Bulgaria’s former defense minister put on trial amid procurement irregularity allegations

A court in Sofia, Bulgaria, has initiated the trial of former Bulgarian Defence Minister Nikolay Nenchev, who has been accused of abuse of office over two military procurements. They include the contract to overhaul the country’s Mikoyan MiG-29 fighter jets, which was initially awarded to Polish state-run defense companies amid protests by Russia’s RSK MiG, and a military uniform procurement.

President Rumen Radev, who previously served as the commander of the Bulgarian Air Force, is scheduled to testify April 12, according to local news agency Focus.

Last January, Radev, whose candidature was supported by the Bulgarian Socialist Party, appointed Ognyan Gerdjikov as the country’s caretaker prime minister ahead of the early parliamentary election that will take place March 26. Nenchev is running for a position in the country’s parliament as a representative of the opposition center-right Reformist Bloc, and his attorney petitioned the court to postpone the trial. However, the appointed judge ruled against it.

In October 2015, the Russian aircraft maker sent a letter of protest to the Bulgarian parliament’s Defense Committee after Nenchev and his Polish counterpart signed a letter of intent under which six MiG-29s would be upgraded and serviced by Polish plants. The minister responded by saying that Warsaw’s offer was “two times lower” than what Sofia was offered by Moscow, but the deal was eventually scrapped.

A probe launched by Bulgaria’s incumbent government identified irregularities in 45 of the 85 procurement deals signed by the Defence Ministry in 2016, according to cabinet officials. Nine of the contracts have been submitted to Bulgarian prosecutors for further investigation. Among others, the prosecutor’s office in Sofia is accusing Nenchev of endangering the safety of Bulgaria’s military pilots in relation to the outstanding aircraft overhaul.