Data from the transport tickets of Bulgaria’s Executive Forestry Agency (EFA) reveal large-scale felling exceeding by much the allowed quantities. Forestry experts and software specialists analyzed them using the latest technology and exposed the scale of illegal felling in Bulgaria over the past few years. Photos with overloaded trucks, which take Bulgaria’s timber to Greece and Turkey 24/7, are not incidental but illustrate a well-organized scheme for the criminal accumulation of wealth to which the authorities turn a blind eye or worse – openly lie about it. The companies that drastically exceed the allowed felling quantities are, no surprise here, associated with the government.
Recently, Bulgarian Minister of Agriculture and Food Dessislava Taneva publicly announced in Parliament that illegal felling was 18,451 cubic meters in 2019. This is 33 TIMES LESS than the real illegal felling carried out in 2019. Official data from transport tickets show that felling permits have been exceeded by 603,438 solid cubic meters!
The compilation of these figures is not a complicated operation: the allowed cubic meters are summed and compared with the sum of the cubic meters reported in the transport tickets. Such summarized data are not provided by the EFA, which is also a violation of the law, but can be extracted “in the hard way” from public registers. Our team did just that. We downloaded, document by document, the data on felling and transportation of felled trees for the last five years, after which we subjected them to specialized computer analysis. We also created a convenient search engine where anyone can search by company name. This is not possible on the public website of the EFA.
Thus, data from the transport tickets clearly shows that the indicated quantities in the felling and transport permits for a forest are exceeded by 600,000 cubic meters annually. Nearly one tenth of the annual felling of 6-7 million cubic meters is carried out in a criminal way.
“Official” and “unofficial” criminal felling
It is important to clarify that this concerns “official” criminal felling i.e. there is a permit but the volume is exceeded. It is criminal because according to Art. 235, para. 1 of the Penal Code anyone “who without a regular written permit or with a regular permit, but outside the specified locations, deadlines and volumes, fells, gathers, takes or transports from the forest fund any trees or part of them” is punishable for a committed crime.
But from the available documents one can draw reasonable conclusions about the schemes that cover up the theft of much larger quantities of timber transported from the forests without documents or by overloading trucks and tractor trailers.
According to the felling register, the felling of 7,032,982 cubic meters of wood had been allowed for 2020 (by September 20). According to the register of transport tickets, 1,331,994 cubic meters had been felled and transported from the forests. However, for one fourth of the issued 46,532 felling permits, namely 12,113 felling permits, the permissible felling quantities had been exceeded, amounting to a total of 284,470 cubic meters.
According to the felling register, the felling of 8,941,227 cubic meters of wood had been allowed for 2019. According to the register of transport tickets, 6,692,046 cubic meters had been felled and transported from the forests. However, for more than one third of the issued 62,206 felling permits, namely 23,521 felling permits, the permissible felling quantities had been exceeded, amounting to a total of 603,438 cubic meters.
According to the felling register, the felling of 9,226,369 cubic meters of wood had been allowed for 2018. According to the register of transport tickets, 7,139,032 cubic meters had been felled and transported from the forests. However, for more than one third of the issued 67,238 felling permits, namely 26,739 felling permits, the permissible felling quantities had been exceeded, amounting to a total of 691,066 cubic meters.
According to the felling register, the felling of 9,217,292 cubic meters of wood had been allowed for 2017. According to the register of transport tickets, 7,048 ,949 cubic meters had been felled and transported from the forests. However, for more than one third of the issued 65,025 felling permits, namely 25,359 felling permits, the permitted felling quantities had been exceeded, amounting to a total of 649,655 cubic meters.
Data for 2016 is not included in the analysis of the transport tickets and the transported timber as they are full of errors and are probably deliberately muddled in order to cover up huge violations. But even with the errors, again for about one third of the issued 60,922 felling permits, or for 19,775 felling permits, the permitted felling quantities had been exceeded while the timber quantities remain completely unknown.
In most cases, excessive felling is justified by illegal felling, gathering of dry trees, fallen trees, transitional sites, expansion of bark beetle spots, and especially by incorrect data on forests (often by times wrong), with technical errors and inaccurate forestry inventory. However, all these are the perfect prerequisites for large-scale theft from forests when forest officials are unscrupulous or forced by their bosses or mayors to hide “mistakes” and for profits from the concealed differences such as theft from forests by overloading trucks with timber.
Why does a government-controlled industry for BGN hundreds of millions a year maintain and allow false data on forests? The current analysis provides an unambiguous answer – to cover up abuses. That is why a complete reform of the official information systems and data on forests is needed, ensuring their full transparency and correctness!
The surpluses are for “our good and loyal companies”
This analysis also examined the felling companies, which have actually cut down and transported thousands of cubic meters of timber in excess of the felling permits. The companies are not entered with their unique United Identification Code (UIC) and their names are written in different ways, which significantly complicates the automation of the process and in many cases requires time-consuming manual intervention. It is not clear whether this is a deliberate extra or negligence in the design of the data in the EFA information system.
Over 200 companies have exceeded their felling permits by more than 1,000 cubic meters of timber per year. Among them, 20-30 companies that have illegally exceeded the permitted quantities by many times stand out. For some of them, the connection with certain parliamentary-represented parties is obvious, which raises the question of whether they enjoy protection and cover-ups by people in power.
The following graphs illustrate the results for the last four years for companies that have exceeded felling permits by many times.
Additional analysis shows which are the leading companies that have been provided with the largest felling quantities per year through felling permits. The favorites are allowed to fell times larger quantities than other companies. The same companies are once again at the top of the ranking. Here is a sample for the last four years:
All detailed data by years are presented in the appendix at the end of the article.
The first two companies in this ranking have a clear connection with political parties. The record holder “Marconi Group Les Ltd.” has a capital of only BGN 100 and is owned by Penka Bangeeva. Its former owner is Evgeni Shishkov from the southern town of Devin. In 2018, Evgeni Shishkov acquired the company Tika Trade from Tencho Koychev Dimov, who is a director at the Multifruit company. It is a company of the former business conglomerate Multigroup. There is abundant publically available information on Multigroups’ close ties with the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS), the party largely representing Bulgaria’s Muslim minority.
The company Aidi 555 from the Black Sea resort town of Tsarevo is connected with Angel Tsigularov, regional coordinator of the ruling party Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB) and third-term municipal councilor from GERB in the Tsarevo municipality. Before becoming a powerful player in the market of legal and illegal felling in the Strandja Mountain with the help of GERB, the company benefited from public procurements assigned by the State Forestry Estate “Kosti”, according to a reference in the contracts of the Public Procurement Agency.
Among the companies, there are also those for which there is evidence of connections with the opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), such as Suna-2 Ltd, according to an article in the 24 Hours daily. This shows that the illegal felling scheme benefits not only from the current government.
WHO is the so-called “timber mafia”?
The data presented here gives an unambiguous answer to the big question, WHO IS WHO in the timber mafia? It is clear that the destruction of Bulgaria’s forests and the illegal deforestation are organized by the government itself and the institutions in charge.
These institutions and their control bodies have allowed and still allow violations of the law on a daily basis, based on documents with clear evidence of what has been done. As a result, companies close to the government make hefty profits, corruption spreads, invaluable forest resources are destroyed and eco-catastrophes and water crises are caused.
However, the data from official documents are most likely just the tip of the iceberg. As these documents already show shocking illegal exceedances of legal felling permits, one can assume how much higher the actual deforestation scale is compared to the official figures.
In this well-oiled mafia machine, the supervisors have no say in the matter. A forest official who wished to remain anonymous shared with our team the following: “I asked the company to allow me to write at least one transport ticket with correct information but the company accompanied by an MP’s car refused.”
There are solutions to stop this legalized but criminal deforestation of Bulgaria. It should be strictly forbidden to cut down trees outside the quantities allowed by the felling permit and the companies and their affiliates must be banned from cutting more than 10,000 cubic meters per year.
But the heavy dependencies and ties of the companies with the unspoken ruling coalition between the DPS and GERB make such a reform rather illusory at this stage.
The analysis of the official data was performed using the latest technologies, data robots, specialized software and powerful servers. All transport tickets for the last five years and the quantities of timber indicated in them and actually transported outside the forests were analyzed, then these quantities were compared with the quantities according to the felling permits. A specialized search engine was created for all these data to adequately analyze and correct the erroneous, incomplete or inaccurate parts found in the official data. The existence of minimal errors is possible, which in any case would be due to inaccuracies in the official data. The data published here reflect to the maximum extent the real situation.
Download the application as a PDF file here: gori-annexes3
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