Bulgaria’s energy minister tendered her resignation on Friday after the sale of the country’s biggest private utility firm raised eyebrows in the EU’s poorest and most graft-ridden state. Czech utility group CEZ said Thursday that it had picked a company called Inercom as preferred bidder to buy its Bulgarian electricity distribution subsidiary.
Press reports put the price tag for the business serving three million people in northwestern Bulgaria and Sofia at 320 million euros ($394 million). This prompted questions over how an inconspicuous local company with little experience could finance and manage such an acquisition.
Delyan Dobrev, head of the parliamentary energy commission, said he thought at first that it was a “fake news” when Inercom had been selected. “I couldn’t imagine how a company with assets of 90,000 leva (45,000 euros) and losses of 11,000 leva could buy Bulgaria’s biggest private energy company,” Dobrev said. According to news website Kapital, there were five offers in total including a Bulgarian-Indian consortium that was later barred as well as and Turkey’s STFA.
Media reports linked Energy Minister Temenuzhka Petkova to Inercom’s owner and she confirmed Friday that she has “known these people for 20 years now.” Announcing her decision to quit, Petkova said she wanted to avoid “suspicions” over the deal and that the government was not involved in any way in the sales process. Eleven years after joining the European Union, Bulgaria remains subject to special monitoring by Brussels for its poor record tackling corruption and organized crime.
Days after it assumed the rotating presidency of the EU in January a top businessman was shot dead in broad daylight in the capital Sofia. Prime Minister Boyko Borisov hinted on Friday that he would accept Petkova’s resignation. CEZ acquired the electricity distribution business from the state in 2004 but started offloading its assets here last year.