ASSEN ASSENOV RUMOURED TO BE SENT TO BRUSSELS
Assen Assenov, Head of the Customs Agency, is rumoured to be preparing for a diplomatical post, found the BANKER weekly. Assenov, who graduated International Relations from the Moscow University, is said to be the Bulgarian candidature for chairman of the regional Centre for Fighting Against Organized Crime in the frames of the Southeast Europe Cooperative Initiative (SECI) in Brussels. The centre is established with funds from the American plan for reconstruction of the Balkans, also known as the Schifter's Plan. The chairman is to be elected by ballot of representatives of the countries members of the American equivalent of the Stability Pact for South-Eastern Europe. Both initiatives will be co-ordinated by Erhard Busek, former vice-chancellor of Austria. Through the centre will also pass information about the fight against drugtraffic on the Balkans. The newly-elected chairman of the centre will receive a monthly salary of about EUR5,000. Just for a comparison, presently the salary of the Customs Agency's Director should be about BGN750. Customs officers comment that this might be an elegant farewell move to get rid of Assen Assenov who can be turned into a scapegoat of the governors' playing with big business. Customs officers from Kulata and Kapitan Andreevo's check-points claim receiving verbal orders to freely let in the import of shady groups and to concentrate the physical control on retailers' goods.Such actions are hardly part of Assenov's strategy. And it is always easy to find official motive to remove a high-ranking state servant. Moreover, the reforms, directed by foreign consultants, are not quite meeting the preliminary expectations. Yet rumours for a step-down were officially denied by the present Head of the Customs who is this week attending a meeting of the countries members of CEFTA in Slovenia. Assenov declined the rumours about his future diplomatic career during the National Meeting of the managers of all customs check-points which took place in mid-October. Finance Minister Milen Velchev also absolutely denied any removal of Assenov from the position Director of the Customs.Nevertheless, there is some truth in the gossip as well. High-ranking sources from the government have revealed unofficial information that Bulgaria is indeed attempting to win the chairman position of the regional Centre. The first applicant for the post was Marina Popova - presently Head of the International Department of the Customs Agency. According to her colleagues, she is a good professional and should not have problems with the management of the centre. A curious detail is the fact that Mrs. Popova is the wife of the leftwing MP and former minister Atanas Paparizov. Governmental circles comment, however, that Assen Assenov who is well known in Brussels due to the negotiations with the European PHARE Programme Committee is the most suitable candidate.This is not the last speculation with the possible castling on top of the management. In case that Assen Assenov gives in to the temptation of diplomacy, he will be succeeded in the customs management by Hristo Kulishev. Currently, Kulishev is the head of the Sofia direction, but he used to run the whole customs in the early 1990s during the ruling of Lyuben Berov and Zhan Videnov. Kulishev went back to the customs last June. The long-time custom-house officer said to the BANKER weekly reporter that he would not return to the post of chief customs director, although he took part in the competition organised by the Ministry of Finance several months ago.According to sources familiar with the management of the customs, the nomination of Assenov is part of the game between the customs senior managers and its lower managers. Participants in the latest meeting held in the customs learning centre at the Sofia airport reveal that it did not pass in a very friendly atmosphere. Apart from denying the rumours about his future diplomatic career, the customs director blamed the regional departments for the inefficient measures taken to raise the collection of customs revenues. The acute reaction on the part of the Customs Agency managers seems strange, considering that revenues to the Treasury for September exceeded by BGN42MN those reported for the same month a year earlier. There is a real danger that the customs office fails to meet the requirement imposed by the budget law: to collect BGN2.7BN during the twelve months of 2002. The three summer months (June, July and August) in which revenues went down because of the lower US dollar rate appeared a problem for meeting the budget requirement. According to the information spread by the customs press centre not long ago, total revenues paid by the customs in January-September amount to some BGN1.9BN.A more clear view on the condition of the system is expected to be given by the new three-month report of Crown Agents which is to be presented in the Ministry of Finance on October 28. As far as the castlings are concerned, practice shows that surprises are always possible despite the refutations.