Prista Owners Battle Charges in Bulgaria

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The co-owners of lubricant marketer Prista Oil have been charged by Bulgarian authorities with waste mismanagement and corruption, but they deny the charges and accuse the government of attempting to steal their battery business.

State prosecutors brought the charges against Atanas and Plamen Bobokov at the end of May, when they were detained during police raids of their homes and Prista’s  office in the city of Ruse.

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Plamen Bobokov told Lube Report that the charges are “patently false, spurious, and specious.”

“The case … is just a very indecent attempt of the corrupted Bulgarian authorities to steal the battery business from me and my brother,” he said in an emailed exchange last week.

The Bobokov brothers are among the wealthiest businesspeople in Bulgaria. Besides the lubricant and grease production of Prista Oil, they control Monbat AD, an international group of companies that produce lead-acid and lithium-ion batteries for cars and portable electronics. Monbat also recycles spent lead-acid batteries in Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, Italy and Germany. Prista is also a joint venture partner in a base oil rerefinery in Uzbekistan.

In a pre-trial court hearing in July, a judge rejected a plea for bail from Atanas Bobokov, who relinquished his position as head of the battery business in June, while granting bail to Plamen Bobokov, who oversees the lubricant business. Charges were also brought against Krasimir Zhivkov, the еx-deputy environmental and water minister; Nikolay Mihovsky, owner of a waste management company; and several of its  officials. Atanas Bobokov, Zhivkov and Mihovsky still remain in custody after an appeals court in Sofia confirmed the decision on Aug. 18.

The prosecution accuses them of creating a criminal ring that illegally imported waste from Italy and buried thousands of tons of toxic material on four sites in Bulgaria, without proper recycling.

In September, Monbat hired Austrian law firm Wolf Theiss to perform an audit of the companies. In the summary of its findings, obtained by Lube Report, the firm concluded that “Monbat had proven [for the reviewed period] compliance with its obligations for spent batteries under [Bulgaria’s] Waste Management Act, meeting all targets set forth in the ordinance for batteries … duly confirmed by the environmental authorities.”

Bobokov said the report also found that Monbat never engaged in processing of household waste – the basis of the  offenses raised by the prosecution.

Meanwhile, a special prosecution unit has added charges against Plamen Bobokov for influence-peddling and disclosure of confidential materials based on intercepted communications with Bulgarian President Rumen Radev’s cabinet secretary about foreign policy, including nominations for ambassadors.

“These charges are equally ridiculous, as their main accusation is based on the exchange of messages with an official from the presidential office referring to the situation in Libya – information that was not classified as confidential or sensitive and was in fact made public earlier by the Bulgarian Telegraph Agency, the country’s official news agency,” Bobokov said.

In July the Bobokovs hired Alexandria Group, a Washington D.C.-based lobby firm, to lobby the U.S. Congress and State Department that Bulgaria is violating their human rights and civil liberties.

In recent months, Bulgaria was mired in street protests against alleged corruption in the government of prime minister Boyko Borisov. Thousands participated in marches on Sofia streets every week.

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