ISSN 2330-717X

Bulgaria Minister Resigns After Arrest Over Water Crisis

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By Svetoslav Todorov

Bulgaria’s Minister of Environment and Water, Neno Dimov, has resigned and been charged with deliberate mismanagement of a water crisis. He faces further grilling over a scandal concerning transports of scrap from Italy.

Prime Minister Boyko Borissov accepted his resignation on Friday. Dimov stepped down after being arrested on Thursday.

The town of Pernik, 40 kilometres west of Sofia and home to 82,000 people, has been struggling with its water supply for two months after the local Studena dam dried up, since when the authorities have imposed water restrictions to cope with the crisis.

The minister has been charged with deliberate mismanagement for allowing a continued flow of the water supply, despite repeated warnings that the level of water behind the dam was decreasing.

Meanwhile, reports surfaced in the Italian media in mid-December of irregularities in the paperwork for processing 9,000 tonnes of scrap – mostly plastic, paper and metal – being transported from Italy to a site near the Bulgarian town of Pleven.

The scrap was allowed to enter Bulgaria allegedly without the proper paperwork required for it to be gathered, maintained and destroyed at the site.

Although the two cases are separate, Dimov has been criticised for inaction in both.

Following an investigation led by Chief Prosecutor Ivan Geshev, Dimov was taken into custody on Thursday and held for 24 hours. Later, the prosecution said he would be held for another 72 hours, but was not being grilled over the waste issue, which was still being investigated.

The former governor of Pernik district, Irena Sokolova, and the former head of the local water supply, Ivan Vitanov, are also under arrest. Around 30 people are being questioned. The Minister of Regional Development and Public Works, Petya Avramova, from the ruling GERB party, has not been affected by the actions.

Dimov is the first minister in the history of post-communist Bulgaria to have spent a night in jail.

Some have interpreted it as publicity stunt for Prosecutor General Geshev, also a controversial figure. His seven-year mandate started this January, after his election sparked protests.

He was the sole candidate for the post in the autumn of 2019. After being backed by a record number of magistrates, President Rumen Radev vetoed his election.

Geshev took office after a re-election. Meanwhile, protests in Sofia followed as well as statements from NGOs, liberal parties and judges and lawyers’ associations, all expressing concern about the process and noting Geshev’s questionable reputation. A statement from Geshev on the Dimov case was expected later on Friday.

The opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party said on January 20 it would file a no-confidence motion against the government over its environmental and water policies.

Dimov’s reputation among environmentalists and concerned citizens is at an all-time low. In early 2019, he stated that plans for possible construction work in the Pirin mountains did not need ecological expertise. He has also expressed skepticism about climate change, even describing the crisis as a fraud. He also treated persistent complaints about bad air quality in Sofia as exaggerated.

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The Balkan Insight (fornerkt the Balkin Investigative Reporting Network, BIRN) is a close group of editors and trainers that enables journalists in the region to produce in-depth analytical and investigative journalism on complex political, economic and social themes. BIRN emerged from the Balkan programme of the Institute for War & Peace Reporting, IWPR, in 2005. The original IWPR Balkans team was mandated to localise that programme and make it sustainable, in light of changing realities in the region and the maturity of the IWPR intervention. Since then, its work in publishing, media training and public debate activities has become synonymous with quality, reliability and impartiality. A fully-independent and local network, it is now developing as an efficient and self-sustainable regional institution to enhance the capacity for journalism that pushes for public debate on European-oriented political and economic reform.

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