Bulgarian ApartmentGate Scandal Extends to Anti-Corruption Commissioner

Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov pictured in 2018 at the Kremlin meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. (The Kremlin)

Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov pictured in 2018 at the Kremlin meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. (The Kremlin)

In the weeks leading up to the European Parliament elections of May 26, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov’s ruling GERB party has lost popular support amidst an evolving real estate scandal where high-ranking members of the party made “purchases of luxury apartments at prices significantly below the market value.”

The uncovering of this scandal has resulted in four high profile resignations, including GERB parliamentary group head Tsvetan Tsvetanov and Justice Minister Tsetska Tsacheva, also a member of the GERB leadership. Even the head of the Commission of the Withdrawal of Illegal Assets, Plamen Georgiev, who holds responsibility for investigating aspects of ApartmentGate, was involved in the scandal. The government’s chief prosecutor, Sotir Tsatsarov, has, since April 4, ordered further investigation, including of the wife of the head of the Supreme Court of Cassation Lozan Panov and of the son of Borislav Sarafov, the National Investigation Service director.

Bivol, one of the media organizations which broke the scandal, first took note of the discrepancies when comparing data declared before the Property Register against personal tax declarations by those implicated. Nikolay Staykov, co-founder of the Anti-Corruption Fund, a Sofia-based NGO, has declared the situation “ethically and legally questionable—if the chairman of the Anti-Corruption Commission is vulnerable to the same problem, how can he guarantee an independent investigation?” No government institutions have expressed interest in investigating Georgiev.

According to an Alpha Research poll, nearly two-thirds of Bulgarians believe that “cheap purchases of luxury property” have amounted to direct abuses of power. The same poll showed that GERB’s image as an anti-corruption party, which brought it to power originally in 2009, has “significantly eroded.” Only 12.8 percent of respondents still hold GERB as a party “fighting decisively against corruption,” with 11.3 percent believing that for the opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP). Bulgaria is perceived as the most corrupt nation within the European Union, according to Transparency International’s index.

The BSP, who have boycotted the parliament since the middle of February, have heightened their calls for an early election, attacking Borrissov’s government for backsliding on corruption.