The companies in the system of the Ministry of Economy and Industry have concluded contracts for legal services for more than BGN 400 000 with one particular law firm. This shows an inspection of the Ministry. Most of the contracts were signed between June and August, on the principle of direct negotiation, and many of them have serious clauses for early termination penalties.
Of the 13 companies audited to date, 7 have contracts with the same law firm. It is noteworthy that the state-owned companies awarded multiple contracts to this contractor, and it is possible that the purpose was to split the amounts to avoid attracting the attention of the auditors. A total of 16 contracts were concluded for legal assistance on specific cases. The amount of these contracts is around BGN 180 thousand and most of them were paid very quickly. There is a case of a contract concluded for BGN 36 000 which was 100% paid in advance.
Along with this, a practice has been initiated that harms the state interest. Subscription contracts were entered into with the same law firm. Under these contracts, the state paid for the law firm’s services whether or not any work was performed. Three companies in the system of the Ministry of Economy and Industry have undertaken a similar obligation, the total amount being about BGN 20 000 per month or nearly a quarter of a million per year. It should be noted that these contracts are legally sound, but it remains an open question what service the companies received in return for the money paid.
The aggregated information shows that for several months, one particular law firm has generated contracts for over BGN 400 thousand in the system of the Ministry of Economy and Industry alone. The majority of these were concluded by the State Consolidation Company and its subsidiaries. The modus operandi of the companies, which at the same time “discovered” this law firm and started to conclude similar contracts, where the aim seems to have been to pay as much money as possible in the shortest possible time, calls for further investigation by other specialised bodies.
There is a signal that one of the partners in this law firm is in a direct family relationship with the head of cabinet of Kornelia Ninova. Additionally, there are allegations that the same law firm represented the previous Minister of Economy and Industry in her personal litigation.
For this reason, the Ministry of Economy and Industry referred the matter to the Commission for Anti-corruption and Illegal Assets Forfeiture to check whether there is a conflict of interest. It should be investigated whether the Head of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs (between December and August 2022) in the Council of Ministers, has a direct family relationship with one of the partners in the law firm and whether this circumstance influenced the choice in the provision of services by the State.
The probe is continuing, and other verifying bodies will be contacted to find out on what basis the same contractor was selected by the majority of companies in the system of the Ministry of Economy and Industry and how the state interest was protected when subscription contracts were concluded without counterpart service or with 100% advance payment.