Bulgarian ex-energy minister charged over nuclear project

Reuters News
Posted: Nov 17, 2016 8:48 AM

SOFIA (Reuters) - Bulgarian prosecutors charged former economy and energy minister Rumen Ovcharov on Thursday with mismanagement that led to state losses of more than 190 million euros ($200 million) related to a canceled nuclear power project with Russia's Atomstroyexport.

Bulgaria canceled the 10-billion-euro Belene project on the Danube River in 2012 after failing to find foreign investors and under pressure from Brussels and Washington to limit its energy dependence on Russia.

An arbitration court has ruled Bulgaria needs to pay over 600 million euros in compensation to Atomstroyexport over the project, which analysts and politicians say reflects widespread corruption in the Balkan country.

Prosecutors charged Ovcharov, energy minister from 2005 to 2007 in a Socialist-led government, for failing to exercise sufficient control over the executive directors of state energy company NEK and allowing them to sign a deal with Atomstroyexport for the nuclear power plant at Belene.

The prosecutors said that in November 2006 NEK's chief executives signed a 193 million euro agreement with the Russian company to start work on the project in breach of public procurement laws and before the plant's financing was agreed.

Prosecutors have already pressed similar charges against Ovcharov's successor, former economy and energy minister Petar Dimitrov.

Last month the former directors of NEK, Lubomir Velkov and Mardik Papazian, were charged with causing financial damage by signing another deal with Atomstroyexport, costing the business more than 77 million euros.

Ovcharov has previously denied any wrongdoing. He was not immediately available for comment.

Prosecutors are expected to charge Delyan Dobrev, energy minister in the centrist government of Boiko Borisov, for failing to take steps to stop payments to a consultant company engaged with the Belene project after it was canceled.

(Reporting by Angel Krasimirov; Editing by Adrian Croft/Ruth Pitchford)