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Bulgarian Energy Minister Suspended on Corruption Charges

There are reports that Bulgaria’s Minister of Energy Rumen Ovcharov, the man who masterminded numerous agreements for the country with Gazprom, has been suspended by PM Sergei Stanishev for his alleged involvement in a corruption scandal. Bulgaria is a critical country for Gazprom’s disaggregation strategy, and has most recently been involved in the Burgas-Alexandroupolis Pipeline, a project which will severely affect Turkey’s role as a transit country at the Bosphorus Strait (which has long been a major problem). There are considerable energy security concerns behind the construction of this pipeline, as it would be considered competition to the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan project, which would diversify supplier countries. Bulgaria is under a lot of pressure from Brussels to prosecute a high profile individual for the country’s prolific corruption problems – but it seems that Ovcharov is so far refusing to step down. He is accused of harassing the lead prosecutor’s investigation into a scandal involving a heating company and tobacco monopoly Bulgatabac. His removal will not likely make an impact on the pipeline project, but his close relationships with Moscow cannot be replaced overnight. Hopefully EU partners will take the opportunity to urge Bulgaria toward a European-guided energy policy, rather than taking cues from Moscow as Ovcharov had always done.