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News 05 Oct 17

Bulgaria Govt, Opposition Clash over Fighter Jets

The proposed purchase of new fighter jets for Bulgaria’s armed forces has sparked fierce debate among MPs, with members of the ruling party accusing President Rumen Radev of corruption.

Mariya Cheresheva
BIRN
Sofia
A Saab Gripen fighter jet. Photo: saab.com

The majority of Bulgaria’s MPs on Thursday approved a report that recommends the revision of the procurement procedure for new fighter jets, alleging that there have been violations in the past.

MPs from the ruling centre-right party GERB of Prime Minister Boyko Borissov also indirectly accused President Rumen Radev of corruption.

The report, which was initially adopted by a parliamentary commission of inquiry in September, listed a number of problems with the key military project, including the rejection, with no legal basis, of a joint offer from the US and Portugal to sell Bulgaria used F-16 fighter jets.

According to the commission, in July 2016, the managing board of the project imposed additional requirements on the contractors in violation of the investment plan that had already been adopted, which led to the automatic rejection of the US-Portuguese consortium.

At the time, the chairman of the board was Radev, who is the former commander-in-chief of the Bulgarian air force.

Parliament’s decision orders the Defence Ministry to revise the procurement procedure, which would further delay the modernisation of the country’s underdeveloped air force, which currently uses Russian MIG-29s.

The issue caused fierce debates among MPs on Thursday.

Anton Todorov, a member of GERB, indirectly accused Radev of taking bribes to choose an offer from Swedish company Saab Gripen over the US-Portuguese offer of secondhand F-16s and the Italian offer of secondhand Eurofighter Typhoons.

MPs from the opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party, BSP, which backed Radev’s presidential nomination in 2016, accused the GERB MPs of trying to undermine the president.

“What you are doing, regardless of how you are trying to cover it, is a war against the presidential institution,” the BSP’s leader Korneliya Ninova told GERB.

Radev said the tensions over the modernisation of the army were the result of a GERB offensive against him, promising on Monday that “if they seek it [a battle], they will get it”.

In one of its last sessions in April, the former caretaker government of Ognyan Gerdjikov, appointed by President Radev, selected the Gripens as most suitable for the needs of the Bulgarian armed forces.

Radev has repeatedly called for a speedy acquisition of the Swedish jets, as the former cabinet decided.

Borissov, however, has changed his mind over the plans for army modernisation several times, despite the fact that Bulgaria is lagging behind its NATO commitment to defence spending of at least two per cent of the state’s GDP.

On September 18, Borissov expressed doubts that the caretaker government’s choice of fighter jets is the best for the army and suggested that the country might first acquire new equipment for its land forces.

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