The Appellate Special Criminal Court ruled on January 16 to uphold an earlier court ruling remanding former environment minister Neno Dimov in custody pending his trial on charges of criminal mismanagement that prosecutors allege led to the water crisis in the town of Pernik.
The appellate court found that there was evidence to substantiate the charges against Dimov of allowing the transmission of water from Studena dam for industrial use, while the dam levels were shrinking, resulting in the water crisis.
Residents of Pernik have been subject to severe water restrictions for about two months.
Dimov resigned as environment minister on January 10, a day after his arrest. He had become the first Cabinet minister to be arrested while in office in Bulgaria since the country’s transition to democracy began more than 30 years ago.
Dimov has denied wrongdoing and his counsel argued that the documentation allowing the transmission of water from the dam had been compiled by subordinates.
The court found, however, that it was Dimov who was responsible, not the staff who drew up the water use schedules. Information on the level of the Studena dam was transmitted daily and since spring 2019, it had been obvious that the level of the dam was dropping dramatically.
Documentations about the flow and consumption of water from Studena over the past 10 years had been found in Dimov’s offiice, along with a report on the state of the dam, which showed that he was well-informed about the situation, the court held.
While Dimov was no longer a Cabinet minister, he should not be released from custody because the risk that he could try to influence witnesses remained, the court said.
Prosecutors allege that Dimov caused the state damage of 11 million leva. Papers presented in court showed that while household consumers were charged two leva a cubic metre, industrial firms such as Stomana were charged 13 stotinki. Counsel for Dimov rejected that he could held culpable, saying that water prices were set by the water and energy regulatory body, not by the environment minister.
On January 10, Prime Minister Boiko Borissov’s Cabinet agreed to set up a single state-owned water and sewerage holding, with a capital of a billion leva (about half a billion euro), which will manage all water and sewerage companies across the country in which the state holds a stake.
The opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party dismissed the move as meaning nothing more than that the problems would continue and no one would bear responsibility.
Among other developments related to the Pernik water crisis, Prosecutor-General Ivan Geshev instructed the State Agency for National Security and the national police to jointly inspect significant dams across the country, to assess whether the volume of water is adequate to ensure the provision of drinking water.
A report should be submitted after each dam is inspected, the Prosecutor’s Office said. If evidence of a crime is found, this should be sent to the relevant prosecutor’s office, the statement said.
In Pernik, meanwhile, the troubles of residents have not been limited to the water restrictions. Recent days reportedly have seen repeated incidents of unacceptably high levels of sulphur dioxide in the town’s air.