EU Prosecutor Probes Greenhouse Gas Emissions Fraud in Bulgaria

Published: 01 March 2023

Bobov Dol Power Plant BulgariaBobov Dol power plant, Bulgaria. (Photo: Boby Dimitrov, Wikimedia, License)

By Zdravko Ljubas

Bulgarian law enforcement conducted dozens of searches throughout the country on Monday in support of an ongoing investigation into alleged multi-million euro fraud involving under-reporting of EU Emission Trading System (ETS), emissions by power and heating stations.

According to the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO), more than 150 police officers were involved in more than 40 searches in 11 Bulgarian cities, with over 70 witnesses examined thus far. During the searches, the police reportedly seized mobile phones, laptops, and a large amount of investigation-related material.

EPPO has been looking into a private firm in Bulgaria that is in charge of checking the greenhouse gas emissions of thermal power plants and heating facilities. The company has been allegedly providing fraudulent data to the relevant national authorities, causing losses of millions of euros to the EU and national budgets.

The operation took place a year and a half after an OCCRP investigation found that two power facilities reported unusually low pollution levels for the previous three years. The plants were affiliated with Hristo Kovachki – a secretive tycoon who emerged as a key player in Bulgaria’s energy sector during a wave of privatizations in the 2000s.

The EPPO investigation has found so far that the firm has knowingly submitted fraudulent data and paperwork in annual reports on greenhouse gas emissions produced by thermal power plants and heating facilities in Bulgaria since 2017. This was allegedly done in order to under-declare their emissions output under the EU’s climate change strategy EU ETS, the union’s primary tool for reducing greenhouse gas emissions cost-effectively.

EPPO reminded that companies must get emission permits to cover their carbon emissions under the EU ETS.

“Based on the evidence, it is estimated that the under-declared emissions submitted to the national authorities resulted in losses to the EU and national budgets of millions of euro, in unpaid amounts for actually-consumed greenhouse gas emissions,” according to EPPO.

It also stressed that the crime also had a negative impact on Bulgaria’s air quality.