March 21, 2017 / 12:08 PM / a year ago

UPDATE 1-Bulgaria should cancel Sofia airport tender - minister

(Adds details, background)

SOFIA, March 21 (Reuters) - Bulgaria should cancel its tender to run and operate Sofia airport, interim Transport Minister Hristo Aleksiev said on Tuesday, adding that granting concession rights for 35 years at the country’s main airport was not in the public interest.

The deadline for bids, currently May 19, has been delayed four times since last May when the previous government launched it.

“The public interest is not sufficiently protected and it (the concession) will lead to an increase in airport fees and an outflow of traffic through Bulgaria and the airport,” Aleksiev told a news conference.

He said he will sent the proposal for the cancellation of the tender, which was projected to bring 1.2 billion levs ($663.42 million) into state coffers, to the government this week.

One of the first jobs of the interim government after it took office in January was to extend the deadline for the tender until May to allow a new government that will take over after snap polls this Sunday pick a winner.

Aleksiev’s statement came days after Kornelia Ninova, the leader of the leftist Socialist party, appealed to the government to cancel the tender to avoid Turkish companies taking control of the airport amid rising tensions with neighbouring Turkey over its meddling in the Bulgarian election.

Turkey’s Limak Holding, Russia’s VTB Capital and Switzerland’s Flughafen Zuerich are planning to jointly bid for the right to operate the airport, a source familiar with the process told Reuters.

Turkish airports group TAV, in which French Groupe ADP has a 38 percent stake, is also considering a bid, local media reported.

Last week, Bulgaria’s national security agency said it had expelled a Turkish citizen and banned two others from entering the country over what it described as activities against Bulgaria’s sovereignty and national unity.

The interim government summoned Turkey’s envoy to Sofia after reports that a Turkish minister had campaigned for a Bulgarian party in Istanbul, where many Bulgarian citizens live. It also recalled its own ambassador to Turkey for consultations.

The airport, which was used by 5 million passengers last year, is currently operated by the state. ($1 = 1.8088 leva) (Reporting by Angel Krasimirov and Tsvetelia Tsolova; editing by Jason Neely and Ed Osmond)

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