The second part of the video series Game of Parking Lots reveals how the heavy vehicle traffic control system introduced this summer at a border crossing with Romania, located near the town of Ruse, is used to force transport companies to use the service of a newly built, private buffer parking lot in the city, linked to persons involved in the scandal at the Kapitan Andreevo border crossing into Turkey.
What is more, an analysis of public documents and satellite data shows that construction activity at the site of the parking lot had started even before building permits were issued. A smaller, adjacent municipal parking lot was also constructed in the same manner – construction had already been completed when the contract to design and build the facility was signed.
The video, published today by the Anti-Corruption Fund Foundation (ACF), presents new and concerning facts in addition to those already revealed about the questionable procedure and unfavorable deal between Ruse Municipality and Tir Parking Ruse Ltd. The company paid a very small sum for the right to build the buffer parking lot on a municipal plot and operate the facility for a very long period – 30 years.
“As we have already shown in the first part of the series, the contract to transfer the building rights contains no guarantees protecting the public interest in the existence of an affordable and easily accessible parking service, needed to ease the flow of heavy vehicle traffic through the Ruse border crossing,” said Lora Georgieva, legal expert at ACF. “In addition, today’s video clearly shows the existence of monopoly over parking services, illegal pricing mechanisms and the practice of the private company collecting large volumes of information about freight vehicles and their loads.”
In addition to building and operating the facility with nearly 600 parking spaces, the private company has created a traffic management system called virtual queue. For heavy vehicles to be allowed to cross the border, drivers need to show proof they are registered in the system – something that happens easily for the customers of Tir Parking Ruse Ltd.
Those who have chosen to park elsewhere, however, have very different experiences. Owners of other parking lots in the area are sharing that their foreign customers are facing great difficulties when attempting to join the virtual queue. In addition, Part 2 of the series contains footage, from June this year, showing employees of Tir Parking Ruse Ltd., dressed in reflective jackets, stopping heavy vehicles and directing drivers to the company’s parking lot. The employees are situated before the turn for the parking lot and at the entrance of the border crossing.
Pictured next to the private company employees at the entrance of the border crossing is a police patrol car. This fact potentially contributes to creating the impression that using the private parking lot is compulsory and the people in reflective jackets are police officers or other border officials.
According to the Ordinance on border crossings, the management of traffic activity at the border is a responsibility of border control authorities. However, an agreement between Ruse Municipality and Tir Parking Ruse Ltd signed on 29 June, tasks the private company with creating a traffic management system. The agreement, which stipulates that the private company should create and operate the virtual queue system free of charge, raises many questions:
- Why would the private company agree to provide the virtual queue service free of charge?
- How is Tir Parking Ruse Ltd. authorized to compel other private entities to join the traffic management system as a condition for crossing the border?
- Has the Bulgarian state delegated its coordinating responsibilities related to border activities? What is the basis for traffic management activities to be carried out by a single private entity in only one privately-owned parking lot near a particular border crossing?
“While stays at the parking lot owned by Tir Parking Ruse Ltd. are not compulsory, the situation on the ground is that transport companies – and especially foreign transport companies – are forced to do so because of misleading tactics and administrative barriers,” said Boyko Stankushev, director of ACF. “As with the Kapitan Andreevo scheme, here, too, we have a private company, engaged in activities falling solely within the scope of public institutions, distorting the market and gaining an unfair advantage over competitors. What is especially concerning in this attempt to create a monopoly are certain facts which raise suspicions that all of this is happening with the assistance of private institutions.”
ACF has discovered violations in the way in which companies are charged for the parking service. While Bulgarian companies are offered preferential rates of BGN 15 – compared to BGN 18 – BGN 19.5 offered by competitors – foreign transport companies, including companies registered in the European Union, are charged EUR 25. The large difference in the charges violates the Protection of Competition Act and the EU principle of equal treatment of commercial entities registered in any one of the EU member states. Furthermore, Tir Parking Ruse Ltd. is causing harm to the national budget as the charges for foreign vehicles do not include VAT, something which is required by law.
Ruse Municipality has denied the argument that it is actively abetting the creation of a private monopoly, claiming that it has built a smaller, municipal parking lot which offers an alternative for transport companies. It turns out, however, that the public procurement procedure to award the contract to design and build the parking facility (a tender carried out without sound guarantees to obtain the best design solutions and most favorable ratio of price to quality) is mired with several suspicious circumstances.
Again, the tender is announced at a time when most companies are shutting down for holidays, this time during the festive Christmas season. Only a single candidate submits a proposal: Lyunik Ltd., a company based in the town of Dragoman and owned by Lyubomir Nikolaev Lazarov, brother of Anelia Nikolaeva Lazarova, manager and shareholder in Tir Parking Ruse Ltd. Furthermore, an analysis of satellite and cadastral data shows that the large private buffer parking lot and the smaller municipal facility are built on adjacent plots and share a common entrance and road link, de facto functioning as a single facility. In both cases, the construction activity was illegal: the building works had started before the necessary building permits were issued.
Tir Parking Ruse Ltd. is issued a valid building permit on 31 March 2023, a month after the facility had been more or less completed. Satellite data shows that construction activity started in mid-December 2022. During the Christmas holidays, vegetation was being removed and the plot was being levelled. As of 19 February 2023, concrete had already been poured.
Ruse Municipality and Lyunik Ltd. signed the contract awarding the private company the task of designing and building the small parking lot on 5 May 2023. According to satellite data, concrete had already been poured on the plot a month-and-a-half prior.
There is no official data showing that Ruse Municipality is operating the so-called small parking lot and generating profits from this activity. This raises the question of whether this parking lot, advertised as a competitor to the large facility of Tir Parking Ruse but de facto operating jointly with it, is also not in the hands of the private company which is reaping the benefits?
“We have provided facts suggesting the existence of many violations in the way parking lots near the Ruse border crossing are operated. We call on all relevant institutions: the Ministry of Interior, the National Revenue Agency, the regional directorate of the National Building Control Agency, the Commission on Protection of Competition, and the public prosecution to act and investigate as they are legally required to do,” said Boyko Stankushev.