Deputy Prime Minister Valeri Simeonov has rejected as “inappropriate” calls from three political parties for him to resign over the State Agency for Bulgarians Abroad case, in which four people including the agency’s head face numerous criminal charges for alleged illicit dealing in certificates of Bulgarian origin, needed to apply for citizenship.
The opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party, the Movement for Rights and Freedoms and Parliament’s smallest party, Volya, made the calls because the agency is ultimately part of Simeonov’s portfolio as a deputy head of government.
Simeonov said on November 1 that while he had a co-ordinatory function, he did not directly manage the agency.
“I may dare to say that I have strictly, precisely and efficiently fulfilled my obligations to co-ordinate the work of this agency so far,” he said.
His statement came a few days after allegations emerged that the agency had been involved in a scheme to supply certificates of Bulgarian ancestry to nationals of Macedonia, Ukraine and Moldova, needed by them to apply for Bulgarian citizenship. Allegedly, the fees for such certificates to be provided illegally ranged from 5000 to 8000 euro.
Simeonov told journalists that in summer 2017, he had received allegations of abuses of the agency.
He said that Katya Mateva, then still at the Ministry of Justice – which has a direct role in citizenship applications, which in turn are decided by the Presidency – had asked for a “discreet meeting” with him.
At that meeting, information and tip-offs that had been submitted to the State Agency for National Security had been provided. Simeonov said that he had not been able to assess the reliability of the information and had consulted his colleague Krassimir Karakachanov, also a deputy prime minister and like Simeonov, a co-leader of the United Patriots.
Simeonov said that he had informed Karakachanov of the matter and obtained his agreement to pass on the information to the “relevant special services”. This meeting had been on October 30 2017, Simeonov said.
Simeonov said that he had held a second meeting to ensure the matter was being followed up.
He said that he had done everything in his power and “I cannot accept in silence reproaches and calls for resignation that have no justification”.
On November 1, the Special Criminal Court ordered three of the accused held in custody pending the outcome of the trial.
The accused include Petar Haralampiev, head of the agency, Krassimir Tomov, its chief secretary, and Marko Stoyov, a Serbian national. A fourth accused, a Bulgarian national, was not the subject of a request to be remanded in custody, because of ill health.
Prosecutors allege that Haralampiev received several bribes for the provision of Bulgarian origin certificates. In one case, he received 5000 euro and in another, 350 euro. Prosecutors asked for him to be remanded in custody to prevent him influencing witnesses.
Initially, 20 people were held in raids by special prosecutors and anti-corruption officials. Later, Deputy Prosecutor-General Ivan Geshev said that only four were being charged because prosecutors wanted to focus on the “big players” in the scheme.
Simeonov is the second politician to say publicly that he had been made aware of allegations regarding the agency. On October 31, President Roumen Radev said that allegations had been drawn to his attention, which he had referred to the authorities.
Geshev said, however, that the investigation began after a tip-off from Interior Ministry officials in Kyustendil.