The vice-president of the ruling party in Bulgaria and head of its parliamentary group, Tsvetan Tsvetanov, resigned from parliament on Wednesday following an investigation into the purchase of a luxury flat.
Tsvetanov intended to remain vice-president of the GERB party and head of its election committee, he told reporters after a two-hour meeting with Prime Minister and GERB leader Boyko Borissov.
His departure follows the resignations of three other ministers, the Minister of Justice and runner-up in the 2017 presidential elections, Tsetska Tsatcheva, the Vice-Minister of Sport, Vanya Koleva, and the Vice-Minister of Energy, Krasimir Parvanov.
All four, alongside several other politicians and civil servants with links to GERB, were revealed to have purchased luxury flats in apartment buildings constructed by the Artkes real estate company in Sofia for well below market prices.
The scandal, now referred to in the media as “ApartmentGate”, emerged as the result of an investigation by the newly created branch of Radio Free Europe in Sofia and the anti-graft watchdog Anti-corruption Fund.
“I have nothing to be ashamed of,” Tsvetanov said on Wednesday, adding that he was only leaving the parliament in solidarity with the other GERB ministers who had “done nothing wrong, but took moral responsibility”.
The vice-president of the party and its de facto second-in-command after Borissov also said he was making the move to debunk conspiracy theories about splits within the party.
“Let’s stop all the speculation; there is no drama that the GERB parliamentary head is leaving the National Assembly,” Tsvetanov said.
He refused to comment on the controversial real estate deal, however.
He has previously said he exchanged two smaller flats to buy the new one, and had added in 50,000 euros to complete the purchase. He insisted the deal was legal and had been declared before a notary.
The investigation, based on publicly available information in the Real Estate Register, said Tsvetanov and the other GERB figures bought large luxury apartments from Arteks for known-down prices that were as much as five or six times below their market value.
Tsvetanov bought a 240-square meter apartment with two parking spaces for 627 euros per square meter, paying a total of 190,000 euros, in a complex that was voted “Building of the Year” in 2017.
Apartments in the same complex, according to the company’s catalogue, normally cost between 2,500 and 3,500 euros per square meter.
The two flats that Tsvetanov exchanged with Arteks were found to have been sold immediately to another GERB member, the former head of the party election team, Simeon Velkov, for 235,000 euros – almost twice as much as Tsvetanov sold them for.
The State Prosecution, the National Revenue Agency and the Commission for Legal Assets Forfeiture launched an investigation into all of the deals on Tuesday.
This is not the first time Tsvetanov has faced questions about his extensive property portfolio. In 2010, a year after GERB first entered government, it was revealed that he owned six apartments. A National Revenue Agency investigation failed to detect any wrongdoing, however.