Bulgaria charges defence minister over combat aviation deal

Bulgaria charges defence minister over combat aviation deal
By Dimitar Koychev in Sofia November 23, 2016

The Sofia city prosecutor’s office has charged outgoing defence minister Nikolay Nenchev over alleged failure to provide aviation safety and airworthiness of Bulgarian fighter aircraft, a notice on the website of the prosecutor’s office said on November 23.

Nenchev is the second member of Bulgaria’s outgoing government to face charges this week, after Health Minister Petar Moskov was indicted on November 21. Three former ministers have also been charged recently in connection to the cancelled Belene nuclear power plant project. So far, Bulgaria’s judiciary has had a minimal success rate in bringing cases against politicians, but the recent series of high-level investigations could be a sign they are becoming more aggressive. 

The prosecutor’s investigation into Nenchev found that in April 2015 Bulgaria’s defence ministry and Russian corporation RSK MiG signed two contracts for extending the life of two jet engines, as well as the repair of two other jet engines and other equipment, all used by Bulgaria’s Soviet-made MiG-29 jet fighters. The value of the deal was €3.77mn. However, after the signing Nenchev repeatedly instructed his subordinates to ignore these contracts and not implement them, the prosecutor’s office said.

The prosecutor’s office claims that Nenchev’s actions resulted in significant negative consequences for the army, including reduced flight time for air force pilots, fewer prepared pilots and the inability to train young MiG-29 pilots.

In 2015 and 2016, Nenchev worked on other options, and in November 2015 Bulgaria’s parliament ratified a €6.1mn contract with Poland for the repair of six MiG-29 engines, which has already been completed. Shortly before the ratification, RSK MiG had warned that it would sue Bulgaria if the contract with Poland went ahead, saying that Bulgaria and Russia had an agreement on intellectual property, and there is such property in the engines.

In the end Bulgaria had to resort to the original manufacturer, RSK MiG. In November 2016, the Balkan country’s defence ministry signed a BGN42.7mn (€21.8mn, VAT not included) contract to buy 10 MiG-29 engines, to be delivered by the Bulgarian company Aviostart, which will purchase them from the Russian corporation.

Nenchev and Moskov are part of the outgoing Bulgarian government headed by Prime Minister Boyko Borissov. Both ministers came from the ranks of junior ruling coalition partner Reformist Bloc. 

On November 14, Borissov submitted to the parliament the resignation of the government he leads. The move came after the second round of the presidential election was won by former air force commander General Rumen Radev, who was supported by the opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP). The parliament accepted the cabinet's resignation on November 16.