How Toma Belev appropriated the Association of Parks in Bulgaria

30 Март 2021, 14:03

In 2014 a scheme was implemented for the inclusion of persons close to him in the Management Committee of the organization.

The year is 2003. Eight state directorates of nature parks register a non-governmental organization - Association of Parks in Bulgaria (APB) – without the approval of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. This is a duplicate structure of the main activity of the state park administrations working for a private interest. The creation of APB was initiated by Toma Belev who was then the director of Vitosha Nature Park and now holds the position of municipal councillor from Democratic Bulgaria. When APB was established, Belev was chosen as its chair, writes Trud.


Who are the founders?


Seventeen years ago, in January 2003, the directors of eight of the eleven state nature parks established APB in their capacity of representatives of legal persons. The scope of activity of the Association covers the conservation of the protected territories. This is actually the main work of the park administrations.


Besides conservation, the Association is also registered for commercial activities in the protected areas including tourism and agriculture, marketing, profit generation and submission of project proposals in international programs. Additionally, it can deal with commercial policy and development of strategies and products. APB has the right to carry out consultancy and participate in competitions.


From the activities listed above it is evident that the work of APB is duplicating the functions of the directorates of the state parks at almost 100%. And Toma Belev was voted as chair because at that time he represented the Directorate of Vitosha Nature Park.


The Appropriation


According to the Act on non-profit legal entities and the Statute of APB, a General Meeting is held every 5 years to vote for a new Management Board and Chair. This has not been done in 2008, as required by law. A General Meeting has not been held in 2013 either.

Meanwhile in 2012 Belev was removed from the director’s post of Vitosha Nature Park after a contest. This automatically meant losing the right to represent APB, because until then he had been its chair in his capacity of director. The failure to hold a general meeting of the Association means that since 2008 Toma Belev has been managing the structure illegally.

In 2014 Toma Belev organized a General Meeting and changed the Statute of the Association. The amendment made it possible for him to include 15 physical persons in the management board, all of them close to him. His aim was to have a majority and to be re-elected as a Chair, and this was exactly what happened.

And so, without having anything to do with the directorate of any nature park, Belev privatized the organization.

This General Meeting and its decisions were annulled by the Sofia City Court and Sofia Court of Appeals in December 2017 after an appeal was lodged by one of the nature parks that participated in the creation of the Association.


Why does Belev need the APB?


The reason for this persistence is simple: money is at stake. In the first years, when the Association was managed by the directors of the state parks, it started buying property. According to information from the Property Register APB has acquired hundreds of hectares in the regions of Ruse, Veliko Tarnovo, Razgrad and Sliven.

The properties include pastures, lawns and private agricultural land. The reply to the inquiry sent to the Registry Agency on the account of APB runs for more than 20 pages.

The business ventures of the “ecologist” are not limited to the activity of APB and the management of Vitosha Nature Park. From 2000 to 2014 he was a member of the Management Board of another private “environmental” organization, Green Balkans, that bought a little bit more than 100 ha of land in coastal Dobrudzha.

Therefore, for a period of time Belev worked as a civil servant (director of Vitosha Nature Park) and as a member of two private NGOs. Meanwhile, as a physical person, he participated in many projects. An example is his cooperation in the preparation of the Management Plan for Pirin National Park, Balgarka Nature Park and many others. These facts are a clear proof for a conflict of interest.


The millions from Switzerland.


Another reason for Belev to hold on to the chair position at the APB is the fact that the Association is a participant in a project titled “Connecting nature conservancy with sustainable development in rural areas” financed with 4 790 000 Franks or BGN 8 million by the Bulgarian-Swiss Cooperation Program. The implementation of the project started in 2012 and continued for four years.

A considerable part of the BGN 8 million were spent on conferences, events and lectures, some with the participation of judges and prosecutors. Serious amounts were also poured into a close circle of media. The lectures were held by journalists from national radio stations and televisions. All of this had one goal: to buy influence.

The real contribution of the Bulgarian-Swiss Program to the development of the Bulgarian rural areas is quite modest. Of the resources amounting to BGN 8 million, BGN 20 000 were given to a dairy farm in the region of Vratsa and a similar amount was awarded to a small plant for processing of forest fruit and mushrooms in the Northwest. From the 4 790 000 Franks, this was the total contribution to the real business.


APB: Belev’s Bat


Since its establishment the Association has initiated dozens of law suits against the state, municipalities and business. The great paradox is that APB brought actions against the Ministry of Environment and Water, the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Forests and other institutions. And so, the directors of the state parks, in their capacity of members of a private NGO, sued and lodged appeals, even though they were hired to protect the national interest. This schizophrenic behaviour continued for many years.

Meanwhile APB is part of the coalition For Nature in Bulgaria. For the past years there are 1100 case files on appeals of the “ecological” union against state, municipal and private investments. APB is responsible for 164 of them.

This has delayed or stopped huge projects of national importance such as Belene Nuclear Power Plant (NPP), Unit No. 7 of Kozloduy NPP, the Burgas–Alexandroupoli pipeline, the South Stream pipeline, the waste treatment plant near Sofia, the third metro ray, the Struma Motorway and the tunnel under Shipka.


Who is he?


Toma Belev is a forest engineer born in Kardzhali. For 13 years he was the director of Vitosha Nature Park. He was assigned at the position in 1999 during the mandate of Ivan Kostov’s government with the protection of the blue member of parliament Svobodka Stefanova. In 2009 Belev was fired due to “expenditure overruns for fuel”. Subsequently, with the personal support of Sergey Stanishev, he was reinstated. In 2012 a contest for a new director was organized and Toma Belev ranked third.

In the past years Belev is always among the candidates in all sorts of elections. In 2007 he got 672 votes as a candidate for Member of the European Parliament representing the Green Party of Alexander Karakachanov which then was a part of the Bulgarian Socialist Party and the three-party coalition.

Regardless of his failures, Belev’s ambitions in politics never died. In 2008 he was already a member of the Green Party (now Green Movement) which is in the coalition For Nature in Bulgaria.

At the last parliamentary elections in 2017 he attempted to become a member of the Parliament representing the now renamed party, The Greens, in coalition with Yes, Bulgaria of Hristo Ivanov and the “liberal” party DEOS. Belev tried his luck again in last year’s elections for European Parliament, this time with Democratic Bulgaria.

In the autumn of 2019 Belev finally made it – not in the parliament but in the Municipal Council in Sofia as a candidate of Democratic Bulgaria. Currently he is still managing APB regardless of the court decisions.

It is about time for the prosecution to find out how the “ecologist”, businessman and politician Toma Belev appropriated the Association of Parks in Bulgaria.



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