Bulgaria’s deputy environment minister held as part of alleged organised crime group
Bulgaria’s Deputy Environment Minister Krassimir Zhivkov was one of six people taken into 24-hour custody on May 28 following high-profile raids by prosecutors and police in Sofia and several other cities against an alleged organised crime group.
Zhivkov, as well as the former head of the regional inspectorate of environment and waters in Pleven and four other people are being investigated in connection with crimes related to the import of hazardous waste to Bulgaria, mainly from Italy.
Siyka Mileva, spokesperson for the Prosecutor-General’s office, said that the group all had been detained for 24 hours and on May 29 it will be announced which of them would be charged.
Mileva alleged that Zhivkov had been pressuring subordinates to issue permits for the import of Italian refuse to companies that do not meet the legal requirements and to refuse permits to companies that do. Ministry staff who refused to co-operate either were dismissed or otherwise forced out of their jobs.
“In this way, he forced producers to hand over the waste to certain companies that he controlled, which have permits for further processing in Bulgaria. A commercial company that has a recycling plant in Montana for processing batteries has also benefited from this scheme.”
The scheme involved falsifying processing of waste by sending it to companies whose activities were fictitious, thus saving the fees and transport costs of sending the hazardous waste to Germany where there was capacity to process it without endangering the environment.
The trading company saved costs and generated large profits while committing tax evasion, Mileva said.
The operation against the alleged group began on the morning of May 28, and involved search-and-seizure at offices and addresses in Sofia – including the ministry’s headquarters, Pravets, Pleven, Plovdiv Botevgrad, Montana, Smolyan and villages in the Kyustendil municipality.
The Special Prosecutor’s Office, police, State Agency for National Security and Gendarmerie were involved in the operation, in which computers and documents were confiscated. Mileva said that pre-trial proceedings in connection with the scheme began in January.
Zhivkov’s house in Botevgrad and his villa in Pravets were searched. He was questioned for several hours at the Special Prosecutor’s Office.
The import of waste from Italy was a matter of considerable controversy earlier this year when it emerged that the waste was being stored without being processed, and that it was mixed rather than separated.
Zhivkov, 55, managed a company in the 1990s for production and recycling of cardboard and paper. He was mayor of Pravets from 2003 to 2009, and Sofia regional governor up to 2013. He took office as Deputy Environment Minister in the coalition government from the quota of Prime Minister Boiko Borissov’s GERB party.
His is the second high-profile arrest at Bulgaria’s Environment Ministry this year. In January, the then minister Neno Dimov was arrested in connection with alleged criminal mismanagement that led to the water shortage in the town of Pernik.
Later in January, it emerged that Dimov, who resigned as minister after being charged, was being investigated in connection with the Bansko resort concession.
(Photo: Environment Ministry)
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