Bulgarian National Bank (BNB) said on June 18 that its deputy governor for bank supervision, Tsvetan Gounev, has taken leave from the central bank as a result of pre-trial investigation against him.
In a statement posted on its website, BNB said that Gounev put in his leave request in order to “not allow any doubts about obstacles to the investigation”. The central bank said that “from the moment that the BNB was notified of Mr Gounev’s repealed permit for classified information, his access to such documents has been suspended.”
Repealing the permit for access to classified information is often the first indication that a senior official is under investigation.
The prosecutor’s office initially made no comment, but later in the day, Prosecutor-General Sotir Tsatsarov said that the investigation had been under way for two weeks and was a result of allegations made by the anti-government Protest Network.
(The prosecutor’s office statement did not specify which allegations this referred, but it is presumed to be in connection to the dossier based on media reports containing various allegations, submitted to prosecutors in February, which called for an investigation into media mogul Delyan Peevski, Corporate Commercial Bank majority shareholder Tsvetan Vassilev and Nikolai Barekov, the former talk show host-turned-politician that fronts the Bulgaria Without Censorship party.)
Earlier in the day, however, Bulgarian media reported receiving an anonymous letter, whose author claims to be an employee of BNB, alleging that Gounev was under investigation by prosecutors on charges of mismanagement in office.
The letter claims that Gounev failed to exercise proper oversight of a “bank that has become the centre of attention in recent days”, but did not name the bank. The author claims that both Gounev and BNB governor Ivan Iskrov “put pressure” on the bank supervision department not to apply proper oversight on the affairs of this bank and “have been financially dependent on this bank for years.”
Bulgarian media interpreted the letter to be referring to the Corporate Commercial Bank (CCB) – last week, prosecutors searched and seized documents “at offices of companies in Sofia” in buildings that are home to CCB as well as TV7 and News7 channels. In separate statements, the bank and the media outlet denied being the subject of investigations.
Bulgarian National Radio reported at the time, quoting unnamed sources familiar with the investigation, that the target of the investigation is CCB majority shareholder Vassilev, who is alleged to have ordered the murder of Delyan Peevski, the controversial figure to whom Vassilev long has been seen as close in business relations, although recent media reports suggested that the two had fallen out.
Since then, CCB senior officials (but not Vassilev, who remains out of the country) have spoken in public to confirm that the business relationship with companies allegedly controlled by Peevski have soured because the companies were not servicing their loans taken from CCB.
In a statement on June 17, BNB said that it “carefully and closely monitors the development of the banking sector, including the said bank” and that CCB had high liquidity and capital adequacy ratios and was “functioning normally”.
Media reports over the past year have repeatedly alleged that CCB issues loans to companies connected to the bank – beyond the ratio allowed by the regulatory authority, namely BNB, which was effectively ignoring such evidence. The bank’s officials have each time denied the accusations.
But the anonymous letter sent to the media on June 18 made the same claim, that “the Bank Supervision department of the BNB is not applying legal requirements equally to all commercial banks” and alleged that this was being done under pressure from Iskrov and Gounev.
The author of the letter also claimed that Gounev has been under investigation since the start of the week and it was Iskrov who ordered BNB employees not to make the information public.
(Bulgarian National Bank. Photo: Clive Leviev-Sawyer)