Handing MiG-29 engine overhaul contract to Poland was better deal for Bulgaria than with Russia, Nenchev trial told

The conditions offered by Poland to overhaul the engines of the Bulgarian Air Force’s MiG-29 fighter jets were better than those with Russia, the trial of Bulgaria’s former defence minister Nikolai Nenchev was told on April 12.

Nenchev was defence minister in the second Boiko Borissov cabinet from 2014 to 2017.

He is on trial in the Sofia City Court on charges arising from his handling of the engine repair contracts, with prosecutors alleging that Nenchev endangered Bulgaria’s aviation safety and the lives of its military pilots. Nenchev, who was part of the Reformist Bloc component of the former cabinet and who has not been re-elected to Parliament, denies wrongdoing.

Bulgaria gave the contract for the MiG-29 engine overhaul to Poland after a previous contract with Russia expired. Moscow was deeply irked by the move.

Nikolai Nenchev, Bulgaria’s defence minister from November 2014 to January 2017.

Dimitar Kyumyurdzhiev, who was a deputy defence minister, gave evidence for more than an hour on April 12.

He told the court that he was not aware of the details of the former contract with Russia’s RSK-MiG company.

Kyumyurdzhiev said that he had participated in a working group that had negotiated with Poland. Expert opinion had been that Poland could carry out the repairs to the MiG-29 engines quickly and at a level of high quality, he said.

The negotiations with Poland had been a real step towards decoupling the Bulgarian military from dependence on Russian and Soviet equipment, in line with a Nato decision in this regard in 2014.

The conditions offered by Poland in doing the deal had been better than those with Russia, Kyumyurdzhiev said.

The next witness expected to give evidence is Konstantin Popov, formerly chief of defence.

Popov stepped down from that post after former air force commander Roumen Radev was elected president of Bulgaria in late 2016. In the March 2017 parliamentary elections, Popov was elected an MP on the Plovdiv region list of Boiko Borissov’s centre-right GERB party.

It had been expected that Radev would give evidence, in his capacity as former air force commander, on April 12. However, Judge Petar Stoitsev said that given the time that it was expected that the hearing of witnesses would take, Radev would be called to the stand on another day.

Another on the list of witnesses is the former director of the Institute of Defence, Stoyan Balabanov, who is among senior defence officials fired by the caretaker cabinet that was appointed by Radev in late January.

(Main photo: Krasimir Grozev)




The Sofia Globe staff

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