgro. Exports have been increasing and quality Bulgarian produce more often finds its place on the stands of the country's retail chains but its share remains small. The domestic market continues to be saturated with low-quality goods and foreign markets remain a chimera. This situation can be addressed by business solutions that participants will present at InteliFresh 2020. Piet Schotel from Fruit Consultancy Europe (The Netherlands) will introduce participants to potential profitable market niches in Europe. Experts from two of the largest fruit nurseries in Italy - Salvi and TopPlant will share insight about the varieties which conquer the European market today and the latest achievements in the selection and production of planting material. Leading Bulgarian and international technology providers will share their experience in fruit and vegetable care, innovations for precision and automated production and market preparation. A big part of the Bulgarian fruit and vegetable production still goes for processing and this industry is among the highlights of the forum. The biggest processor in Bulgaria - Michele Santorelli will speak about the trends in the cultivation of cherries and plums for processing, and also present a joint project with Italian giant Ferrero for the development of hazel plantations in Bulgaria. InteliFresh will provide more than 400 participants with opportunities for direct business contacts with all forum companies in the dedicated B2B meeting area.
• (DF) Protest over Pernik Water Crisis Leads to Clashes with Police, Two More Officials Arrested
January 27 (BTA) - During the second day of protests in Sofia over a severe water crisis in the western town of Pernik on Monday, protestors tried to break through the police cordon and storm the building of the Regional Development and Public Works Ministry, leading to clashes with police. Also on Monday, two more officials were arrested intentional mismanagement and malfeasance in office. The protestors hurled bottles at the police and smashed the front door of the Regional Development Ministry, the Interior Ministry reported. Police used tear gas to contain them. 30 people needed medical attention for eye complaints. Two law enforcement officers were injured and received medical care. Police presence in the area has been increased. The identities of those who provoked tensions during the protest are currently being determined. The protest was organized by the Vazrazhdane (Revival) party and most of the participants are supposed to be Pernik residents. After several protests in Pernik, hundreds of angry local people moved their rally to the capital Sofia last Saturday. Organized by a local steering committee, the first-day protest went peacefully. The protestors demanded the resignation of the Prime Minister and the Minister of Regional Development, whose role in the crisis they believed to have been underestimated. This explains the protestors' anger with the Ministry on Monday. In Pernik, water has been rationed for over two months now after it transpired that the level of the local potable water reservoir had gone critically low. The Environment Minister was arrested and charged with intentional mismanagement. He has since been replaced. More arrests were made on Monday when the Prosecutor General's Office said that the former CEO of the Pernik water company, Ivan Vitanov, and former Pernik acting mayor Sevdelina Kovacheva have been remanded for 72 hours. The former has been charged with intentional mismanagement and the latter with malfeasance in office. NV/DT
• (DF) Prosecutor General Asks Constitutional Court to Interpret Issues Concerning Immunity, Investigability of President
January 27 (BTA) - Bulgaria's Prosecutor General Ivan Geshev has petitioned the Constitutional Court to interpret the constitutional provision on the immunity of the President and the Vice President of the Republic, the prosecution service reported on its website on Monday. Article 103 of the Constitution states that "[t]he President and the Vice President shall not incur liability for any actions performed in the discharge of the functions thereof, with the exception of high treason and violation of the Constitution." Geshev asks how a balance between the public interest and the interest of the possible victims is achieved when, under the effective provision, the President and the Vice President are "absolutely inviolable". The Prosecutor General's petition further asks the Constitutional Court to clarify three issues: - Does the notion of "high treason" overlap with the criminal offences under Section I "Treason" of Chapter One "Offences against the Republic" of the Penal Code? - What is the difference between the notions of "high treason" and "violation of the Constitution"; - Does the content of any of the notions of "high treason" and "offences against the Republic" include the commission of any offence other than those provided for in Section I "Treason" of Chapter One "Offences against the Republic" of the Penal Code and, if it does, which of the two, and are there any requirements regarding the type of offence? Geshev also requests the Constitutional Court to interpret whether it is legally conforming to conduct checks and institute a criminal proceeding in connection with elements of a criminal offence committed by the President or the Vice President. The Prosecutor General points out that, in his opinion, the criminal prosecution must be stayed rather than terminated when it is undertaken against the public officials in question. Later in the day, the Constitutional Court said on its website that it had instituted a case on the petition of Prosecutor General Ivan Geshev to provide a binding interpretation of Article 103 of the Constitution. NV/LG
• (DF) Huge Amount of Dead Fish Reported in Maritsa River Near Pazardzhik
January 26 (BTA) - The Plovdiv Appellate Prosecution Office is probing what has caused a pollution that killed a huge amount of fish in Maritsa River on Saturday. Multiple reports of dead fish floating along a stretch of the river between the southern village of Ognyanovo and Plovdiv downstream, have been submitted to the authorities. Pre-trial proceedings have been initiated in response to the river's pollution, which has caused environmental damage. The pre-trial proceedings are supervised by the Pazardzhik Regional Prosecution Office, while the investigation is conducted by the Interior Ministry's Economic Police department in Pazardzhik. Three locations along the river and four companies in the vicinity have been inspected by the authorities. Samples have been taken from the water and fish has been sent for further tests to shed light on the type of pollution that killed the fish. The law enforcement authorities have warned local people not to collect or consume the dead fish because it could pose a health risk. bTV quotes local environmental inspectors as saying that the likely polluter is a Pazardzhik-based company that processes plastics. The company denies having anything to do with this. According to the Olympic 2000 fishing association, the pollution has killed tonnes of fish. They believe that it will take around ten years for life to recover in the affected section in the river, bTV said. LN/MY
• (DF) Moscow Blasts Sofia for Expelling Two Russian Embassy Officers, US, UK Embassies Commend Bulgaria's Action
January 25 (BTA) - The Russian Foreign Ministry Saturday blasted Bulgaria for expelling two Russian embassy officers for espionage the previous day, and called the move provocative. On the opposite pole, the embassies of the US and the UK commended Sofia's actions. The Russian Foreign Ministry said that Russia regards this step by the Bulgarian authorities as "openly unfriendly and provocative, and at odds with constructive relations between Russia and Bulgaria and the traditional mutually respectful bilateral ties". Also, Bulgaria did not present any reasonable evidence to support the decision. Moscow reserves the right to take retaliatory steps. The comment comes a day after Russia's Ambassador in Sofia Anatoly Makarov was summoned to the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry to receive notes by which a First Secretary at the Embassy was declared a persona non grata and a member of the mission's technical staff was declared not acceptable. The move is based on information received at the Foreign Ministry from the Specialized Prosecution Office and the State Agency for National Security that the First Secretary had gathered information on the mechanisms of the election process in Bulgaria while the trade representative had gathered intelligence information on Bulgaria's energy sector and energy security, which was later sent to the headquarters of the Russian intelligence service in Moscow. The two were given 48 hours to leave the country. The US Embassy issued a statement saying that it commended "recent actions of the Bulgarian government to defend the country's independence and sovereignty from malign influence". The Embassy specifically mentions the January 24 announcement of the expulsion of two Russian Embassy officers for espionage and the January 23 announcement of charges against three Russian citizens for attempting to poison a prominent arms trader, his son and a third person. "We support the long-term efforts of the agencies involved in investigating and exposing violations of Bulgarian law. Bulgaria is a strong NATO ally and EU partner and has an unalienable right to define its own future," says the US Embassy. It further notes that "the Government of Bulgaria has produced evidence of Russia-supported malign activities occurring within the territory of Bulgaria over a number of years". The UK Embassy wrote in a statement posted on its Facebook page that it is following with interest the recent statement of the Bulgarian Prosecutor General and the information provided by the Bulgarian Minister of Foreign Affairs "concerning further acts of Russian espionage on the territory of Bulgaria". "The UK continues to support the ongoing proactive stance of Bulgaria to counter foreign malign actions which undermine its sovereignty. The UK supports the steps taken by the Bulgarian authorities to respond to this threat and safeguard its citizens, territory and national security," the Embassy says. LN//
• (DF) Pernik Residents Move to Sofia Protest over Water Crisis
January 25 (BTA) - Residents of Pernik held a protest rally in central Sofia at noon on Saturday over the water crisis in the city and demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Boyko Borissov and Regional Development Minister Petya Avramova, the Bulgarian National Television said. Media reports put the number of protesters in the hundreds. The protest has been organized by a local initiative committee, called Save Pernik, and protesters wore yellow vests. Saturday's protest ended but the organizers said that they are going to held another rally in front of the Regional Development Ministry at noon on Monday and will raisr the same demands. Severe water restrictions have been in place in Pernik since mid-November after it became clear that water in the Studena Dam which supplies the city with drinking water had reached critically low levels. Environment Minister Neno Dimov was charged with deliberate mismanagement and resigned from his post. On Saturday the residents of Pernik said that since the beginning of the crisis the responsibility of the Regional Development Ministry has been underestimated. Their protest was backed by residents of the town of Bobov Dol who complain that air in the municipality is polluted as a result of waste burning at the local thermal power plant. Local people want the facility to stop burning waste. Residents of Sliven and Sofia also joined the protest outside the building of the Council of Ministers, the Bulgarian National Radio reported. LN/PP
• (NW) Employers' Association Expects GDP Increase of Close to Lv 130 Bln in 2020
Sofia, January 24 (BTA) - The Association of Organizations of Bulgarian Employers (AOBE) said during a BTA-hosted news conference here on Friday that they expect Bulgaria's GDP to increase by around 127 billion leva this year. AOBE is made up of the Bulgarian Industr...
• (DF) Employers' Association Expects GDP Increase of Close to Lv 130 Bln in 2020
January 24 (BTA) - The Association of Organizations of Bulgarian Employers (AOBE) said during a BTA-hosted news conference here on Friday that they expect Bulgaria's GDP to increase by around 127 billion leva this year. AOBE is made up of the Bulgarian Industrial Capital Association (BICA), the Bulgarian Industrial Association (BIA), the Bulgarian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) and the Confederation of Employers and Industrialists in Bulgaria (KRIB). AOBE presented their priorities for 2020, which are focused on three main areas - improving the business climate, accelerated solutions to the problems related to human resources, and a comprehensive reform of the energy sector. The priorities include a total of 31 measures, which the leaders of the employers' organizations presented and discussed. Among them is suspending the practice where employers pay the first three days of their employee's sick leave, and adopting measures to curb abuses related to paid sick leave, disability benefits, etc. Employers, however, could not agree on the mechanism for overcoming the paid sick leave problems. According to BIA President Radosvet Radev, Bulgaria needs a whole new Labour Code. BCCI's head Tsvetan Simeonov, described the lack of e-government in Bulgaria as unacceptable. The priorities further include fighting the gray economy, corruption, monopolization and cartelization, encouraging the digitalization of enterprises, countering VAT fraud, among others. Among the other topics highlighted by the employers were Bulgaria's joining the ERM II, Schengen and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, improving this country's energy connectivity, as well as linking with the gas transmission networks of neighbouring countries, among others. NV/MY /??/
• (NW) PM Borissov Urges PFC Levski's Fans to Take Club's Ownership in Own Hands
January 24 (BTA) - Prime Minister Boyko Borissov told PFC Levski's fans here on Friday that they should take over the club's ownership and management, if they want the team to be what they believe it should be. Borissov met with Levski fans after the club's owner, business mogus Vassil Bozhkov warned them that he would be unable to further finance the club if proposed amendments to the gambling legislation go through. The proposed amendments aim to ban private lotteries and Bozhkov owns two private lotteries, including Bulgaria's biggest National Lottery. The head of the Levski fan club, Stepan Hindliyan, said at the start of the meeting that the fans were not there to speak up for the club owner. "We are not here to defend corporate, private interests and licenses, and we don't care about the Gambling Act. The only thing we're concerned about is what is happening with Levski and what your views are about how we'll fare from now on." After the meeting, Daniel Strezov, who heads one of the Levski fan organizations, Blue Bulgaria Trust, said that they are not ready to take over the club's management and that such a step would take time. Levski's current management is doing well and building the right structure, but is held back by old debts caused by by poor management. "We are unanimous that in recent years Levski has been a hostage to political interests and its management model is innately wrong," he said. The meeting was also attended by Finance Minister Vladislav Goranov and Youth and Sports Minister Krassen Kralev. RI/MY //
• (DF) Parliament Debates on Socialists' Motion of No Confidence in Government
January 24 (BTA) - At its regular sitting on Friday, the National Assembly held a debate on the Socialists' motion of no confidence in the Government over its environment and water policy. The motion will be put to the vote on January 29. Presenting the reasons for her parliamentary group's motion, BSP for Bulgaria Floor Leader Kornelia Ninova said that it is not nature and the water transmission system that pose a risk to Bulgaria but the Government of Boyko Borissov. The incumbent's failure in the area of environmental protection and water threatens directly the Bulgarian citizens' life and health, she argued. In her words, the water crisis in the western town of Pernik and other settlements, the unregulated import of tonnes of waste, as well as the dangerous levels of air pollution are a direct consequence of the Borissov Government's carelessness, incompetence and corruption. Ninova also said that after an increase of the water price three times within ten years, the result is water rationing for 500,000 people and polluted and undrinkable water. In her words, the prosecuting magistracy has found mountains of waste at the thermal power plants of Republika-Pernik, Bobov Dol, Sliven, and Brikel. "You collect more taxes from Bulgarian citizens than the residents of, for example, Belgium and England pay," Ninova commented. Presenting alternative solutions to the issues listed, she said that a technical project for the rehabilitation of the Beli Iskar Dam should be elaborated immediately, a hydraulic model of the entire water transmission route to Pernik should be elaborated, the two main derivations of the Studena Dam should be put into operation immediately, and Pernik's water transmission network should be replaced. GERB Georgi Markov MP of GERB accused the Left wing of acting irresponsibly. "GERB make mistakes but you are not acting like their alternative," he argued, adding that the real reason for the no-confidence motion is linked to the Socialists' inner-party problems. The BSP's ultimate goal is the appointment of a caretaker government, he said. "This is a feast in the time of plague, you want to leave Bulgaria without a parliament, without anyone to amend the budget if urgently necessary," Markov noted. United Patriots The Deputy Floor Leader of the power-sharing United Patriots coalition, Boris Yachev, said that behind the reasons for the motion of no confidence lies the Socialists' intention to gain political dividends and a timid attempt at destabilizing the public situation in Bulgaria. "It is undisputed that the main problem in the water and sewerage sector is the old water transmission network across the whole country. This is also the main problem that led to the water crisis in Pernik," he commented. He recalled that when the BSP were in power, Pernik was the only regional city which did not defend a water cycle project, thus losing funding of nearly 80 million leva. "Had the project been implemented back then, maybe there would not have been a [water] crisis today," Yachev said. Projects are being implemented for recultivation of the waste depots in 42 municipalities, and 53 regional waste management systems have been put into operation, he went on to say. In the last years Bulgaria's results in waste recycling have been comparable to those of over half of the EU Member States, he added. A large part of imported waste is a valuable raw material for Bulgarian recycling companies, Yachev said. He called misleading the BSP's claims about medical waste imports. Movement for Rights and Freedoms Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF) Floor Leader Mustafa Karadayi said that his parliamentary group firmly support the motion of no confidence not only because they are an opposition in Parliament but also because they are convinced of the damage today's ruling majority is causing to democracy, statehood and Bulgarian citizens. In his words, things are worsening instead of improving, the State is in collapse, and the palliative measures proposed by the ruling majority are not a solution. Ataka Ataka Deputy Chairman Pavel Shopov said that the MPs of Ataka will determine their attitude towards the motion of no confidence after they get answers to the questions they asked the Left in the parliamentary chamber. The questions are related to the increase of pensions and salaries, the termination of the concessions on gold extraction, the construction of the Belene N-plant project, the closure of foreign military bases in Bulgaria, the lift of the sanctions against Russia, and the recognition of the genocide against the Bulgarian people during the Ottoman rule. According to Shopov, the BSP for Bulgaria submitted the motion of no confidence over the existing problems with water in Pernik and waste imports, but bringing down the Government would postpone their solution. In his words, the actual reasons for the motion are inner party ones, namely the forthcoming elections for BSP Chairperson. Ministers The rest of Friday's debate consisted mainly of an exchange of assessments and accusations between BSP for Bulgaria and GERB. The BSP are striving to cause panic, GERB commented, while the Left responded that the power holders have turned Bulgaria into a hub for Italian waste. Economy Minister Emil Karanikolov replied to the Left's accusations of lack of consultations with experts and scientists on the measures for solving the water crisis in Pernik, by recalling the State's actions for managing dams in the previous years. Regional Development and Public Works Minister Petya Avramova commented that during the parliamentary debate she did not hear either a single working short-term solution for solving the water crisis in Pernik or a working visionary proposal for the development of the entire water and sewerage sector. In reaction, Socialist MP Georgi Svilenski said that the only good thing in Avramova's statement in the plenary chamber was that people saw the person responsible for the crisis in Pernik. Environment and Water Minister Emil Karanikolov said that when it comes to waste, Bulgaria has "super-European legislation and a super-Bulgarianized way of circumventing it ". RY/DS /??/
• (DF) Prime Minister Borissov Meets with Cyprus Foreign Minister Christodulidis
January 24 (BTA) Prime Minister Boyko Borissov met with Cyprus Foreign Minister Nikos Christodulidis. Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva also attended the meeting at the Council of Ministers, the government press centre said on Friday. During the meeting, the politicians expressed satisfaction with the good political, economic and cultural bilateral relations in the context of the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Bulgaria and Cyprus. "We are extremely pleased with results reached in a number of in recent years. Bulgaria and Cyprus are two countries with truly friendly relations," Borissov said. The bilateral energy partnership was also discussed during the meeting. Borissov said that the implementation of the Gas Interconnector Greece-Bulgaria (IGB) is of particular importance as an input structure for the import of gas from alternative sources for the whole region of Southeast Europe. The IGB will connect the North-South gas corridor to the South gas corridor and will allow gas to be imported from the LNG terminal of Alexadrupolis, Greece and the planned Eastern Mediterranean gas pipeline. "In this regard, we consider the strategic energy partnership on the Israeli-Cyprus-Greece axis very promissing," Borissov added. The Prime Minister also stressed the importance of the agreement between Israel, Cyprus and Greece on the construction of the EastMed gas pipeline."This is an extremely large-scale energy and infrastructure project that is of great geopolitical importance for the development of the region and Europe as a whole," he noted. RY/DT /DT/
• (DF) Deputy PM Nikolova Confers with China's Ambassador in Sofia
January 23 (BTA) - "Bulgaria supports and highly appreciates the 17+1 Initiative for Cooperation between China and the Central and East European Countries. We regard it as a very important mechanism for catalyzing the investment, trade, economic and cultural contacts between our two countries," Bulgarian Deputy Prime Minister for Economic and Demographic Policy Mariyana Nikolova told the Ambassador of the People's Republic of China in Sofia Dong Xiaojun when they conferred here on Thursday, the Government Information Service said. The two discussed the outcomes of the 17th Session that the Intergovernmental Mixed Commission for Economic Cooperation between Bulgaria and China held recently in Beijing. "Bulgaria is interested in sharing in the Belt and Road Initiative through the implementation of infrastructure projects in this country," Nikolova stressed. She pointed out that the Bulgarian Government is encouraging an increase of Chinese direct investments in state-of-the-art enterprises manufacturing innovative products, fostering the growth of the green economy and batteries, electric vehicles and electric buses, the press release said. Ambassador Dong stressed China's readiness to work actively for the implementation of the understandings recorded in the Protocol of the 17th Session of the Intergovernmental Mixed Commission. He noted that relations with Bulgaria have always been a matter of serious interest and hopes that they will be deepened, the press release pointed out. NV/LG //
• (NW) Cabinet Asks Sofia Municipal Council to Consider Paid-For Transmission of Water to Help Out Pernik
January 23 (BTA) - In a bid to help water supply to the southwestern town of Pernik, the Government Thursday decided that the ministers of economy, of regional development and public works, and of environment and water are to ask the Sofia Municipal Council to consider paid-for transmission of water through the infrastructure of Sofia's water utility, the government information service said. Economy Minister Emil Karanikolov said 300 litres of water per second were needed to save the town's principal water source which is nearing its dead storage capacity. The proposal to supply water to Pernik from the Belmeken Dam in Mt Rila using the infrastructure of Sofiyska Voda emerged at Prime Minister Boyko Borissov's extraordinary meeting with the three ministers and the mayors of Sofia and Pernik on January 18. Water supply to nearly 82,000 residents of Pernik Region has been rationed since November 18, 2019, after the Studena Dam was found to have been critically drained by a prolonged drought, 75 per cent losses from the town's water network, and the use of potable water by the local district heating company and a steelworks. Regional Development Minister Petya Avramova said Prime Minister Boyko Borissov was assured by the management of the Construction Chamber on Thursday that they would mobilize all resources for the construction of 13.5 km of pipeline linking the reservoir in the village of Malo Bouchino and Pernik, and a pump station in the village. Karanikolov said a Spanish company would supply the pipes. RY/DD
• (DF) President Radev: Bulgaria Did Not Allow Even a Single Bulgarian Jew to be Sent to the Death Camps
January 23 (BTA) - Bulgarian President Rumen Radev Thursday attended a memorial ceremony at the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Israel, marking the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland during World War II and International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Over 40 heads of state and government took part of the event in Jerusalem. "The Fifth International Holocaust Remembrance Forum brings together leaders from around the world to remind us of one of the darkest and most shameful periods in human history and to warn us never to allow this to happen again," said Radev before the ceremony. "Bulgaria is attending with its head held high, as it did not allow even a single Bulgarian Jew to be sent to the death camps, and we can only be proud of this feat of the Bulgarian people," the President pointed out. He called for joint efforts to combat anti-Semitism, xenophobia and hate. In Tel Aviv, Radev will meet with representatives of the Bulgarian community and will attend the premiere screening of the Israeli-Bulgarian documentary "Next Generation" by Bulgarian director Dimitar Gochev. The Bulgarian President attended the commemoration ceremony at Yad Vashem with his wife Desislava Radeva. RY/DT /DT/
• (DF) PM Borissov Reacts to Recent Developments in Gambling Industry
January 23 (BTA) - At the start of Thursday's Cabinet meeting, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov commented on recent developments concerning the gambling industry. Borissov pointed out that many people will face problems if a watchdog report on private lottery operators over the last five years proves to be true. "If it doesn't, they have nothing to worry about. We have fulfilled our obligation to check and find out, and this is being done in many companies, so now is the time for this particular check," he added. The PM was referring to the inconclusive results of a check conducted by the Public Financial Inspection Agency (PFIA) of the State Commission on Gambling's operation between 2014 and 2019. Unveiling the results at a news conference on Wednesday, PFIA Director Georgi Nachev said that over the past five years only the State-owned Bulgarian Sports Totalizator (BST) paid the gambling fee at the rate of 15 per cent of the bets, while two private lottery operators paid a significantly lower fee: 20 per cent on the difference between bets and winnings. As a result, gambling revenues were undercollected by around 210 million leva. Nachev was non-committal as to whether the lower fees were paid legally and whether the private operators inflicted a detriment on the Exchequer, arguing that a conclusion on this issue will have to wait until his inspectors peruse all the relevant documents. He also pointed out that the discrepancy between the rates at which the public and private operators paid their fees is likely to increase substantially once the findings are finalized. In an interview for the Bulgarian Service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), published on Wednesday, Vassil Bozhkov, who chairs the Board of Nove AD Holding (the majority owner of the two lottery operators in question), insisted that his companies did not violate the law by paying the lower fees, but admitted that the private lottery would have gone bankrupt if it had paid at the rate of the BST. Bozhkov argued "the amount of tax they pay does not matter to the BST - they are in the red anyway every year ." Levski PFC Financing Borissov said that the PFIC report does not say anything about Levski PFC, noting that he does not see a connection between the non-payment of fees and the club's financing. He said that, as requested by the football club fans, he will meet with them on Friday to discuss the issue. The PM was reacting to a statement by Bozhkov, the principal sponsor of Levski PFC, who told Levski fans at a meeting on Monday that he would not have any money to give Levski if the Gambling Act is amended as proposed by Valeri Simeonov MP of the power-sharing United Patriots to ban the operation of lotteries by private companies and make this business a State monopoly. Bozhkov argued that this is an attempt at a State takeover of his business by "a group of incompetent politicians who show disregard for, or ignorance of, the Bulgarian Constitution". In his RFE/RL interview, Bozhkov specified that the proposed amendments contravene the Constitution because it exhaustively lists the areas which can be monopolized by the State and gambling is not among them. Borissov does not believe that probing a close to 3 billion leva business and making sure that it pays taxes and fees is tantamount to "nationalization". He recalled that the lottery operators' activity is subject to licensing requirements and argued that if someone is found to have failed to pay hundreds of millions in fees due, they will forfeit their licence but not their company. Denying any link between the PFIA report's conclusions and the proposed Gambling Act amendments, the PM said he had assigned Finance Minister Vladislav Goranov and Parliamentary Budget Committee Chair Menda Stoyanova to make sure that the majority in Parliament seconds a proposal that would guarantee that only the State will organize this activity and it will be not be subject to concession awards, outsourcing, contracting or privatization. In this way, Borissov dismissed allegations that the proposed legislative changes are intended to "bring in other players into this business". Later on Thursday, the National Assembly Budget and Finance Committee voted, 11-0 with six abstentions, to approve Simeonov's Gambling Act amendment bill. According to the bill, the Bulgarian Sports Totalizator State-Owned Enterprise, when licensed accordingly, will be the only operator which can organize lotteries with the exception of raffles, bingo or their varieties. The draft legislation prohibits unlicensed persons or establishments or chains of establishments from organizing games of chances, distributing tickets, coupons, cards or other tokens and paying games-of-chance winnings. Approached by journalists, Simeonov said that the bill does not need to be notified to the European Commission and is consistent with the Constitution because the entire gambling industry is not monopolized, private operators can still organize gambling in other substantial forms, and "they, too, will be addressed in due time". State Regulation to Be Reorganized In a related development, the Finance Ministry has published for public consultation a bill replacing the State Commission on Gambling (SCG) by a National Agency on Gambling under the Minister of Finance. By the same draft legislation, the gambling fee on lotteries, pool betting and sports betting would be cut by some 30-40 per cent, from 15 per cent of the bets to 25 per cent on the difference between the bets and the winnings. The proposal is prompted by a need to improve the efficiency, speed, transparency and consistency in applying the law and thus address defects and problems detected in the SCG's operation. Another reason is to streamline and avoid conflicting interpretations of the Gambling Act. RY/MT, LG //
• (DF) Bulgaria Is Lowest Performing EU Country on 2019 Corruption Perception Index
January 23 (BTA) - In 2019 Bulgaria was the lowest performer among EU countries on the Corruption Perception Index, according to the latest report. It was presented at a BTA-hosted news conference on Thursday by Transparency International Bulgaria. Since 2012 Bulgaria has been trailing EU countries in the survey. On a global scale Bulgaria climbed three places to 74th in the ranking with a score of 43 out of 100. The EU average score is 64. The Corruption Perceptions Index ranks 180 countries and territories by their perceived levels of public sector corruption, according to experts and business people. The index is measured on a scale of 0 to 100, with 0 being the highest perceived level of corruption, and the 100 the lowest. The index draws on data from 13 global surveys. Bulgaria's score is based on ten of those. The report on Bulgaria identified as problem areas the freedom of the media, the election process, party funding, public appointments and the rule of law. RI/PP /??/
• (NW) National Commission for Combating Human Trafficking Receives 77 Alerts in 2019
Sofia, January 22 (BTA) - The National Commission for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings received 77 alerts in 2019, the Commission's press centre said Wednesday. Sixty-three of these alerts were for human trafficking, of which 30 for sex trafficking, 15 for labour expl...
• (DF) Flu Incidence across Bulgaria on the Rise
January 22 (BTA) - The healthcare authorities have warned about a rise in flu cases across the country. The Sliven Regional Health Inspectorate reported Wednesday it is on the verge of declaring an epidemic, as the number of recently registered flu cases have increased in the region, explaining that children under 14 years of age are most susceptible to the disease. The Regional Health Inspectorate in the northwestern city of Montana have declared a flu epidemic on Wednesday. Such was declared in the municipalities of Doupnitsa, Sapareva Banya, Karlovo, Sopot and Kouklen. Pre-epidemic measures are being taken in the southern regions of Plovdiv and Smolyan, where scheduled and non-urgent medical consultations for children and women have been suspended. RI/MY /??/

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