By Nikolay Marchenko for Bivol (OCCRP Member)
Sofia Airport has fired a “disloyal to the government” employee for commenting on the resignation of Prime Minister (PM) Boyko Borisov, which thousands of protestors in Bulgaria are demanding for three weeks in a row. The employee in question, Michael Hristov, told Bivol about his dismissal. Until recently, he was the Head of the Airport’s Travel Agency department and had been fired under Art. 328 para. 2 of the Labor Code (selection of a team by a new manager).
According to Hristov, the real reason for his dismissal is his comment “Resign!” that he has written under Borisov’s live stream on Facebook. In addition, the young man has repeatedly signaled unfair competition at the Airport from a company associated with Russian interests.
Michael (pictured) wrote “Resign!” under a video address on Borisov’s official Facebook page on Saturday, July 11, 2020.
On Monday, July 13, Director of the Human Resources Directorate Aneta Lukova called him on the phone and invited him to her office.
During the meeting she apologized, saying it was “extremely disturbing” for her to have to let him go under the mentioned Labor Code article. She explained to Hristov that Executive Director Vladimir Rapondzhiev had the right to change part of the management team at the Airport.
Hristov’s direct supervisor is the Director of “Ground Service” Daniela Andreeva but she has not been notified. The young man never had a single written or verbal disciplinary sanction or reprimand, had never broken employment rules and had never even been late during his years of work at the Airport.
Prior to his current position, Hristov worked at Sofia Airport as an advertising expert and a ground services contract expert. He held these positions because of his experience in the industry with large companies such as the Emirates and the Hilton hotel chain.
Acquaintances from the Transport Ministry have hinted to Michael that some colleagues might have seen his social network posts calling for the resignation of the Bulgarian government or other critical materials and might have reported them. At least 20 of Michael’s friends on Facebook are colleagues who work at the Airport or for the Transport Ministry but he has no idea who has told the Airport management about his social network activity.
Fired for political views?
Hristov claims that he has not once violated his job description requirement to not discredit his employer – the Airport and the Ministry. He has only shared media stories with information critical of the cabinet “Borisov”, including by Bivol, and has attended protests rallies of mothers with disabled children because he, himself, has a wife and a baby.
Hristov is adamant that his political views are not an official violation of anything and vows to not give up on them, he told Bivol.
He refuses to delete his posts and the “resign!” comment.
Bivol approached the PR of Sofia Airport by phone but he refused to comment on the case and asked for written questions.
The Transport Ministry sent a written position, stating that Minister Rosen Zhelyazkov had not ordered directly or indirectly any dismissal and was not aware of the termination of any employee of the Ministry, regardless of their capacity.
“If the Ministry of Transport, Information Technologies and Communications is approached with a complaint, supported by facts about illegally terminated labor relations of employees at Sofia Airport, an inspection will be appointed. If violations are found, the perpetrators will be sanctioned,” the statement reads.
The Ministry confirmed in a phone call that heads of departments also fall under Article 328 para. 2 of the Labor Code.
Company associated with Aeroflot steals passengers from Sofia Airport
Michael Hristov said that during his employment at Sofia Airport (in 2010-2011 and 2015-2020) he had informed the management at least three times about potential damages inflicted by a suspicious company.
The company in question is “Aerotour MM” Ltd. According to Hristov, its counter at Sofia Airport does not even display a brand name. It sells tickets but exhibits only one Aerotour sign that it puts up whenever it wants.
Michael says that Aerotour sells tickets for international flights directly competing with his now-former Sofia Airport department. He has reported on several occasions this “unfair competition practice” but there has been no reaction.
A check by Bivol in the Commercial Register showed that the head office of “Aerotour MM” and “Aerotour Group” is housed in the building of the Russian Cultural Information Center at 34 “Shipka Street” in the Bulgarian capital Sofia. The Center is subordinate to the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation and is part of the state corporation “Rossostrudnichestvo” at Sergei Lavrov’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It is managed by the cultural attaché of the Embassy of the Russian Federation in Sofia.
Two employees of “Rossostrudnichestvo” at the Russian Cultural Center in Prague were recently expelled by the Czech authorities for breaches incompatible with diplomatic activities. They were suspected of working for the Russian special services and of assisting in the transportation of Novichok-type poisonous substances to eliminate the Mayor of Prague and the Mayor of the Prague district where the monument to the 1945 “liberator” of the Czechoslovak capital, Marshal Konev, was located before being removed.
“Aerotour MM” has received government contracts for over BGN 16 million from the Transport Ministry, the Ministry of Finance and the Bulgarian Volleyball Federation between 2017 and 2020. The period coincides with the “promotion” of the former head of Airport Security and former National Security Services officer Vladimir Rapondzhiev to Executive Director of Sofia Airport.
The owner of “Aerotour MM” is Maria Blagoeva Angelova. She is a partner of the “legendary” entrepreneur Plamen “Gandhi” Timev in the company “V.R.B. Export-Import”.
According to an investigation by Bivol, Timev and former Russian Ambassador in Sofia Anatoly Potapov are partners in a business importing vodka from Russia.
Plamen “Gandhi” Timev was described in a diplomatic cable by former US Ambassador to Bulgaria James Pardew as one of the most influential members of VIS 2. He was arrested in 2007 and charged with financial misconduct but was not convicted.
Another interesting partner is Yordan Ivanov Yordanov, who is a co-owner of the company “Druzya” (Friends in Russian) located at a downtown Sofia address. The sole owner of the capital is “Gloria Foods”, whose owner and manager is Kalin Stefanov Spassov, a partner in “Gloria Mar Restaurants”.
Spassov is again a partner in “Gloria Foods” with Yordan Yordanov. It is no secret that the building of the Russian Cultural Information Center in Sofia houses the popular Russian restaurant “Druzya”.
Russian national Tatiana Nikolaevna Dvoryashina is the manager of several companies with Yordan Yordanov’s participation such as “Balkan Construction”, “Germaneya Rerma”, “Sky Land Properties”, “Event Net” and “Sky Aqua”.
Fired RIA head and Russian “restaurateurs”
These restaurateurs with friendly relations with Moscow are likely enjoying a government cover-up.
One of the partners of Yordanov and Dvoryashina in the company “Balkan Construction” is the scandalous former Chairman of the Board of the Bulgarian Road Infrastructure Agency (RIA) at the Ministry of Regional Development and Public Works (MRDPW), Svetoslav Glossov. He resigned on January 9, 2019, on the request of PM Borisov over a scandal involving toll road vehicle stickers.
Glossov is clearly not just a former civil servant. According to the Commercial Register, he is owner or partner in at least eight construction companies, meaning he must be probed for a potential conflict of interest at the time he was RIA head.