April 18. 2024. 8:57

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EU prosecutors investigate one of Bulgaria’s biggest road projects

The European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) in Sofia carried out searches in Bulgaria on Monday to gather evidence in a suspected case of embezzlement, misuse of EU funds and money laundering linked to the construction of Bulgaria’s largest infrastructure project, the Zheleznitsa tunnel.

“After a signal received by Bulgaria’s State Agency for National Security, the EPPO in Sofia opened an investigation, which uncovered that one of the companies that is part of the consortium which is constructing the tunnel is suspected of several criminal offences, including embezzlement, misuse of EU funds and money laundering”, the EPPO announced.

The company under investigation is alleged to have made several fictitious transfers in a very short period, amounting to more than €5.6 million, to a chain of dummy companies, resulting in large cash withdrawals by individuals with criminal records. These companies and individuals are also involved in another ongoing EPPO investigation concerning infrastructure projects in the railway sector.

The searches occurred at six companies and four private residences in two Bulgarian districts.

The Bulgarian Road Infrastructure Agency led the construction of the Zheleznitsa tunnel along the Struma motorway. It contracted a consortium of three companies to implement the project, co-financed by the European Cohesion Fund under the Operational Programme “Transport and Transport Infrastructure” (2014-2020).

The contractor was paid approximately €95.6 million, 85% of which came from EU funds.

Investigations are ongoing to determine the nature and extent of the alleged criminal activities, EPPO said.

Construction of the Zheleznitsa tunnel took more than five years. It cost €215 million, along with the roads leading to it and the reinforcement of landslides in the mountainous area. It was opened to traffic on 20 February.

Major Bulgarian companies, which tend to win the country’s biggest infrastructure projects with European funding, are part of the consortium that built the tunnel.

It is a key part of the motorway section linking the Greek port of Thessaloniki to Danube Bridge 2, which runs from Bulgaria to Romania. The government of long-serving ex-prime minister Boyko Borissov selected the contractors for the project.

(Krassen Nikolov | Euractiv.bg)

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