The Bulgarian and Czech governments are trembling because of the unfolding scandals surrounding a deal to sell the assets of ČEZ Bulgaria to an obscure private company with no experience. ČEZ is a Czech state energy giant in which pro-Russian President Miloš Zeman has a lot of sway.
On 22 February, ČEZ officially announced the sale of its Bulgarian assets to the absolutely unknown Bulgarian company “Inercom Bulgaria”. The price for the purchase of the shares is €340 million, with which the buyer will acquire the business of supplying electricity to 40% of Bulgaria’s population, including the capital Sofia.
The owner of “Inercom Bulgaria” is Ginka Varbakova from the town of Pazardzhik, who has no experience in managing such projects. The company was founded last year with capital of €25,000.
Borissov was already forced to resign once before, in February 2013, over a scandal linked to electricity prices. In that case, ČEZ was targeted for what was perceived as an attempt to exploit Bulgarian consumers.
It is clear that Varbakova and Inercom Bulgaria cannot complete the deal because of the rising public resistance.
Meanwhile, the scandal produced ripples in the Czech Republic as well, because of the news that the deal was held hostage to a conflict between President Zeman and acting Prime Minister Andrej Babiš.
Zeman is often seen as the person who politically controls ČEZ, in which 70% of the shares are owned by the Czech state. Zeman is often reproached for having serious contacts with the Kremlin, and the deal may yet become hostage to geopolitical interests too.
A confirmation of this scenario came when newspaper Lidové noviny revealed the scheme Varbakova had devised to finance the transaction.
The most problematic aspect of the scheme is the envisaged financing by offshore companies owned by a Russian-Georgian businessman with Bulgarian citizenship, Paata Gamgoneishvili, whose name appears in the Panama Dossier investigation.
Right now, it is clear that ČEZ’s deal with Varbakova in Bulgaria is virtually dead and all other options are impossible without the political support of the authorities in Sofia and Prague, Bulgarian journalist Krassen Nikolov wrote, providing many other details.
The scandal shows that state institutions in Bulgaria are not really working to stop the mafia, not even the deals which have the potential to threaten the national security.
It also illustrates, time and again, that all the power in Bulgaria is concentrated in the hands of a prime minister who has no time to deal with all issues, especially since he has aspirations to be a statesman on the global stage, especially while Bulgaria holds the EU rotating presidency.
It is also clear that in every Bulgarian scandal there are strings leading to other capitals. Moscow is certainly one of them.
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Feminist strike. Spain marked International Women’s Day with unprecedented protests in defence of women’s rights. Hundreds of trains were cancelled, and massive rallies held in Madrid and Barcelona to highlight sexism and the gender pay gap.
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Showing good will. Croatian, Serbian and Bosnian leaders met for the first time in six years in an attempt to settle bilateral disputes in the region, after the EU unveiled its new enlargement strategy for the Western Balkans.
Views are the author’s