CROWN AGENTS DOES NOT WORK FOR THE BRITISH INTELLIGENCE SERVICES
Jim Williams, Senior Customs Consultant at the Customs Agency, to the BANKER weeklyMr. Williams, how do recent publications in the press of transcripts from a secret governmental meeting influence the operation of Crown Agents' team in Bulgaria? What is the reacton of the company's heaf-office in London? - We do not believe that publicatiosn in the press concerning the choice of Crown Agents as consultants at Bulgarian customs would cause serious problems in our work. Our London head-office shares a similar opinion. We have already said that we do not intend to pay attention to newspaaper publications, claimed to be secret documents from the archives of the Bulgarian Government.Don't you have any misgivings that the choice of Crown Agencts as consultants is probably in violation of the Bulgarian Public Procurement Act?- I don't think there are any reasons to worry. We have no doubts regarding the procedure by which we we chosen as consultants. We are also convinced that the contract we signed with the Finance Ministry does not violate Bulgarian laws in any way.Has Crown Agents ever signed a contract anywhere in the world with a particular ministry as is the case in Bulgaria instead of with the respective Government?- Yes, of course. I know that the signing of the contract on November 29, 2001 with the Finance Ministry and not with the Bulgarian Government as a party of the contract is being discussed at present. I also know there are allegations that the contract's ratification by Parliament was avoided in that way. We've signed numerous international contract all over the world: some of them with ministries, and others - with the respective governments. In the case with Bulgaria the ratification of the contract by Parliament is an entirely internal matter. As a private company, however, and from a commercial point of view, we insist that the contract should remain confidential.The contract with Crown Agents is used as a trump-card against the incumbent Bulgarian Government. Have you considered any steps in case the Cabinet of the National Movement Sumeon II is ousted?- I wouldn't like to comment on that. From what I've read in the press I gather that few people are ill disposed towards Crown Agents as a company. According to me, teh attacks are against the procedure and teh Government. But we cannot help being worried by the Parliamentary opposition's proposals for cancelling the contract. It would be a great pity if the contract should be cancelled before its term expires. But this happens, would may be sure that the parting won't be by Crown Agents' wish.What is the stipulated amount of the default, payable to Crown Agents if the contract is unilaterally cancelled on Bulgaria's side? - This is settled in a clause of the contract, which is confidential, as you know. But I can tell you that the relations between teh two sides cannot be cancelles within a year after its entrance into effect. Moreover, a 3-month advance notice is required. Therefore, we'll be operating in Bulgaria for at least fifteen months. As far as our wish is concerned, we'd like to stay here for the entire term of the project, i.e. for three years.Would you please compare the amount of remuneration to your experts in Bulgaria with that in other countries where Crown Agents has worked?- My salary in Bulgaria doesn't differ much from what I've received in other countries as an official of Crown Agents. The same holds true about the entire team. The remuneration is calculated according to what is expected to be done by the experts. Principally, there are stanadard prices for the services of all international consulting companies.In some of your interviews for the Bulgarian media you claim that criminal structures are behind the attacks towards the contract. Do you know the names of any such structures and how do you intend to fight against them?- Even if we knew, it would be foolish to point out names. This would only put them on the alert. We do not intend to directly fight smugglers. We'll advise the Customs Agency how to do that. I can assure you that we'll furnish them with the most contemporary methodologies for customs investigation and intelligence, which we have successfully applied in other countires.Your team has already submitted its first report to the Finance Ministry on March 22. Does the report include any specific measures for interception of contraband? - This is just a preliminary report of the analysis of the state of Bulgarian customs, which we have been preparing for two months. I beleive that within a very short term we'll be able to discuss its contents and the measures we have proposed in this report. For the time being, however, our client - the Finance Ministry - would like it to remain confidential. If the Finance Minister Milen Velchev thinks that the entire document or part of could be made public, we are ready to discuss it.Have you already proposed the final structure of the Council on Reform at Customs and is it already clear how many teams of consultants will be work on the project?- The issue is yet to be discussed with teh Finance Ministry. Our proposal is that two bodis should be set up - a Council on Reform at Customs and a etam of consultants. It might sound strange to you, but we have proposed that only one consultant from Crown Agents would be working at teh Council on Reform at Customs with teh Finanec Ministry - Morris Campbell. I'll head a team of 16 consultants which will be advising the Director of the Customs Agency. These are the people to be employed on pay-roll. Some of them will be coordinating the operation of mobile groups that we project to set up. We also plan that more than 20 other customs experts would periodically come to Bulgaria to give advice on various matters, but they will be only temporarily employed under the project.It became clear that Crown Agents has not undertaken any specific commitments under the contract to increase the customs revenues. Would you make any prediction for their growth over the next three years?- You should not doubt that with our help the Bulgarian customs will begin to post more revenues into the budget. We achieved a 96% growth in Latvia for two years. In Mozambique proceeds doubles. But we had a contract for management (not for consulting) there. We would like to achieve similar results in Bulgaria as well. The most important thing is to maintain a stable rate of growth after the term of the contract elapses.Your intention to install some modules of the TIMS software system, developed by Crown Agents, caused a lot of discussions. In which European countries is this product used?- Not a single European country is using TIMS now. In Bulgaria, however, it is wrongly believed that as the EU countries follow one and the same customs policy, the also use a single software system. In fact, each of the EU member-states has its own info system at the customs. TIMS has been developed in such a way as to be compatible with each software product, used in the various European countries.How would you comment the accusations of the former director of the Customs Agency Emil Dimitrov that Crown Agents works for the British intelligence services?- This is absolute nonsense. I guess such allegations are due to wrong interpretation of some concepts. Some of our experts have worked at the intelligence departments of British and other customs. The informationa and analyses, prepared by them, are connected with the traffic of drugs, tobacco products, faked goods, etc. But such facts are not a state secret and the media regularly publish information on that.