The investigative story that brought down a minister in Bulgaria

The cracked bottom of the Studena dam [Georgi Kozhuharov, Dnevnik] publishes the full video, with subtitles, by Valia Ahchieva for, which led to the arrest and resignation of Neno Dimov, the minister of environment and water, following a water crisis in the city of Pernik that exposed the government’s inaction.

In recent weeks, Dimov insisted that he and his ministry were not at fault. However, Copernicus satellite images, as well as data from the logbook of the Studena Dam, prove that the crisis was just around the corner as early as August 2019.

The minister, whose legal obligation is to manage Bulgaria’s water resources, did not react and this inaction led to the humanitarian crisis in Pernik.

The scandal only erupted last month, when it was already too late. However, footage from a drone has been viral on social media since August.

The videos show what has happened to the water of the Studena Dam over the last four months: it has disappeared and the water surface of the dam has been replaced by cracked ground, but no one in the relevant ministries appeared to notice.

We used satellite pictures instead

The Copernicus project, whose images were used to piece together the EURACTIV Bulgaria investigative report, is an EU Earth observation and monitoring programme whose aim is to provide environmental and security information. Copernicus is the largest platform in the world to provide Earth observation and information for free.

Images show the dam looking half full in February 2019, and getting a little fuller in May and June.

The situation changed in August. The yellow stripes around the dam, marking the receding water levels, were getting thicker. In November, the Studena Dam looked more like a puddle while a month later, cracks on the dam’s floor became visible.

What the documents say

Despite reports from Pernik’s water supply and sewage company, which chronicled the falling water levels, minister Dimov signed a paper stating that “all dams for drinking water supply at the end of September are full enough to provide for the needs of water users.”

However, the water levels continued falling and in November, Dimov’s ministry reduced the water supply for household use by half a million cubic meters.

It was not until 19 November, when the water scandal broke, that a letter from Dimov’s ministry told Steel Industries and District Heating Company Pernik that water from the dam would only be used for the supply of the population.

What has happened since

Neno Dimov is still under arrest and under investigation. He remains the only person against whom charges have been brought, which sparked criticism from the opposition and from his own political force – the United Patriots – and the nationalist VMRO party.

The government proposed another minister to replace Dimov – Emil Dimitrov, currently an MP from the “United Patriots”. Parliament is expected to vote on the nomination on Wednesday (15 January).

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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