Official held for siphoning

SOFIA (AP) – A court yesterday ordered a former chief executive of Sofia’s heating utility company to be held in custody over charges of money laundering and tax evasion. The charges against Valentin Dimitrov, the Sofia Heating Utility’s former CEO, were linked to a major embezzlement scandal in the company, prosecutors said. Preliminary findings in an audit of the heating utility, owned jointly by the Municipality of Sofia and the government, indicated the company had been defrauded by at least 20 million leva (10 million euros), Sofia’s Mayor Boiko Borisov said on Wednesday. The findings triggered a public outcry, because the utility had announced plans to hike prices due to poor financial performance. A final report on the audit is expected to be released in about a week. Prosecutors allege Dimitrov owns 1.6 million euros in secret bank accounts. They said he would be tried for money laundering and tax evasion, while an investigation is still being conducted into whether he embezzled funds from the company. After the court hearing, Dimitrov told reporters he was innocent, but said he «could not remember» how he had earned the money in his bank accounts. Some 400,000 households in Sofia, a city of 1.3 million people, use the heating utility’s services. While the average monthly wage in the capital is about 300 euros, a household’s monthly heating bill in the winter normally tops 100 euros, statistics show. After the embezzlement scandal broke out, Borisov and Energy Minister Rumen Ovcharov agreed to sell the utility to a private investor by the end of next year.