Bulgaria probes ex-ministers over $1.5 bln in deals

Bulgarian prosecutors are investigating ex-ministers and other senior officials over suspected abuse of power in signing deals worth $1.49 billion, the cabinet said.

Bulgaria probes ex-ministers over $1.5 bln in deals

 Bulgarian prosecutors are investigating ex-ministers and other senior officials over suspected abuse of power in signing deals worth 2.16 billion levs ($1.49 billion), the cabinet said on Monday.

The government of the centre-right GERB, elected last July is struggling to keep down its fiscal deficit amid a deepening recession. It says the deals, signed by the former Socialist-led cabinet and varying from construction works to arms supplies, threaten to widen the budget deficit.

Prosecutors will check whether 150 public procurement deals and other contracts signed by officials from 13 ministries in the past three years had breached public procurement and budget laws, Prosecutor Nikolai Kokinov said.

"The motives to launch an investigation are that officials have abused their power...with the aim of benefiting themselves or other people," the cabinet said in a statement.

The new government wants to keep the budget deficit below 2 percent of GDP this year, among the lowest in the EU, to avoid possible pressure on Bulgaria's lev currency peg to the euro and improve its bid to join the pre-euro ERM-2 waiting room.

Local media quoted Prime Minister Boiko Borisov as saying over the weekend the disputed deals might increase the deficit to 6-7 percent if payments on them had to be made this year.

Former finance ministers said Borisov exaggerated the impact of those contracts, whole analysts said he threw more blame on his predecessors to avoid a further fall in public support, hurt by policy blunders and the economic pain.

"That (blaming) policy appeals very much to the public and it is one of the reasons why a big part of the people keep trusting him," said Mira Radeva with independent pollster MBMD. The government has been criticised by some of its rightist allies, economists and media for indecision in implementing austerity measures and reforms needed to prevent a prolonged recession.

The cabinet, which came to power on promises of radical reforms, has repeatedly changed its mind on spending cuts and tax hikes in the past three weeks and backed down on healthcare and pension overhauls under public pressure.

Ordinary Bulgarians say belt-tightening is going too far and that authorities care more about abstract things like ERM than their well-being.

Measures to crack down on tax evasion and smuggling have failed to work so far and Sofia focused its efforts on plans to cut spending. Last week, the cabinet decided to cut public sector salaries by 10 percent this year.


Güncelleme Tarihi: 29 Mart 2010, 23:19