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Bulgarian Justice Minister Resigns Amid Real Estate Scandal

Bulgarian Justice Minister Tsetska Tsacheva (file photo)
Bulgarian Justice Minister Tsetska Tsacheva (file photo)

SOFIA -- Bulgarian Justice Minister Tsetska Tsacheva has resigned following RFE/RL investigative reports that revealed she and three other ruling GERB party politicians purchased luxury apartments at below market prices from the same firm, the government's press office said.

The RFE/RL reports noted that lawmakers from the center-right GERB party pushed through legislation that benefited the development firm before the property deals were completed.

Tsacheva has denied any wrongdoing. Prime Minister Boyko Borisov accepted Tsacheva's resignation after meeting with her early on March 23, the press office said.

Tsacheva told journalists she had asked Bulgaria's Anti-Corruption Commission to investigate the terms on which she acquired a spacious apartment in an upmarket Sofia neighborhood in 2018.

Her resignation comes a day after the Anti-Corruption Commission launched a probe into the purchase of properties by other high-ranking members of GERB from the same developer.

The issue came to light after the Bulgarian Service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and a nongovernmental group called the Anti-Corruption Fund began publishing investigative reports about the property deals.

The RFE/RL reports documented how GERB Deputy Chairman Tsvetan Tsvetanov obtained a new luxury apartment in Sofia in June 2018 from the Bulgarian construction firm Arteks in a cash-and-property-swap deal.

Tsvetanov received the new apartment from Arteks at a price that was four times lower than its actual market value, the RFE/RL reports reveal.

Their reports were picked up by other Bulgarian media outlets.

Follow-up reporting by RFE/RL and the news website revealed that at least three other members of the GERB party, including Tsacheva, also have purchased luxury apartments in the same area from Arteks at prices that were from 30 percent to more than 50 percent of the market value.

Those properties were purchased by Simeon Velkov, a former employee at GERB’s election headquarters who had been a subordinate and close associate of Tsvetanov.

In January 2017, GERB lawmakers pushed through amendments to Bulgaria’s construction regulations in a way that is allowing Arteks to build a lucrative 34-story office-and-luxury-apartment building in Sofia, the RFE/RL reports note.

That building, known as Golden Century, will be one of Bulgaria’s tallest structures when it is completed.

Tsvetanov denied any wrongdoing, but Deputy Sports Minister Vanya Koleva, who has also been named in the probe, announced her resignation.

Tsvetanov, who was Bulgaria's interior minister from 2009 to 2013, is widely considered to be the second most-powerful politician in Bulgaria after Borisov.

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