SOFIA, March 26 Bulgaria's former agriculture
minister Miroslav Naidenov was charged on Tuesday with
corruption linked to a EU-backed food distribution scheme and
trying to bribe a subordinate, as the interim government tries
to tackle widespread graft.
Naidenov is the first minister to be charged from the
previous government led by Boiko Borisov's GERB party that was
widely accused of failing to tackle chronic crime and resigned
last month after protests against low living standards.
Bulgaria will hold early elections on May 12 with
centre-right GERB running neck-and-neck with the opposition
Socialists (BSP) in the polls. The election winner will almost
certainly need a coalition to govern.
"I have been pressed on charges in a case that has been
lying around for three years in wait for the right moment,"
Naidenov told local media. "This shows that the Socialists are
ready to do everything they can to return to power."
Prosecutors accuse the 44-year-old of favouring a food
producer to win a tender in 2010 to supply an European
Union-backed programme to distribute food to disadvantaged
He was also charged with promising a bribe of 200,000 levs
($131,700) in 2010 to a senior official at the state
agricultural fund which disburses EU aid to farmers.
Prosecutors accuse Naidenov of putting pressure on the
official to sign orders granting a tax refund to two domestic
Naidenov denied any wrongdoing. He faces up to eight years
in prison if found guilty.
Bulgaria, one of the EU's poorest countries, has been under
pressure at home and abroad to impose the rule of law and stamp
out fraud and corruption.
Former ministers and other officials have been prosecuted in
the past but Bulgaria has found it hard to convict senior
officials of graft and has sent to jail only a few crime bosses
since communism collapsed 23 years ago.
Failing to show tangible progress has led to sanctions from
Brussels, which cut access to millions of euros in aid in
($1=1.5181 Bulgarian levs)
(Reporting by Angel Krasimirov; Editing by Sophie Hares)