Nikolai Nenchev, Defence Minister in Boiko Borissov’s outgoing government, said on November 22 that he expected to face criminal charges in connection with the country’s contract for the overhaul of the Bulgarian Air Force’s MiG-29s jet fighter aircraft.
Nenchev was among Borissov Cabinet members summoned for questioning by prosecutors in connection with Health Minister Petar Moskov’s deal on importing vaccines from Turkey. Prosecutors used the occasion to signal to Nenchev that would he would be charged over the MiG-29 deal.
The outdoing Defence Minister reiterated that the contract for the overhaul of the MiG-29 engines by Poland was “extremely profitable” for Bulgaria and was part of Nato’s policy to seek to limit the influence of Russia.
Towards the end of 2015, after the expiry of a contract for Russia to maintain the MiG-29 engines, Bulgaria signed a deal with Poland to take over the task. This annoyed the Kremlin, which alleged that the deal was invalid because Warsaw was not licensed to carry out the assignment.
Bulgaria embarked on the deals to maintain the MiG-29s to enable it to continue policing its air space. For several years, the country – a Nato member since 2004 – has been in the process towards acquiring Western-made multi-role fighter jets that meet the alliance’s standards, though none of a succession of governments has achieved anything in this regard.
The precise basis for any criminal charges in connection with the MiG-29 engine deal has not been made clear. Nenchev declined to give details and by the late afternoon of November 22, there had been no official statement from prosecutors.
Nenchev said that over the past two years he had been subjected to “murderous pressure” and expressed concern about what would happen to the next defence minister.
He described prosecutors’ approach of summoning every member of the Cabinet to a series of interrogations, to ask them to confirm their signatures, as “disrespectful”. He assumed that the prosecution wanted to show the public that it was at work.
On November 22, the Prosecutor’s Office confirmed that it had awaited the end of the November 2016 Bulgarian presidential elections before pressing charges against Moskov.
The outcome of those elections, the defeat of Borissov’s GERB party candidate Tsetska Tsacheva at the hands of socialist-backed Roumen Radev, prompted the resignation of Borissov’s government. The country is currently in a form of political limbo, awaiting the appointment of a caretaker cabinet and clarity on early parliamentary elections.