The Anti-Corruption Commission (CAFIAP)‘s decisions on confiscating illegally acquired property cannot be official secrets, and the Commission must provide access to them.
This is the Sofia City Administrative Court (SCAC) ruling in the lawsuit filed by the Anti-Corruption Fund (ACF) over the refusal of the CAFIAP to provide access to its asset forfeiture decisions from 2018 to now.
See the Court’s ruling here
“The classification of CAFIAP’s decisions as official secrets finds no support in the law,” the Sofia City Administrative Court said in its ruling. “The information sought is public, and there are no grounds for refusing access to it.”
In early November 2022, it became clear that the CAFIAP denied access to its decisions based on an order adopted in 2018 by then CAFIAP chairman Plamen Georgiev. Georgiev resigned in 2019 following the “Apartmentgate” scandal, which began with revelations by ACF and Free Europe.
According to Georgiev’s order, all decisions of the CAFIAP to initiate proceedings for confiscating illegally acquired property are official secrets and cannot be disclosed. These are the decisions in the most voluminous area of CAFIAP activity, where the largest number of its employees are employed, and the most significant number of acts are issued.
In its decision of 14 November 2022, the SCAC declared unlawful the refusal of the CAFIAP to grant access to the decisions to bring an asset forfeiture action. According to the court, access to these acts could not harm the state or any other legally protectable interest.
“There is an incorrect application of substantive law by the CAFIAP – a violation of free access to public information,” the court concluded.
The SCAC also noted that the statutory period for the protection of official secrets is six months and that at the time of the ACF’s application for access, it had expired in respect of most of that period.
Another argument for refusal put forward by the representatives of the CAFIAP is also unfounded – that the provision of the information would violate the personal rights of third parties. “First of all, the information can be presented with deleted data,” the court stated. “Secondly, in case of overriding public interest, the information should be provided even if it discloses the personal data of third parties.”
The Sofia City Administrative Court ordered CAFIAP to provide the information sought by the ACF within 14 days of the court’s decision taking effect. The court’s decision is final.
“We welcome the court’s decision, which reverses an administrative arbitrariness,” said Boyko Stankushev, director of the Anti-Corruption Fund.
“There was a danger that other institutions would feel emboldened by the practice of the CAFIAP and start hiding their decisions from the public by declaring them official secrets without any justification.
We are pleased that the court has protected the public’s right to know and to be able to scrutinize the activities of key state institutions. This is a fundamental right for any democratic society.”
The ACF calls on the CAFIAP to make its decisions on asset forfeiture claims public by publishing them on its website.