Minister arrested following investigative report by EURACTIV Bulgaria

A handout picture of the Bulgarian chief prosecutor's office shows minister Neno Dimov taken for interrogation.

Bulgaria’s minister for environment and water resources, Neno Dimov, was placed in 24-hour custody, the office of the Prosecutor General said on Thursday (9 January). The development took place after an investigative report by EURACTIV Bulgaria exposed mismanagement that left the city of Pernik without drinking water.

Earlier on Thursday, Dimov was questioned for several hours by the specialised prosecutor’s office about the water crisis in Pernik and the import of garbage in Bulgaria, mainly from Italy.

Italian authorities are investigating a mafia scheme under which Bulgaria imports garbage from Italy, reportedly to be burnt in power plants. At the same time, Bulgaria is experiencing a catastrophic situation with air pollution.

By the time of publishing this article, Dimov has not been indicted, nor has he made any public statement. He represents the nationalist grouping “United Patriots”, a junior coalition party to Boyko Borissov’s GERB party, which is affiliated to the European People’s Party (EPP).

On Wednesday, EURACTIV.bg published an investigation by journalist Valia Ahchieva titled “The water of Pernik – lies filmed by satellite”.

The report, accompanied by a 20-minute video, is based on satellite pictures under the EU Copernicus project, which reveal that the water of Studena dam near Pernik had already reached alarming lows in August 2019, but the authorities did not react to the threat.

Other documents illustrate the inadequate reactions by Dimov, whose role by law is to manage the use of water in Bulgaria’s dams. In this case, several months of inactivity of the authorities led to the water crisis in the Pernik region and brought the city on the verge of a humanitarian crisis.

Earlier on Thursday police removed Dimov from his ministerial cabinet, initially only for questioning, but then decided that he should spend the night in police custody.

At the same time, the authorities also carried other actions in Pernik. The former district governor of the city, Irena Sokolova, who is now the leader of the Women GERB faction, was arrested. A former head of the water supply services of Pernik, Ivan Vitanov, was also detained.

Pernik’s municipal dam is practically empty and the city of 80,000 inhabitants is being supplied from mobile water cisterns. This entails a serious risk to human health.

Dimov gained international prominence during the Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the EU in the first half of 2018, when it became public that a climate change denier was chairing the EU’s Environment Council.

Bulgarian environment minister under MEP fire over his views on climate change

Bulgaria’s environment minister was under fire on Wednesday (24 January) in the Environment Committee of the European Parliament over his positions on climate change and his support for a recent decision to allow construction of tourist facilities in the Pirin national park.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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