Bulgarian Children's Fund Bosses Face Corruption Charges

Following a massive – and controversial – police action, the managers of the children’s fund, which allocates cash to treat sick children abroad, have been arrested and charged with corruption.

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Photo: EastTNChildrens/Flickr

Bulgaria’s special prosecution is investigating five officials from the Fund for Treatment of Children Abroad, including its former head, Pavel Aleksandrov, for corruption, it said on Thursday.

The  administrators of the fund, who have been charged with participating in an organized criminal group, corruption and official misconduct, were all released on bail. Aleksandrov and the other employees of the state agency, which manages the allocation of funds for the treatment of children with grave illnesses abroad, were arrested on Wednesday after a raid by special police.

The arrests were carried out minutes before the regular session of the council of the fund, a regulating body, composed of doctors, experts from the non-governmental sector and journalists, was due to decide on the treatment of 70 ill children abroad.

Hours after the raid, Bulgaria’s Health Ministry, which is the principal of the fund, appointed Professor Vladimir Pilosov, a former member of the public council of the administrative body, as the new director in place of Aleksandrov. Before his appointment, Pilosov met with Health Minister Patar Moskov and Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, the ministry’s press service said, raising speculation that political motives stood behind the arrest.

The General Directorate for Combating Organised Crime has been investigating the fund since June 2015, using surveillance devices, the prosecution explained on Thursday. Prosecutors are probing three corruption schemes related to the the fund, which has allocated over 12 million leva [around 6 million euros] of public money for the medical treatment of 1,390 children in foreign and Bulgarian hospitals in 2015.

Members of the fund’s Public Council, however, expressed outrage about the police action, calling it a crude attempt by the state to demonstrate that it is fighting corruption. “Aleksandrov was the only director under whose management this fund has been working,” Krassimira Velichkova, director of the Bulgarian Charity Forum and a member of the council, told BIRN.

She recalled the period before 2008, when the fund was under the direct management of the Health Ministry, and was working so ineffectively that in some cases children died before their requests for medical treatment were approved. “When something works, it is a mirror of everything else that does not,” Velichkova said, adding that the fund had experienced problems with the Health Ministry since last August.

The foundation “Save, donate to …”, which also has a representative on the fund’s council, called the police action “an arbitrary act” and the charges against the officials “ridiculous”.

The organization, which raises funds for therapy for sick children, expressed concern that the recent actions will “lead to the destruction of the structure and to serious, even impassable problems with the treatment of the small patients”.

Balkan Insight

22 April 2016