Following an appeal by the ACF, the Appellate Prosecutor’s Office overturned the refusal of the Sofia Prosecutor’s Office to investigate the Golden Puddle case.
The Sofia Appellate Prosecutor’s Office (SAPO) overturned the refusal of the Sofia City Prosecutor’s Office (SCPO) to investigate the Anti-Corruption Fund (ACF) ’s report about the “Golden Puddle” case in the Bulgarian Food Safety Agency (BFSA). The report highlighted a case in which the BFSA transferred its legal responsibility, the disinfection activity at the border with Turkey, to the private company P.F.C. Ltd. from which it has earned more than BGN 33 million since 2013. In its decision, the Appeals Prosecutor’s Office considered that the SCPO had based its conclusions that there are no criminal offenses primarily on the allegations received from the management of BFSA and P.F.C. Ltd
“There is no way to blindly credit the opinion of the BFSA without a full examination of the facts presented in it and the (ACF) report and due analysis of all applicable legislation,” the Appellate Prosecutor’s Office concluded, recommending “further investigation to establish all relevant facts and circumstances.” “Law enforcement authorities will have to establish whether or not there is sufficient evidence of a crime by requesting and attaching all files, documents and information and taking written explanations from all persons involved in the case.”
ACF’s report to the Prosecutor’s Office about the Golden Puddle case dates back to 2019. It sets out the facts of the scheme in which, in violation of the Veterinary Medicine Act and the State Fees Act, the BFSA transferred the preventive disinfection activity at the border with Turkey and the collection of the state disinfection fees due to the private company P.F.C. Ltd.
P.F.C. Ltd. transferred part of the fee collected to BFSA and retained another part as payment for the services. According to ACF’s analysis, this scheme violates at least three statutory prohibitions:
- The prohibition against delegating a statutorily mandated public activity
- The prohibition against private companies collecting government fees
- The prohibition against making a profit from a government fee
ACF has also published a video investigation into the case: https://acf.bg/bg/kazusyt-zlatnata-lokva/
At the end of 2020, the SCPO refused to investigate the report stating that “there was no evidence of a crime being committed.” ACF appealed the decision not to initiate pre-trial proceedings as it did not address key hypotheses of possible violations set out in the organization’s report. For example, the Prosecutor’s Office did not examine the hypothesis that the BFSA had transferred part of its activities, which it was legally entrusted with, to a private contractor for its benefit. Nor has it examined how it was the company P.F.C. Ltd. that was chosen without a competition to carry out an activity that brought it a profit of BGN 33 million.
In its decree from 17.03.2021, The Appellate Prosecutor’s Office found that the Sofia City Prosecutor’s Office had based its conclusions about the absence of criminal offenses primarily on the observations received from the management of BFSA and P.F.C. Ltd. During the investigation carried out by the SCPO, there was no information when and on what basis the BFSA decided to transfer the activities which it was entrusted with by law to private contractors. It was not established when the Minister of Health and Food’s approval was given to outsourcing the activity. It is not clear when and where the announcement for the company’s selection was published on the BFSA website. Copies of the four tenders received for the work, which BFSA claims to have received from suppliers other than P.F.C. Ltd, are not attached. The latter’s tender is attached to the prosecution file without an accession number at BFSA. The SCPO did not analyze all the documentation preceding the conclusion of the BFSA contract with P.F.C. Ltd. nor the documentation preceding the signing of the subsequent annexes.
The Appellate Prosecutor’s Office also draws particular attention to the fact that the disinfection work carried out is part of border and inspection veterinary control and, under Order No 47 of 20 April 2006, must be carried out by official veterinarians.
“From the materials on file at this stage, it cannot be concluded that the activity of the company P.F.C. Ltd. complies with this regulation,” the ruling of the Appellate Prosecutor’s said.
The APO’s conclusions necessitate the annulment of the decree of the SCPO, and the work on the file should continue with the assignment of further inspection.
“We are satisfied because the APO has done its job and has overruled the refusal of the SCPO to initiate pre-trial proceedings, which was carried out without collecting all the evidence in the case. We believe that the SCPO owes a thorough investigation to the Bulgarian citizens in this case where there are strong indications of wrongdoing. We will continue to monitor the next actions of the prosecution and insist on an adequate institutional response,” says ACF Director Boyko Stankushev.