Ex-Bulgarian agriculture minister charged with power abuse

Bulgarian prosecutors charged a former agriculture minister with abuse of power.

Ex-Bulgarian agriculture minister charged with power abuse

Bulgarian prosecutors charged a former agriculture minister with abuse of power on Tuesday, the first such high-level prosecution since the EU's poorest state elected a centre-right government in July vowing to fight graft.

Valeri Tsvetanov was charged with signing 15 land swap deals which the Sofia city prosecutor said caused significant damage to the state, without giving their precise value.

Tsvetanov was the first minister to be charged from the previous Socialist-led government that was widely accused of failing to tackle chronic crime.

The GERB party won the July election on pledges to restore the rule of law and the trust of the European Union, which last year cut Bulgaria's access to millions in EU aid over fraud.

New Prime Minister Boiko Borisov is due to pay his first visit to Brussels on Wednesday to report on progress since taking office in late July and prevent further sanctions on aid.

He has said access to billions in subsidies promised to Bulgaria through to 2013 and needed to avoid a protracted recession, depended on punishing officials over fraud and graft.

Tsvetanov was charged with signing the land swap deals the day before a moratorium on such deals came into force in late February, Sofia City Prosecutor Nikolai Kokinov said.

"He is charged with abuse of power and causing significant damage to the state," Kokinov said.

If found guilty, Tsvetanov faces up to 8 years in jail. National radio quoted him as denying any wrongdoing.

Anti-corruption drive

Government officials have said several ministers from the previous Socialist-led cabinet would be charged with wrongdoing in coming weeks but did not give details.

Former ministers and other officials have been prosecuted in the past but Bulgaria has failed to convict a single senior official of graft and has sent to jail only one crime boss since communism collapsed 20 years ago.

Prosecutors, police and the national security agency decided on Tuesday to set up special teams to investigate organised crime and graft at high levels from Oct. 1 to speed up stalled court cases, Prosecutor General Boris Velchev said.

Some of the biggest corruption scandals that hit the previous government involved fraud with EU aid and land swaps which according to anti-graft groups had robbed Bulgaria of 4 billion euros in the past four years.

Last month, prosecutors charged the former head of the state forestry agency with abuse of power for sealing land deals that caused serious damage to the state.

Prosecutors have been investigating since March swaps of thousands of hectares of state-owned arable land and forests for fragmented private land at lower than the market price.

Reuters

Last Mod: 08 Eylül 2009, 14:50
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