April 9, 2008 / 11:32 AM / 11 years ago

Anti-crime body freezes assets of Bulgartabak CEO

SOFIA, April 9 (Reuters) - A Bulgarian anti-crime commission said it has frozen property and all the bank accounts of the chief executive of state tobacco company Bulgartabak BTHG.BB after he was charged with tax evasion.

The commission froze assets worth 981,740 levs ($789,800) belonging to Hristo Lachev and his family in its first move against a high-ranking official.

It said in a statement on Wednesday Lachev’s assets and property significantly exceeded the legally declared incomes of his family.

“There is a presumption that the property has been acquired via criminal activities,” the commission said.

Last month, the economy minister asked for Lachev’s suspension and has since appointed a second CEO to run the cigarette maker while Lachev went on forced leave.

Prosecutors have accused Lachev of misappropriation of funds and charged him with tax evasion on a large scale.

He has denied any wrongdoing.

If the court finds him guilty, the anti-crime commission will attempt to confiscate the assets it has frozen.

The European Union, which Bulgaria joined last year, has stepped up pressure on Sofia to get serious about fighting rampant crime and corruption. It has not charged any senior officials with graft and has only put one organised crime boss behind bars.

The Bulgartabak CEO row comes at the time the Socialist-led government plans to dispose of its near 80 percent stake in Bulgartabak’s remaining state cigarette factories.

The economy minister has said four foreign tobacco majors are interested and that a deal could be sealed by year-end.

This marks Bulgaria’s fourth attempt to dispose of its former tobacco monopoly — once a major cigarette exporter in the former Soviet bloc — after previous efforts have failed due to political wrangling and lack of political will. (Reporting by Tsvetelia Ilieva; Editing by David Cowell)

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