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Media Review: April 3

DEMOLITION OF ILLEGAL BUILDINGS IN THE ISKAR STATE HUNTING RESERVE 
A report by Bulgarian National Radio (BNR) highlights that Sofia Municipality crews have started demolition of three illegal buildings on the territory of the Iskar State Hunting Reserve following a decision of the Supreme Administrative Court. The buildings were constructed by a company related to businessman Rumen Gaytanski. The buildings’ removal is being carried out with the municipality’s financial resources of the municipality, which will seek for reimbursement from the company that raised the illegal buildings. 
Sofia Municipality’s chief architect Zdravko Zdravkov was adamant that the local authorities will act uncompromisingly against all violators.
Vladislav Panev, an MP and co-leader of the Green Movement which is one of the partners in the Democratic Bulgaria coalition, told BNR that justice has prevailed despite the long court cases dragged on for years. According to him, the state has financed the company that raised the illegal buildings and recalled that under the mandate of its former Chair Stoyan Mavrodiev, the Bulgarian Development Bank granted one of its largest loans, some BGN 150 million, to this very company. In Panev’s words, during the whole time, the State Forestry Enterprise and the Iskar State Hunting Reserve acted like they are corporate lawyers for Gaytanski’s company. The state continues to stand against Sofia Municipality in every possible way, Panev believes.
Commenting on the topic in bTV’s morning talk show, Alexander Dounchev, an environmentalist and former head of the Executive Forest Agency, said that Bulgarian businessmen act like feudal lords who control everything. “At the moment, these feudals rule everything, it’s not just the Wolf [Rumen Gaytanski’s nickname]. Tsolo Vutov is in Vitinya, Todor Batkov is in Kormisosh, Valentin Zlatev is in Palamara [Vitinya, Kormisosh and Palmara are all State Hunting Reserves across Bulgaria]. They use them not only as private estates. We checked with the Forest agency to see who goes to visit these hunting reserves – judges and rich people with whom they [the businessmen] do either business or [exert] political influence”, Dounchev said. “All these people own some of the most beautiful hunting reserves. Some of them directly privatized the [state] buildings [located in those reserves]. Now they are also preparing to privatize the [State] Forestry Enterprises that run the state forests,” Dounchev warned.
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In a bTV interview, former deputy agriculture minister and deputy prime minister for European funds Meglena Plugchieva recommended that outgoing Agriculture Minister Kiril Vatev be replaced because, in her words, the sector is on the verge of liquidation. “Ironically, in Forest Week [worldwide campaign raising awareness about the importance of sustainable forestry], Finance Minister [Assen Vassilev] is proposing that state forest enterprises be turned into sole shareholder companies, which means a threat of bankruptcy and liquidation. This is an assault on one of our country’s most precious resources. Either concessionaires or privatisation, both will be fatal for our forests,” Plugchieva added.
FINANCE
Sega.bg frontpages an analysis saying that a large surplus is reported in the February 2024 state budget thanks to an accounting trick. According to the publication, based on the final data of the Finance Ministry, some BGN 1.2 billion allocated in advance in 2023 for municipal projects, were used under the budget no earlier than this February. Thus, the state treasury registered a significant surplus.
JUSTICE
Mediapool.bg reports that the Sofia City Prosecution Service has closed a case against gambling mogul Vassil Bojkov, in which he was accused of leading a crime ring engaged in murders, rapes, extortion and incitement to murder. Along with Bojkov, six other people were charged. Charges against five of them were dropped for lack of evidence (charges of leading and participating in a crime ring). An indictment is pending against Bojkov for attempted rape and solicitation to premeditated murder. Bojkov is also charged with evasion of millions of leva in gambling licensing fees. He is currently under house arrest, Mediapool recalls.
The topic is covered in most online news outlets and print media.
Once considered to be the wealthiest Bulgarian with assets worth between BGN 1.5 and 3 billion, Bojkov lost his gambling empire in early 2020 when Parliament outlawed private lotteries, and he was charged with evasion of more than BGN 700 million in gambling licensing fees, money laundering, extortion, bribery, murder, abetting in murder, attempted rape, leading an organized crime group since 2014, trading in influence, and unlawful possession of cultural assets. The businessman left the country before the full-scale crackdown against him and is now in the United Arab Emirates. Bulgaria has unsuccessfully tried to have him extradited.
In a series of disclosures which he started posting on Facebook in May 2021, Bojkov alleged that he had been forced by then Prime Minister Boyko Borissov and Finance Minister Vladislav Goranov to pay them a 20% cut of his business earnings, that he had tried to sell half of his lottery business to a Czech company for BGN 1 billion but the Prime Minister and the Finance Minister caught wind of it and tried to force him to transfer a majority interest in it to a person named by them, and that they had attacked his business when he declined to do their bidding. Borissov and Goranov have dismissed Bojkov’s allegations as downright lies and the prosecution service has found no evidence of any wrongdoing. When a new government came to power – for a short stint – later in 2021, Borissov and Goranov were briefly arrested over Bojkov’s allegations but were promptly released and a court subsequently ruled that their detention had been unlawful.
HEALTHCARE
In a Nova TV interview, Bulgarian Medical Association Deputy Board Chair Nikolay Branzalov said that doctors who do not use smartphones or have electronic signatures face difficulties when practicing their profession. “I cannot think of another profession in Bulgaria whose employees are obliged to have smartphones or electronic signatures,” he said.
As of October 16, 2023, diabetes medications and antibiotics are available only by electronic prescription. The amendments to the Regulation of Medication Prescribing and Dispensing aim to prevent drug shortages, to tackle the problem of antimicrobial resistance, and to achieve rational use of medicines. Another reason for the amendments is the Health Ministry’s policy of introducing eHealth, the strategic aim of which is to improve public health, ensure access to medicines, increase efficiency and reduce the cost of health services. The change is also aimed at preventing unregulated practices that would lead to shortages of medicines, which would endanger the lives and health of patients in need.
Branzalov warned that these amendments do not ease the work of doctors.
MIGRATION PRESSURE
The 24 Chasa daily has headlined its frontpage top story “A whole family comes legally to recognize a single dead refugee, but stays illegally”. The newspaper says that it is now a trend for many third-country citizens to come to Bulgaria legally on the pretext to recognize a dead relative here, but to take advantage of the situation and stay illegally in the country for the long term.
SOFIA AIRPORT EMPLOYEES DEMAND WAGE INCREASE
In a BNR interview, Stefka Baycheva, Deputy Chairperson of the Federation of Transport Workers with the Podkrepa Confederation of Labour, said that staff at Sofia Airport are ready to protest over low wages. The workers are demanding a 15% wage increase, while Sofia Airport management is offering only a 5% increase plus a bonus of BGN 100. The management refuses a bigger increase arguing that inflation is 2.5%, Baycheva explained. “This does not suit us. In 2023, the average gross salary at Sofia Airport was BGN 2,348, including vouchers. Since the beginning of [Sofia Airport’s latest] concession, the number of employees has decreased by some 50%. At the same time, Sofia Airport’s revenue last year was about EUR 110 million,” she said, adding that employees are quitting because of the low pay.
SPORT
Dnevnik.bg publishes a detailed article on the new leadership of the Bulgarian Football Union (BFU). On March 15, Georgi “Gonzo” Ivanov was elected BFU president, succeeding Borislav Mihaylov, who stepped down on November 27, 2023. Dnevnik.bg’s publication provides information on the new members of BFU’s Executive Committee, their relations to politicians and oligarch Kiril Domuschiev, and argues that Mihaylov still casts a shadow over the BFU.
LAMB MEAT PRICE BEFORE EASTER AND ST GEORGE’S DAY
The Trud daily frontpages an article on the rising price of lamb meat before the upcoming Orthodox Easter (May 5) and the Feast Day of St George (May 6), and the challenges Bulgarians are facing in order to afford a full festive table during these holidays. Lamb meat is considered a traditional food on Easter and St George’s Day in Bulgaria.