Bulgaria sacks coal execs for suspected embezzlement Reuters - 2009/7/13
* Coal execs fired after audit showed suspected embezzlement

* GERB party sees worrying trends in energy sector

* Sofia under EU pressure to stamp out graft



SOFIA, July 13 (Reuters) - Bulgaria Energy Holding (BEH), which runs the Balkan country's big state-owned energy firms, said on Monday it had fired two executives over suspected embezzlement at Maritsa East, its biggest coal mine.

On Friday, the centre-right GERB party which won July 5 general elections called on the outgoing Socialist-led government to temporarily halt major projects citing concerns about activities at state energy companies. [ID:nLA562662]

GERB will lead the next government and must fight corruption and crime to avoid more sanctions from the European Union which last year cut Sofia's access to over 500 million euros ($696 million) in aid as punishment.

BEH said it dismissed Ivan Markov, chief executive of the Maritsa East coal complex, and his deputy Gocho Hristov, following a financial audit of the mines.

"The results from the audit show serious misappropriation (of funds) and violations of financial discipline, lack of control in planning and spending the company's financial resources," BEH said in a statement.

It said Maritsa East's profit was sharply lowered and a large part of its expenditure did not correspond to the company's main aim of creating value.

BEH declined to say whether it would ask prosecutors to raise charges against Markov and Hristov and did not give other details. A spokeswoman at Maritsa East declined comment.

BEH said it had also launched an audit at dominant state power utility NEK to investigate its worsening financial results.

Bulgarian anti-graft group the Centre for the Study of Democracy has said the state-dominated energy sector is a major source of funds used for political corruption.

Maritsa East's Markov ran unsuccessfully for a seat in parliament for the Socialists which would have given him immunity from prosecution.

Last week, GERB leader and prime minister-designate Boiko Borisov urged Bulgaria's top prosecutors to investigate high-level officials over suspected corruption and to produce results within six months. [ID:nL8591249]

The former head of Sofia's state heating plant was found guilty of misusing over $4.2 million and sentenced to 14 years in jail last month in a trial which tested the country's ability to tackle graft. [ID:nLP84334] (Editing by Anna Mudeva and Jason Neely)



Author: Irina Ivanova

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