March 4. 2024. 6:54

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Influential businessman linked to EU projects charged for coercion


Influential businessman Veliko Zhelev, whose companies were contracted to help build one of Bulgaria’s largest EU-funded infrastructure projects, has been accused of coercion and beating a man.

Zhelev was arrested following a complaint by a former employee who told police he was forced to take on a €34,000 debt.

The prosecutor’s office reports that the case dates back to 24 February 2023, but it is not clear when the complaint against Zhelev was filed. The case led to tensions between the prosecutor’s office and the Interior Ministry due to the lack of investigation into the numerous violations of road construction projects in Bulgaria.

On 28 February, the Interior Ministry and the Regional Ministry found that a third of the asphalt was missing on a highway near Sofia worth €90 million, built with EU funding. The international road was put into operation only seven years ago, but the asphalt surface is already in a very bad condition, prompting authorities to check.

Regional Development Minister Ivan Shishkov stated that the asphalt was supposed to be 28 centimetres thick, but the builder was asked to lay only 20 centimetres. The inspection showed that the builder only laid 14 centimetres in the end.

Zhelev owns two of the five companies that built the highway though he has not been investigated for the construction of the highway near Sofia by the Bulgarian Prosecutor’s Office, and there is no public information about an investigation by the European Prosecutor’s Office.

On Tuesday, Interior Minister Ivan Demerdzhiev commented that the Bulgarian prosecutor’s office should investigate the construction projects of the business.

“I expect the prosecutor’s office to carry out all the necessary actions in all proceedings related to the Hemus highway, but not only in them. The public attention here is particularly high, and I expect the prosecutor’s office to do its job,” said Demerdzhiev.

On 6 March, the Bulgarian Chief Prosecutor Ivan Geshev showed interest in the information about the missing asphalt from some newly constructed highway sections and requested the government to submit any related available information.

(Krassen Nikolov | EURACTIV.bg)