Friday, June 14, 2013

Is Organized Crime Taking Over the Bulgarian State?

By Margarita Assenova

The Socialist-led government of Bulgaria caused public outrage with the election of controversial media mogul Delyan Peevski, a member of parliament (MP) from the ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF), as the new chairman of the State Agency for National Security (DANS). The name of the 32-year-old Peevski has allegedly been connected to corruption, relations with organized crime, and behind-the-scenes political maneuvering on behalf of murky business interests (Capital Daily, June 14).

On June 14, in a hurried procedure and without any discussion, the Bulgarian parliament approved Peevski’s nomination with 114 votes from the Socialist party and the Turkish party. Only three members of the Socialist party strongly objected to the nomination. The opposition Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB) voted against, but the ultranationalist Ataka party did not participate in the vote, thus allowing Peevski’s appointment to go through. Before the parliamentary vote, Socialist Chairman Sergey Stanishev and Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski allegedly warned the Socialist MPs that if they did not vote for Peevski, the government would fall (, June 14).

The decision came only a day after amendments to the law on DANS came into effect, giving the agency policing and investigative powers such as the ability to detain suspects for 24 hours and conduct searches. With the changes, the State Directorate for Fighting Organized Crime was effectively folded into DANS, while qualification requirements for the DANS chairmanship were significantly scaled down. Nobody could have predicted, however, that the new chairman would be the notorious Peevski.

The Bulgarian media wrote that various diplomatic sources have found the appointment scandalous and believe that it would have devastating consequences for international security cooperation. There have been several corruption investigations against Peevski, but they have not gone far because of the umbrella of protection his media mogul mother Irena Krasteva, owner of New Bulgaria Media Group, has provided. Peevski has been suspected in misappropriating funds from the State Reserve and embezzlement of state enterprise funds. According to a journalistic investigation by Trud Daily, Peevski was the central figure investigated in police operations “Labyrinth” and “Comrades” (Trud Daily, Capital Daily, June 14).

Peevski and his mother Irena Krasteva own a media empire that has bullied independent media outlets with the purpose of acquiring them—and, on many occasions, it has succeeded. Behind the duo is banker Tsvetan Vasilev, chairman of the Corporate Commercial Bank, whose appetite for power is seemingly growing by the day. Bulgarian journalists and European Union bodies have criticized the New Bulgarian Media Group of Krasteva and Peevski for its monopolistic position, which endangers free media. This media monopoly has also served as an instrument of various interest groups to attack and discredit legitimate businesses with the purpose of acquiring them.

The Peevsi-Krasteva-Vasilev trio owns a billion dollars in business holdings in major companies such as the Bulgarian Tobacco Company, Bulgarian Telecommunications Company, Russe Shipyard, as well as in agriculture, tourism, automobiles and trade.

According to observers in Bulgaria, Peevski and his associates possess criminal files containing information on various politicians or their close associates and blackmail them to vote for their protégés as ministers, deputy ministers and governors. For example, the Turkish party nominated the new governor of Plovdiv, although it has an insignificant constituency in that region. 

Analysts such as Professor Ognyan Minchev of Sofia University have stated that the appointment of Peevski is a coup d’etat and will destroy the already weak state. President Rossen Plevneliev asked parliament to revisit its decision and withdrew his trust from the government. In the meantime, the public is already staging protests in front of the parliament and in many cities around the country. Bulgaria seems to be entering another cycle of political crisis.  

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