THE UNFENCED BULGARIAN YARD CANNOT BE TURNED INTO AN ENGLISH LAWN
Dark clouds gathered over the head of Finance Minister Milen Velchev after the publication of the shorthand from the closed-door governmental meeting, held October 25, 2001. Most of his colleagues and accomplices there passed unnoticed, but the former employee of the London branch of the US investment bank Merrill Lynch did not go away with it. He became the target of numerous accusations. On Wednesday (March 27) the leftist Coalition for Bulgaria demanded the resignation of Finance Minister Milen Velchev after the National Assembly Chairman Ognyan Gerdzhikov did not move for voting the proposal of Coalition for Bulgaria to invite the Prime Minister in Parliament to discuss the controversial contract with the British company Crown Agents. The rightist parliamentary opposition - UDF-coalition - walked out of the plenary hall the previous week after Mr. Gerdzhikov refused to move their proposal.Tensions both in Parliament and outside it rose on Wednesday when a daily published information that Mr. Velchev had concealed from the Cabinet a report from the IMF on the issue. IMF's experts are said to have expressed their firm stance that foreigners in Bulgarian customs could only be admitted through an open tender (which was not invited at all). Thus, Mr. Velchev became the target of various political and business circles.A day later, on March 28 the media made public the statement of the German deputy Michael Stubgen, that his country is worried by the contract with Crown Agents. At the same time, the European Commission (EC) keeps silence on the contract with the British consultants, although the Bulgarian Finance Ministry sent it to Brussels in the beginning of the year. But the fact that Bulgaria will receive only EUR4.2MN under the PHARE programme instead of the demanded EUR11MN is indicative. This may explain why Mr. Velchev hurried to send to the EC and the World Bank Crown Agent's report on the state of Bulgarian customs, presented by the British consultants at the Finance Ministry of March 22. This report is always kept in secret from the Bulgarian public.If the measures proposed by Crown Agents are the same with the services under the EU programme, we may change the contract with the British counsultants, Mr. Velchev commented during the week.The Supreme Court of Cassation also projects an attack against the Finance Minister. The only opinion from there so far is that of the prosecutor Pavlina Nikolova. According to her, the contrcat is in violation of 11 effective laws. Prosecutor General Nikola Filchev has not yet uttered a word on the matter, but will have to do that as he was approached on the case by former finance minister Mouravey Radev back in February. Mr. Radev commented then that by putting his signature by that of Crown Agent's Executive Director Mr. Velchev violatd the Constitution, the International Contracts Act, and the Public Procurement Act.Amidst the noise regarding the confidential contract with Crown Agents, the fact that the Constitutional Court agreed to consider the appeal from 48 MPs (most of them from the UDF-coalition) against the ratification act for restructuring Bulgaria's foreign debt by swapping some of the Brady bonds for new government securities, passed by the way.It would be naivety to think that making the Finance Minister a scapegoat for National Movement Simeon II's inability to motivate decision that are fateful to the country and fulfill them according to legal procedures is a mere coincidence. Milen Velchev, himself did not once conceal that according to him the invisible threat comes from strong-arm groups and parties, which were so far fed by illegal imports at Bulgarian borders. Therefore, its would be only natural for Mr. Velchev to continue by naming the smugglers at border check-points or present evidence about the suitcases of money which travelled from the customs to the party funds of the Bulgarian Socialist Party and the United Democratic Forces.He is also expected to give many and exact answers to a number of questions. The Finance Minister should explain if the confidentiality of the negotiations with Crown Agents is only meant to conceal from the strong-arm groups what's in store for them. Because it's not yet clear how the team of the former director fo teh Customs Agency Emil Dimitrov included people who were close to Multigroup and Nove Holding. It would be also interesting to know what Milen Velchev and the gambling boss and President of Nove Holding Vassil Bozhkov talked about during their two meetings on Wednesday. By giving an accurate reply to such a ticklish question the Finance Minister would clear up all suspicions that the attack against him and the Cabinet is initiated by strong-arm groups because of unfulfilled commitments towards them, undertaken in exchange of financing the NMSII's pre-election campaign.Mr. Velchev, however, does not seem embarassed by the recent events and demonstrates the self-confidence that is his typical feature. He also has his trump-cards and if he plays them right he could be a winner. Filing the case of his predecessor Mouravey Radev to the Prosecutor General, Mr. Vechev left the defensive position and took the offensive.