Political row over low-price sale of former royal stables in Sofia centre

Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borissov has ordered the government’s chief inspectorate to investigate the office of the Sofia Regional Governor over the recent sale of land on which buildings in central Sofia, known as the “Royal Stables” stand, for a strikingly low price.

The sale of the land, at the corner of Dondoukov and Vassil Levski boulevards in Sofia, for 658 000 leva (about 337 000 euro) raised eyebrows for the price, about 90 leva a sq m in an area where property could be expected to fetch about 1000 euro a sq m.

The investigation ordered by Borissov and announced on September 9, a day after first reports about the transaction, is intended to establish whether the State Property Act was complied with in the transaction.

It should also establish whether the consent required by law of the head of the institution regarding the sale was given.

The report by the General Inspectorate should contain proposals to the Prime Minister to follow up, the government media service said.

The statement said that before the media reports about the transaction, Borissov had not been informed about it.

A later announcement on September 9 said that Borissov had referred the matter to prosecutors.

Borissov’s centre-right GERB party, the majority partner in the government of the country and of Sofia, has backed a call by Borissov for the resignation of Sofia Regional Governor Vesselin Penev, who was nominated by the minority coalition partner the Reformist Bloc.

Tsvetan Tsvetanov, deputy leader of GERB, said that a deal could have been finalised at the time of the previous regional governor, GERB’s Daniel Kirov, when there was investor interest in a deal that would have seen the property bought for 20 million euro.

“Do your own sums about this deal, concluded for 650 000 leva. We ask the question, who proposed the regional governor? In the negotiations that were conducted, the man who proposed the current governor was (Reformist Bloc party the Democrats for a Strong Bulgaria leader) Radan Kanev,” Tsvetanov said.

He said that the controversy had two aspects, the procedure started by the Bulgarian Socialist Party at the time of then-minister Assen Gagauzov and the deal finalised by the current governor.

Tsvetanov said that GERB fully supported Borissov’s request that the Reformist Bloc withdraw the current governor.

On September 8, the Bulgarian Socialist Party told a news conference that the deal had been done two months ago, selling the property to a company called Evrotransbild, managed by the former governor of now-failed Corporate Commercial Bank, Yanko Ivanov.

The BSP said that it had asked prosecutors to intervene to nullify the sale.

Media reports alleged that rules on the tender process for the sale of state property had been skirted by dividing the “royal stables” property into three lots, sold individually and in rapid succession.

Regional Development Minister Lilyana Pavlova said that the deal involved the land, not the buildings themselves, which remained state property.

Rossen Malinov, a former regional governor of Sofia from the BSP, told local media that all institutions had been against the deal, including the Regional Ministry, which manages the property, and the Agriculture Ministry, tenant of the building.

Malinov said that the split of the property into three lots had meant avoiding the law that requires Cabinet approval for all transactions involving state property worth more than 500 000 leva.

Penev said on September 8 that the law had been complied with in the sale of the property.

Culture Minister Vezhdi Rashidov said on September 9 that he had requested documentation about the royal stables, which were a “group monument” of culture but about which there was no prohibition against sale.

BSP leader Kornelia Ninova said that while Borissov had asked for the resignation of the regional governor, her party wanted the resignation of Roumyana Buchvarova, deputy prime minister in charge of coalition policy.

Borissov was personally responsible for the appointment of Penev and Buchvarova was “complicit” in this process, Ninova said.

Buchvarova rejected this call, saying that she was not responsible for the actions of regional governors.

Noting that the day was September 9, on which the BSP celebrates the 1944 Soviet occupation of Bulgaria, she said, with irony, “let us thank comrade Ninova for reminding us what the BSP is – premeditated, incompetence and lies”.

Penev said that the law had not been violated and he saw no reason to resign. He was consulting his lawyers about suing Ninova for defamation.

In spite of Penev’s afternoon statement that he would not resign, in the evening, he did. His resignation was accepted immediately by Prime Minister Borissov.

The “royal stables” buildings date from the time of Prince Ferdinand Battenberg, monarch of Bulgaria from 1887 to 1918.

The buildings were used, over the years, to store and service various luxury cars and limousines owned by the royal family and other VIPs, including the Mercedes given to Bulgaria’s Boris III by Hitler.

After the buildings were nationalised in 1944, their contents were transferred, first to the film centre in Boyana, and then in the 1950s to the Sofia History Museum.

The buildings were a monument of culture until 1986, when they became immersed in a long-standing dispute over ownership of the property. It was from then on that the buildings became increasingly dilapidated.


(Photos: (c) Clive Leviev-Sawyer)



The Sofia Globe staff

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