Bulgaria’s prosecutor’s office said on November 17 that it has formally charged former economy and energy minister Roumen Ovcharov with criminal mismanagement in connection with a deal involving the Belene nuclear power station project, claiming that his actions led to financial damages of more than 193 million euro to the Bulgarian state.
Ovcharov was economy and energy minister in the Sergei Stanishev cabinet between 2005 and 2007, resigning over corruption allegations that were not related to the Belene project. His successor in that position, Petar Dimitrov, is also facing charges of criminal mismanagement that caused damages of 77 million euro.
A third former energy minister, Delyan Dobrev, is currently an MP and prosecutors have already asked Parliament to lift his immunity from prosecution, with Dobrev voluntarily giving up his immunity. Charges against Dobrev are expected to be pressed as early as November 18, reports in Bulgarian media said.
Ovcharov was called in November 17 to the Sofia headquarters of the prosecution to be questioned, which is when he was notified of the indictment. He was ordered to sign in regularly to confirm his presence in the country, which he was banned from leaving.
Prosecutors allege that Ovcharov deliberately failed to exercise proper control over what Lyubomir Velkov and Mardik Papazyan, two former executive directors of state electric utility NEK, were doing in signing an agreement with Russia’s Atomstroyexport, the chosen contractor to build two 1000MW nuclear reactors at Belene, on November 29 2006. Velkov and Papazian were indicted on October 14 in connection with a deal on a framework contract for the supply of equipment by Atomstroyexport, the same deal for which Dimitrov is facing charges.
The prosecutors allege that the agreement in November 2006 was in breach of the public procurement laws because it was signed before an investor in the new nuclear power plant was chosen and without a financing agreement in place.
Speaking to reporters after his meeting with prosecutors, Ovcharov said that the agreement in question was signed in order to implement two other ministerial decisions and followed an international tender. He said that the reason for the charges levied against him was political pressure from outgoing prime minister Boiko Borissov.
(Roumen Ovcharov speaks prior to a January 2013 referendum on the future of nuclear energy in the country. Screengrab from Bulgarian National Television)