Charges Mount Against Bulgarian Ministers After Government Falls

  • Outgoing Minister Nikolay Nenchev indicted with abuse of power
  • Charges follow similar actions against other officials

Bulgarian prosecutors charged Defense Minister Nikolay Nenchev with abuse of office, the third high-level official who’s worked for Prime Minister Boyko Borissov to face legal action since his government collapsed last week.

Authorities accused Nenchev over the cancellation of a contract with Russian state-owned company RSK MiG to extend the lives of the NATO country’s fighter jets. Nenchev denied wrongdoing. The charges follow the indictment of Health Minister Petar Moscov for abuse of power in vaccine procurement and charges against former Energy Minister Delian Dobrev over the canceled Belene nuclear-plant project last week. Two other former energy ministers were also charged.

Nikolay Nenchev

Nikolay Nenchev

Photographer: Thierry Charlier/AFP via Getty Images

“I’ve always upheld Bulgaria’s national interests, and that of the alliance to which we belong,” Nenchev told reporters on Wednesday. “The indictment doesn’t worry me. I’m certain in everything I’ve done.”

The charges come less than a week after Borissov honored a pledge to step down when his ruling Gerb party’s candidate was crushed by opposition Socialist candidate Rumen Radev in the Nov. 13 presidential election runoff. His government’s demise will trigger the third snap election in the European Union’s poorest country in five years after President Rosen Plevneliev appoints an interim cabinet. Radev, who will take office in January, can then dissolve parliament, and the snap ballot can happen in March at the earliest.

NATO, Russia

Nenchev “failed to secure the aviation safety and airworthiness” of the Air Force by canceling a service-life extension contract for four MiG-29 jet engines and two other pieces of equipment with RSK MiG in 2015, the Prosecutors’ Office said on its website.

The accusations over the MiG contract highlight the delicate line Bulgaria is walking to balance its international ties. The country of 7.2 million shares religious, historical and other cultural links with its Cold War patron Russia, which is also its main energy supplier. At the same time, it must meet its commitments to its western allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which it joined in 2004, and the EU, which it entered three years later.

Since last decade, the Balkan country has come under EU pressure to fight high-level graft, and it ranks worst in the bloc in Transparency International’s global 2015 corruption-perceptions index. One of Brussels’ main criticisms is Bulgaria’s failure to prosecute and effectively sentence corrupt senior officials, which neighboring Romania, also scolded for graft, has done repeatedly.

Former Defense Minister Nikolai Tsonev, a member of then-Prime Minister’s Sergei Stanishev’s cabinet in 2008-2009, was arrested in 2010 and charged with bribery, abuse of office in procurement orders. Two years later he was acquitted on all charges.

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