Bulgaria’s Defence Chief General Andrei Botsev has rejected allegations of external interference and corruption in the process towards choosing a new fighter jet for the Air Force, dismissing such claims as “political speculation”.
Botsev was speaking in a weekend interview with public broadcaster Bulgarian National Radio, a few days ahead of the National Assembly ad hoc committee investigating the fighter jet acquisition process beginning its work in earnest.
He said that he was absolutely convinced by reports from his subordinate commanders that there was no external interference in the considerations of the bids, “and it is really is time to trust the military expertise”.
In April 2017, the caretaker Bulgarian government headed by Ognyan Gerdzhikov considered a report by an interdepartmental committee of experts that, of the three bids submitted, ranked that by Sweden to supply newly-made Gripens as the best.
On returning to government, Boiko Borissov and members of his administration have sent mixed signals about the fighter jet acquisition process.
Tsvetan Tsvetanov, the parliamentary leader of Borissov’s GERB party, has levelled allegations at head of state President Roumen Radev of interfering in the fighter jet acquisition process, ahead of the “decision” by the Gerdzhikov cabinet.
Radev, a former Air Force commander, has responded that the ad hoc committee set up on the initiative of GERB is a “tribunal”.
At a sitting scheduled for July 19, the ad hoc committee is expected to hold hearings of three former defence ministers.
They are Anyu Angelov, who was defence minister in the first Borissov government from 2010 to 2013, Angel Naidenov, who held the portfolio in the 2013/14 “Oresharski” administration, and Nikolai Nenchev, defence minister in the second Borissov government from 2014 to 2017.
The multi-party, 19-member committee, headed by GERB MP and defence committee member Emil Hristov, has the brief to investigate all the facts related to the selection of a new fighter jet for Bulgaria’s Air Force.
This includes investigating the activities of officials in considering the input from countries that bid to supply the aircraft, the management of the process and the procedure for ranking the bids.
The committee has a two-month timeframe to complete its work.
The report considered by the Gerdzhikov administration ranked, as noted, Gripen the highest, with Italy’s offer of second-hand Eurofighters coming in second. Portugal’s offer of second-hand US-made F-16s was disqualified because it did not meet the financial parameters set in Bulgaria’s call for proposals.