Bulgarian special anti-corruption prosecutors have lodged criminal charges against caretaker Health Minister Ilko Semerdzhiev for allegedly threatening to fire a top official unless he made an appointment Semerdzhiev wanted.
The director of the medicines executive agency at the Health Ministry had declined to make the appointment because the person that Semerdzhiev insisted should be given the post of deputy director owned health industry companies, which would create a conflict of interest, an April 3 statement by the Prosecutor’s Office said.
Semerdzhiev is a member of the interim administration headed by caretaker Prime Minister Ognyan Gerdzhikov, in office since January 27 and which will continue to run the country pending the formation of a coalition government following the March 26 parliamentary elections.
The Prosecutor’s Office said that on February 20, Semerdzhiev told the executive agency director that he wanted a person designated by him appointed as the agency’s deputy director.
The director established that the person Semerdzhiev wanted would be in a conflict-of-interest situation if appointed. A week later, the person, whose name was not given in the prosecutors’ statement, went to see the agency director and was told he could not be appointed.
According to the prosecutors, on March 24, Semerdzhiev – speaking in a loud voice – told the agency director: “I can fire you, and I can do other things to you”. He gave the director until March 27 to make the appointment.
Semerdzhiev told the official that “he was not interested in the moral constraints of the director regarding a conflict of interest of the individual and would not listen to him a second longer,” the statement alleged.
The caretaker Health Minister is on bail on condition that he regularly signs an official register, the statement said.
The investigation was continuing, prosecutors said.
A former health minister in the Ivan Kostov cabinet in 1999-2001, Semerdzhiev was one of the architects of Bulgaria’s current health care insurance model, serving as the first director of the National Health Insurance Fund. He founded Dom-Zdrave private healthcare insurer in 2003, serving as its executive director for 10 years.
Semerdzhiev issued a statement on the afternoon of April 3 saying that the charges against him were groundless, and he denied that he had exerted pressure regarding the appointment of officials.
He said that he had noted after becoming caretaker Health Minister that there were shortages of various medications, including insulin, anti-coagulants and several others. He implied that the blame lay with the medicines agency.
According to Semerdzhiev, the executive agency head had been asked to check the documents about the person nominated for the post of deputy director and if there was a conflict of interest, not to appoint the person. He said that she had not complied with this but instead had approached prosecutors.
He said that for more a month, the agency had organised “massive pressure on me” through various channels not to be fired though this was, he said, “a threat that did not exist”.
By law, the minister had the authority to appoint the medicines agency director, while the director appoints a deputy director after co-ordination with the minister, he said.
Semerdzhiev said that the summons from the Sofia City Prosecutor’s Office had come a day after the Health Ministry had announced on its website that following investigations jointly by the NHIF and the National Revenue Agency into trading practices, the shortage of medicines had decreased by about 70 per cent.