Sofia to renegotiate controversial concession of Bansko ski resort

Sofia to renegotiate controversial concession of Bansko ski resort
The developer of Bulgaria's largest ski resort Bansko has been accused of illegally expanding into Pirin national park.
By Denitsa Koseva in Sofia December 5, 2018

Bulgaria’s government has instructed Environment Protection Minister Neno Dimov to start negotiations with Yulen, a company reportedly owned by Bulgarian oligarch Tseko Minev, to change the highly controversial contract for the concession of Bansko, Bulgaria’s largest ski resort, located in Pirin National Park.

The concession deal has provoked numerous objections and protests by environmentalists since it was signed in 2001. 

In June, chief prosecutor Sotir Tsatsarov urged the government to amend the agreement, as Yulen is using illegally nearly twice as much territory for its facilities than the area agreed under the concession, as pointed out by environmentalist party The Greens in a claim filed in February with the prosecution.

The prosecution said at the time that for more than eight years the government has been aware that Yulen is breaching the contract.

Until now the government has not taken any steps and at the end of November Tsatsarov said in an interview with bTV that unless the government does something very soon he will initiate a criminal investigation.

Although formally Yulen is owned by Georgius Georgiu, a person from Cyprus with no other visible assets, rumour has it that the real owner is Minev. This allegation was even made earlier this year by Prime Minister Boyko Borissov.

Minev is also one of the shareholders of Bulgaria’s FIBank. In June, the bank denied any link between Minev and Yulen.

Environmentalists have objected to Tsatsarov’s demand for the contract between the government and Yulen to be amended. The environmentalist NGO For the Nature said at the end of November that the contract must be ended as its amendment would breach the law.

Meanwhile, Bulgaria’s Supreme Administrative Court (SAC) has ruled that the government is not obliged to do a new environmental assessment if it decides to expand the territory where construction of facilities is allowed, news outlet Dnevnik reported.

On December 28, 2017 the government approved a new management plan for the national park, allowing Yulen to build a second gondola cabin lift in Bansko. 

The construction of the second gondola lift has been at the centre of a lengthy dispute between owners of property at the resort and environmentalists, who claim that it would affect protected areas. The December 2017 decision provoked outrage and several thousand Bulgarians went out to protest the next day. The protests continued for several months. In November, the WWF and several other NGOs took the Ministry of the Environment and Water to court over the planned opening of Pirin National Park to development.