Three Bulgarian ministers resign over bus crash that killed 17

Three Bulgarian ministers resign over bus crash that killed 17
Interior Minister Valentin Radev and Regional Development Minister Nikolay Nankov announce their resignation.
By Denitsa Koseva in Sofia August 31, 2018

Three Bulgarian ministers resigned on August 31 upon the request of Prime Minister Boyko Borissov following a bus crash that killed 17 people and left many more wounded earlier this month. 

On August 25, the bus crashed near Svoge and 17 of the passengers died, while three are still fighting for their lives in hospital and many others are recovering. There are suspicions that the deadly accident could have been caused by defects in the road construction; it was built by Trace Svoge, which is majority-owned by local construction company Trace Group Hold.

Borissov demanded the resignation of Interior Minister Valentin Radev, Transport Minister Ivaylo Moskovski and Regional Development Minister Nikolay Nankov over their political responsibility for the bus crash at an extraordinary government session. However, the move was seen rather as an attempt by Borissov to save himself, as the bus crash and the ongoing investigation could cost him significant withdrawal of supporters.

“Moskovski, Radev and I have submitted our resignation to the prime minister as we have said,” Nankov told a press conference live broadcasted by BNT.

He recalled that all three ministers said right after the bus crash that they are ready to accept their political responsibility.

“Apparently we have not organised the work of the ministries so that this accident has happened, which was the final straw,” said Radev.

Meanwhile, the main opposition in parliament, the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), is preparing to file its third no-confidence motion against Borissov’s government, also because of the bus crash. It claims the resignations came too late.

“Three ministers of the government of ‘stability’ are going away. This is a governmental crisis and we, of the BSP, are not surprised by the resignations and consider them too late,” the deputy-leader of the BSP Kiril Dobrev said at a press conference.

He added that two more ministers had to resign: Minister of Justice Tsetska Tsatcheva and Minister of Agriculture Rumen Porozhanov. The BSP says Tsatcheva must resign after two prisoners escaped from the main male prison in Bulgaria by its main entrance, and after computer failures caused the company register to crash earlier this month. Meanwhile the party says Porozhanov has to resign over the killing of hundreds of animals in Strandzha mountain over suspicions of a deadly plague outbreak, which was later proved wrong by laboratory tests.

The bus crash led to mass protests by people living near Svoge, who claim the road was dangerous and many accidents have occurred on the same stretch. The police have interrogated Nankov along with 20 people involved in the commission that had approved the road for use after it was repaired by Trace. Samples from the road were taken and the investigators will test them to determine the condition and composition of the road and how the repairs were implemented.

Prosecutors have already charged the bus driver over the accident as allegedly he was driving 13 km/h above the 40 km/h speed limit when the bus crashed. His lawyer, however, claims that the responsibility rests with the state, which ordered and approved the road.

Trace Group Hold claims it built the road according to Bulgarian quality standards. However, the company’s shares have been hitting the bottom on the Bulgarian Stock Exchange since the beginning of the week. On August 28, they plunged by more than 11% to BGN3.26 (€1.7) per share – the lowest price for the past five years – and kept falling in the following days.

Meanwhile, Moskovski has been accused of involvement in a corrupt scheme to allow people who cannot drive to get driving licences, thus contributing to the high level of road crash deaths, by prominent Bulgarian dissident, poet and journalist Nikolai Kolev-Bossia, who started a hunger strike 81 days ago. Kolev-Bossia has said he will end his strike only after Moskovski’s resignation; he ended his protest on August 31.

In an attempt to persuade Kolev-Bossia to end his strike, the parliament has already set up a special committee to investigate the corruption in the transport sector. However, this did not persuade the prominent journalist to end his protest at the time.