Bulgarian Prosecutor-General Sotir Tsatsarov says that the investigation into the fire that gutted an ensemble of historic tobacco warehouses in Plovdiv will go beyond the alleged perpetrator to check whether there were “investment interests” behind the blaze.
Tsatsarov, who was born and educated in Plovdiv, came to Bulgaria’s second city and future European Capital of Culture on August 23 to inspect the site of the “Tobacco Town” warehouses fire and give a briefing on the investigation.
His visit came a day after the arrest was announced of a homeless man, said to have several criminal convictions, and an official statement claiming that the inferno had started on August 20 after the accused man dropped a cigarette.
There has been considerable public outrage about the fire, and the state in which the buildings, which date back to the early 20th century when Plovdiv had an important place in the Balkan tobacco trade, had been allowed to remain. The buildings have multiple ownerships, mostly through companies, as outlined in local media reports by Plovdiv Bulgarian-language website podtepeto.com.
The public outrage has been directed towards state and municipal institutions, with participants in an August 21 protest after the fire saying that police and prosecutors were among those failing to do their jobs.
Tsatsarov said that the investigation into the Plovdiv “Tobacco Town” fire would follow two paths.
One was the criminal investigation that would need to clarify the direct origin of the fire and how it spread over four tobacco warehouses. The second was related to investment interest regarding the buildings.
Speaking at a news conference attended by Interior Ministry chief secretary Georgi Kostov and top local police and prosecution officers, Tsatsarov said that “the basic version which we know so far is that hobo Lyubomir Danchev caused the burning of the warehouses, but this does not exclude other assumptions”.
Tsatsarov reiterated that the investigation should seek not only the direct perpetrator but also the investment interest behind the fire.
The fire has arisen across a barrier of administrative difficulties related to an investment interest in tobacco warehouses, he said.
The investigation will be carried out by a team of investigators, assisted by officials from the State Agency for National Security.
He said that the fire in the tobacco warehouses strikingly resembled the incident in March in which there was an attempted demolition of another tobacco warehouse – meant to be protected under the Cultural Heritage Act – at Plovdiv’s 8 Odrin Street.
Tsatsarov said that he had ordered seized all the documents from the municipality and the district town hall that had been issued to the owners of the buildings. All officials involved in the issuance of the documents would be questioned.
Plovdiv district prosecutor Roumen Popov said that the accused, Danchev, had caused fires at two other uninhabited homes, in 2000 and 2008. Popov said that in the tobacco storage room in which Danchev had been sheltering, a prepared bag of clothes had been found, which Popov said was proof that he had been planning to move somewhere else.
Earlier, the Galaxy Investment Group, owners of one of the burnt-out warehouses, issued a media statement saying that it supported a full investigation into the case.
It said that it was very concerned about what was happening in “Tobacco Town”.
“Our company has always managed our property responsibly and with the idea of preserving its authentic architecture. Our warehouse was maintained and in good condition. It is important to clarify that the building does not have and did not have the status of a cultural monument, unlike the other three buildings where the fire occurred.”
The company said that it supported a full investigation into the case, and called on law enforcement to identify those responsible for the fire. It said that it was ready to co-operate fully in the revival of Tobacco Town.
(Screenshot of drone footage of the fire: Visio Entertainment, via YouTube)