IS DIRTY MONEY CIRCULATING IN THE ENERGY SECTOR?
The great clearance sale in the energy sector started with a failure. A continuing conflict between the Ministry of Energy and the Privatisation Agency (PA) has been provoked by the divestment of the Kozlodoui-based Atomenergoremont, which used to be part of the Bulgarian Nuclear Power Plant until the autumn of 2001. Fears are that potential buyers of the company are backed by quite disputable persons and companies - a notorious potato producer, supposed to be one of the leaders of the organized crime, a well-known gambling boss, and two business groups (one associated with the remainings of the Multigroup empire, and the other - with the Olympus circle). Tension about the deal grew to an extreme extent. Apart from senior representatives of the Bulgarian Ministry of Internal Affairs, a western diplomat and people from the foreign secret services, got involved in the debate. Eventually, it became clear that even the Supreme Cassation Prosecutor's Office started investigating the deal ten days ago.While waiting for the draft agreement, the PA's Supervisory Board seems to have stood up against the executive body of the agency.The PAtried to prove that the procedure, coordinated with the Ministry of Energy, had a single requirement - to sell Atomenergoremont at the highest possible price. That's why the PA's website published its correspondence with the Energy Ministry. However, the Energy Minister Milko Kovachev reattacked by saying that, since the procedure was announced, the ministry had sent five letters insisting that potential buyers have long experience in the branch. It turned out that in a special letter sent to PA's Supervisory Board last week, Mr. Kovachev asked for the deal to be suspended. In another notice, sent to the National Security Service, Minister Kovachev insisted that the service officials investigate the chosen buyer - the Bulgarian Energy Company. According to sources from the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the National Security Service is investigating the structure and the origin of the company's capital, the jurisitic and natural persons connected with it, its commercial partners, and financial operations.The sale of Atomenergoremont will be suspended, people familiar with the case claim. The question is who will act first - the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Supreme Cassation Prosecutor's Office, or the PAs Supervisory Board. If all the three institutions delay their decisions, there will be pressure from outside for suspension of the sale. The simple reason is that nobody in the West would allow unidentified money to control a company situated on the territory of the Kozlodoui N-plant and provided with unlimited access to radioactive waste. Moreover, one major reason why G-7 included Kozlodoui's first four units in the list of dangerous Soviet-type reactors is that they have potential dual-use. It means that along with the generated electricity, they also produce radioactive waste as well as a kind of plutonium used in the heads of nuclear bombs.Therefore, neither Brussels nor Washington will allow such nuclear reactors to go into the hands of dubious businessmen.Right now nobody is able to guarantee that dirty money is not going to get involved in the privatisation of energy companies. Buyers are only required to declare where their resources come from, Prof. Konstantin Shoushoulov, Chairman of the State Committee for Energy Regulation, said. It's useless to explain what relation there is between unidentified money and national security. However, this relation has been frequently ignored so far. It already happened when the State sold several Bulgarian hydroelectric power stations, mines, cascades and energy repair companies. Will the case with Atomenergoremont make both the PA and the Energy Ministry act more carefully? Or will they keep justifying themselves with the lack of information on whether the company for sale is regarded to the national security?The only problem that seems solved concerns the forthcoming sale of the three electricity distribution pools. They have been included in the list of the 15 companies, which under the recently approved privatisation law should be sold through a special scheme because of their relation to the national security. Still, there is a loophole, considering the sales strategy of electricity distribution companies brought into the National Assembly. The strategy reads that concrete minimum requirements for the criteria that strategic investors should meet will be provided in the resolution that defines the method of sale. It means that Parliament may approve whatever it wants to, but it is the PA officials will have the final say. And nobody can tell what their decision will be.