SOFIA (Reuters) - Plans by Bulgaria to buy eight fighter jets are on hold after lawmakers on Wednesday questioned if all bidders for the contract had been treated equally.
The NATO and EU member state, which is looking to replace its aging Soviet-designed MiG-29s, said in June it would start talks to buy new Gripen warplanes from Swedish manufacturer Saab in a deal estimated at 1.5 billion levs ($920 million).
But a parliamentary committee set up to investigate the bid process, part of which was handled by a previous interim government, requested a defense ministry review after uncovering what it called “disturbing facts”.
“The most important thing is to treat all participants equally,” said committee chairman Emil Hristov.
Hours earlier, Slovakia’s defense minister said it was deferring a planned fighter jet purchase — also to replace MiG-29s - pending a broader upgrade of its armed forces.
On Monday, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov voiced doubt that Gripen was the best choice for the new fighter jet for the Black Sea state’s Air Force. He had initially told his Swedish counterpart that negotiations on a Gripen acquisition would proceed within weeks.
Bulgaria also received offers from Portugal for secondhand U.S. F-16s and from Italy for secondhand Eurofighter Typhoons.
The question of which warplanes Bulgaria should buy has been vexing successive governments for more than a decade.
The country has said it wants to upgrade between 2018 and 2022 to bring its fighter jet fleet closer into compliance with NATO standards.
Bulgaria joined the Atlantic alliance in 2004 and the European Union three years later.
Reporting by Angel Krasimirov; editing by John Stonestreet