Bulgaria's ex-energy chief charged over Russian gas cutoff
SOFIA, Bulgaria (AP) — Bulgarian prosecutors on Wednesday charged a former energy minister in the previous, pro-Western government with mismanagement that allegedly caused losses of 45 million euros ($48 million) to the country’s major state-run gas operator.
Alexander Nikolov was in office when Russia’s Gazprom cut off deliveries to Bulgaria after the country, together with others, refused to start paying for deliveries in Russian currency following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The Sofia prosecution office said in a statement that Nikolov and two other energy officials had threatened the operation of the state gas company Bulgargaz concerning public gas supplies in the country.
The office filed charges of intentional mismanagement against the three officials for causing financial damages to the state company. It didn’t provide details.
Nikolov, who was energy minister between Dec. 2021 and Aug. 2022, denied any wrongdoing and told reporters that “the charges boil down to Bulgaria’s decision not to give in to the extortion by Gazprom and Russia”.
One of the investigators, Biserka Stoyanova, said the focus of their efforts has been Bulgaria’s reaction to the proposed new payment scheme for the long-term contract with Gazprom.
Stoyanova told reporters that in addition to causing financial damages to Bulgargaz in April and May 2022, the alleged mismanagement had “put at risk the state company’s remit to act as a public supplier of gas, specifically its duty to ensure secure and uninterrupted deliveries.”
Russia halted natural gas deliveries in April 2022 after the previous government in Sofia refused Gazprom’s demand to pay in rubles. That prompted then-Prime Minister Kiril Petkov to claim that Moscow had used “hybrid war” tactics to bring down his government.
Bulgaria, which ahead of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine was almost fully dependent on Russian gas, has already secured alternative gas supplies from non-Russian sources.