Bulgaria environment minister charged over water crisis, resigns post

SOFIA (Reuters) - Bulgarian prosecutors charged Environment Minister Neno Dimov on Friday with deliberate mismanagement over severe water restrictions faced by nearly 100,000 people for about two months in a region of western Bulgaria.

The water crisis, affecting the town of Pernik and surrounding villages, has triggered a series of protests and prompted the main opposition Socialists to seek a no-confidence vote in Prime Minister Boyko Borissov’s centre-right government.

Borissov accepted Dimov’s resignation on Friday.

Prosecutors said Dimov had failed to take proper measures to avoid a critical draining of a dam that provides drinking water to Pernik and its surrounding villages despite numerous warnings and reports of its decreasing levels.

“Some 97,000 people will not have normal access to drinking water in the next five months - which they would have had if the minister had exercised his authority,” Prosecutor Angel Kanev told reporters.

“This is the biggest damage,” he said.

The prosecutors said Dimov had allowed water supplies from the dam to industrial users even when he had been informed from the start of 2018 that water levels there were falling.

Dimov, who faces up to eight years in jail if convicted, was arrested on Thursday after police and prosecutors raided the environment ministry and several institutions in Pernik, seizing documents and other data. He will remain in custody for another 72 hours, prosecutors said.

Dimov has previously denied any wrongdoing, blaming the water crisis on dry weather and poor management of the local water facility.

Pernik’s water supply infrastructure has not been renovated for more than 50 years and wastes over 70% of the drinking water that runs through it.

Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; Editing by Willliam Maclean and Gareth Jones