October 28, 2012
The good news is that the critical journalist is still alive, I spoke to him yesterday.
But the bad news is that his life is in danger, as my 68-year old colleague who has cancer lives without electricity in an apartment in Sofia when the only source of heating is the electric power. Winters in Bulgaria are very harsh and in this country electricity is supplied only by monopolists.
I short: Radko Khandjiev, a Bulgarian journalist, published in October 2008 a critical article against CEZ, the Czech utility who is the monopolist in most of Western Bulgaria. Khadjiev writes in his article, published in the Bulgarian edition of Le Monde Diplomatique, that CEZ illegally acquired the right to both supply electricity and reading the meters, even by replacing the former electricity meters by its own ones. Khandjiev quotes experts who claim that this results in a 50% overcharge of bills for hundreds of thousands of homes.
I won’t go in details, as they are contained in a letter Mr. Khandjiev wrote to Commissioner Neelie Kroes, and which was handed over to her on by the Bulgarian Union of Journalists, on the occasion of her recent visit to the country. Here is a copy.
His article got a lot of attention and was quoted by several media. As a result CEZ disconnected his home from electricity supply, without an explanation. This lasted eight months, the supply being restored shortly before the general elections in July 2009. Since August 2011, the power was cut again and has not been restored since. Companies in Bulgaria who are subcontracted by the monopolist to collect bills have put mobster-type pressure on Khandjiev. By the way, the mobster-type company in question is called Frontex, just as the European border protection agency.
He complained to the chief prosecutor’s office and was called in the police. There, he realised that two ladies attending his interrogation which were not introduced, were psychiatrists, apparently asked to certify his mental disability.
I’m not a mentalist, but I have no doubts: Mr. Khandjiev is perfectly sane. His physical health is very poor, though. He spends part of his time in Budapest where he has family. When he is in Sofia, he stays until midnight in an internet club where he can use a computer and enjoy the heating.
What I will do is ask in the following days Commissioner Kroes who oversees the situation of the media, about the follow up. But I will do the same with Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger. My own sad experience with CEZ Bulgaria tells me that what Mr Khandjiev writes should not be taken lightly. And the basic difference is that if I’m not happy with my supplier in Brussels, I have a choice of a dozen of others.
In Bulgaria, there are three operators, CEZ, EVN and Energo-Pro (see map), but they are not competitors, they have divided the country between themselves.
P.S. Spoke Ryan Heath tweeted on behalf of Neelie Kroes today at 12.20:
@GeorgiGotev thanks Georgi, we are tracing letter now. Obviously no citizen, journalist or other, shd have heating cut off in winter (RH)
P.S. Several Western journalists contacted me asking for Mr. Handzhiev’s coordinates.
His mobile number is +359886 830 650
He answers the Skype account radko khandjiev
He also confirmed that he doesn’t own CEZ any money and is in possession of a court document attesting this, of which he sent me have a copy.
P.S. The services of Commissioner Oettinger reacted to this story. I quote the most important sentence in their email:
“The Commission is aware of the high market concentration in Bulgaria and will in short (15 November) issue a report together with specific recommendations to Bulgaria on necessary reforms in order to have more competition on the electricity market.”
P.S. On 27 November, Ryan Heath, spokesperson of Vice President Kroes, said that because the Commission has no means of verifying the statements of Dr Radko Khandjiev, it cannot take a position on the allegations made.
“We believe that journalists should be enabled to freely exercise their profession, without being subjected to any pressure or threats. We are also aware that this right should be ensured by the Member States, and have written to the Bulgarian Prime Minister to express our support for actions that will guarantee or increase such freedoms,” Heath stated.
He also provided a copy of the letter of Vice President Kroes to Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, which really sounds as “hard talk”.Georgi Gotev