SOFIA -- The Bulgarian Prosecutor-General’s Office says it is launching an investigation into a real estate deal by the deputy chairman of the ruling GERB party.
A recent series of 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.
Arteks also resold the two Sofia apartments it received from Tsvetanov in the swap just hours after the deal was completed.
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.
Tsvetanov denied any wrongdoing, saying: “All I have done is completely legal."
"The completion of three transactions using the same notary on the same day gives rise to well-founded suspicions that these deals were prenegotiated transactions -- not market transactions based on supply and demand on the property market," Nikolay Staikov, an expert from the Sofia-based nongovernmental group Anticorruption Fund, told RFE/RL.
Follow-up reporting by RFE/RL and the bivol.bg news website has revealed that at least three other members of the GERB party 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.
They include Justice Minister Tsetska Tsacheva, GERB parliamentary deputy Vezhdi Rashidov, and Deputy Sports Minister Vanya Koleva.
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.
That building, known as Golden Century, will be one of Bulgaria’s tallest structures when it is completed.
Rumiana Arnaudova, a spokeswoman for Chief Prosecutor Sotir Tsatsarov, says the Prosecutor-General’s Office will examine details in the case to determine whether any crimes were committed – including tax avoidance and violations of anti-corruption laws.
Tsvetanov, who was the interior minister from 2009-13, is widely considered the second-most-powerful politician after Prime Minister Boyko Borislav.
Tsvetanov became the focus of a real estate scandal in 2011 when an audit by tax officials revealed that he owned six apartments in Sofia -- something very difficult to achieve on the salary of a public administrator.
However, tax authorities later dismissed any wrongdoing on his part.