Bulgarian former energy minister charged over nuclear project

SOFIA (Reuters) - Bulgarian prosecutors charged former economy and energy minister Petar Dimitrov on Wednesday with losing 77 million euros ($86 million) of state money in an equipment sale to Russia’s Atomstroyexport related to a canceled nuclear project.

Bulgaria's Economy and Energy Minister Petar Dimitrov speaks during an interview with Reuters in Sofia January 19, 2009. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov

Bulgaria canceled the 10-billion-euro Belene project on the Danube River in 2012, after failing to find foreign investors and under pressure from Brussels and Washington to limit its energy dependence on Russia.

Dimitrov, 67, was economy and energy minister from 2007 to 2009. Prosecutors said he failed to stop NEK signing a deal with Russia’s Atomstroyexport that cost the state 77 million euros ($86 million) in losses.

NEK exported equipment worth 165 million euros to Atomstroyexport, but the total sum was reduced by 77 million euros ($85 million) due to expenses under the contract, prosecutors said.

On Monday, prosecutors charged two former directors of NEK with causing financial damage by signing the deal.

As part of the deal with the Russian company to build two new 1,000 megawatt reactors at Belene, Bulgaria had agreed to sell it an aging nuclear reactor it had at the site.

Dimitrov, who served as a minister in the former Socialist-led government of Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev, denied any wrongdoing.

Bulgaria’s parliament set up a committee on Tuesday to investigate in detail every aspect of the Belene project between 2006 and September 2016.

Rumyana Arnaudova, the chief prosecutor’s spokesperson, said that more charges over the selling of old equipment to Atomstroyexport are expected in the coming days but refused to disclose any names.

“We will make the investigation more difficult if we hand out more information at this stage,” Arnaudova said.

($1 = 0.9094 euros)

Reporting by Angel Krasimirov; editing by x