Bulgarian Ex Forestry Head with New Charge over Land Swaps

Crime | May 28, 2010, Friday // 12:59|  views

Stefan Yurukov (front) has been put on a BGN 60 000 bail for new charges over illegal land swaps. Photo by BGNES

Sofia City Prosecutor's Office filed a new charge Friday against Stefan Yurukov, former head of the Bulgarian Forestry Agency, over a newly uncovered land swap deal.

Yurukov is charged with violation of his official duties by signing a contract that swaps terrain between the Forestry Agency and the company Agrosim, according to a press release from the Prosecutor's Office.

The aim of the deal is reportedly to illegally benefit Agrosim with over BGN 60 M, which has resulted in losses in the same amount for the country.

Yurukov has been put on a BGN 60 000 bail.

This development comes in the wake of a long turmoil over possible illegal swaps involving attractive and often environmentally protected lands handed over to private firms.

The problem has led to the EU Commission filing two cases for possible irregular state assistance to private companies. The Bulgarian government has replied that the swaps constitute illegal acts, rather than state assistance, and has pledged to investigate the matters.

On May 20, Bulgarian agriculture minister from the former coalition government Nihat Kabil had legal charges raised against him for formally approving two deals for forest swaps. In the fall of 2009 similar charges were raised against Valeri Tsvetanov, who replaced Kabil as agriculture minister in 2008.

Today's case is not the first charge against Yurukov, who was chief of the Forestry Agency between 2007 and 2009. In 2009 he was formally accused of multiple swaps of land along the Black Sea coast and in the Bulgarian mountains. On April 10, the case against him at the Sofia City Court was postponed. If proven guilty, Yurukov faces up to 10 years in prison.

The present agriculture minister, Miroslav Naydenov, has claimed that deals approved by Kabil are connected with Bulgarian energy tycoon Hristo Kovachki, who is currently being sued for tax evasion. Environmental organization “For the Nature” has linked swap deals involving Yurukov and Agrosim to Kovachki as early as 2008.

According to estimates of the current Borisov government, Bulgaria has lost between BGN 2 B and BGN 8 B from land swap deals approved by the previous two governments who gave large plots to private companies in exchange for much cheaper properties.

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Tags: Stefan Yurukov, illegal land swaps, Nihat Kabil, Valeri Tsvetanov, Miroslav Naydenov, Hristo Kovachki, Forestry Agency


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