Bulgarian prosecutors open investigation into utilities regulator

Bulgaria’s prosecutor’s office said on April 24 that it has opened a pre-trial investigation into suspected mismanagement by members of the Energy and Water Regulatory Commission (EWRC).

The prosecution’s statement said that its investigation was triggered by a tip-off received in January – following a check by a team of prosecutors, the special anti-corruption unit of the Sofia City Prosecutor’s Office decided to open a formal investigation.

The goal of the investigation is to ascertain whether “the members of the independent regulator carried out their oversight duties as regards the execution of the main elements of the business plans of gas distribution companies and whether the actual investment in gas grids match the amounts approved by EWRC,” the prosecution statement said.

As part of the investigation, the prosecutors would look into the complaint lodged by Bulgaria’s largest private gas distribution company Overgas in 2011, alleging that the company was denied access to Bulgaria’s state-owned gas grid by operator Bulgartransgaz.

The regulator failed to rule on the complaint on time, which led to the opening of infringement proceedings against Bulgaria by the European Commission, which could result in financial damages for the Bulgarian state, the prosecutor’s office said.

Additionally, the prosecutors would investigate whether the merger of several regional subsidiaries owned by Overgas into Overgas Mrezhi in 2015, and whether the regulator’s actions in that matter contributed “to maintaining an unjustifiably high gas price.”

The investigation comes shortly after the prosecutor’s office sued, on April 21, to overturn the recent gas price hike approved by EWRC last month, which envisioned an increase of 29.6 per cent starting April 1 (to 363.26 leva, or about 185.23 euro, for 1000 cubic metres for household consumers.)

The announcement also comes just days after a media row between Prosecutor-General Sotir Tsatsarov and Overgas Inc owner Sasho Donchev, sparked by the latter’s accusations that Tsatsarov met Donchev and allegedly threatened him. This incident is said to have taken place on March 21, a few days before Bulgaria’s early parliamentary elections.

Emerging from a recording of a meeting that Donchev addressed, the reports claimed that the Prosecutor-General had questioned Donchev about whether he was funding Hristo Ivanov’s pro-judicial reform Yes Bulgaria party, and television station BiT. Issues related to the gas industry also allegedly were discussed, and it was claimed that Donchev may be subject to special surveillance.

The Prosecutor’s Office later issued a blanket denial about the allegations, claiming that a meeting had indeed taken place but that it was Donchev who asked Tsatsarov to exert influence on supervising prosecutors in their investigation into the independent regulator regarding the delivery and sale of natural gas.

(Photo: Marco Caliulo/sxc.hu)



The Sofia Globe staff

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