Georgi Milkov, chairman of the Non-Governmental Orgaznizations Center Razgrad, requested from the National Revenue Agency (Agency) the first pages of tax returns of the Center for Economic Development – Razgrad for the period 2000-2008. The Center for Economic Development – Razgrad is a non-governmental organization (NGO) that at the time was chaired by the former mayor of Razgrad and included the mayor at the time as a member. The requested information related to the NGO’s funds and donations received throughout the period. Suspecting corruption, the requestor wanted to find out if the NGO was engaged in commercial activities and whether and in what amount it declared income and profit from such activities.
The Agency denied the request on the ground that such information fell outside the scope of the Access to Public Information Act (APIA), and constituted “tax and insurance information”. According to Article 74 (2)(1) of the Tax-Insurance Procedure Code, it could only be disclosed where the applicant provides the authority with proof of third party’s consent. After litigating the denial without success in the first instance, the complainant turned to the Supreme Administrative Court.
The Supreme Administrative Court reversed and remanded the case back to the lower court. It found that the requested information fell within the ambit of the APIA. When authorities receive a request to access tax information, they have to determine whether a body whose data is being sought is public or private. For example, access to tax data of a public entity that pursues “purposes of public interest” is partly governed by the Law on Non-profit Organizations. When the information is “a matter of concern to a third party”, the respective authority is required to seek a written consent of the third party to disclose information (APIA Article 31(1)-(2)). The burden to obtain the consent cannot be shifted to the applicant. Finally, the Court held that the Agency failed to consider the requestor’s argument that the consent of the third party was not required as there was an overriding public interest in the disclosure of the tax returns (Article 31(5) of APIA).
Judgment of the Court.
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