The company, Vizior Ltd., owned by the parents of politician Delyan Dobrev, has been receiving large payments for, most likely, bogus deliveries of wood to the Maritza 3 Thermal Power Plant (TPP), linked to businessman Hristo Kovachki. These were the findings of an investigation by the Anti-Corruption Fund (ACF), presented in a video titled ‘Pelletgate.’
The investigation referenced the findings of an inspection of the power plant carried out by the Regional Forest Directorate – Kardjali in December 2022. According to the report, which ACF has reviewed, managers at the Maritza 3 TPP provided the forestry directorate officials with eight invoices issued by Vizior Ltd for monthly deliveries of around 3,000 tons of wood shavings. The quoted price was BGN 95 per ton. However, tickets to prove that the wood had indeed been transported were not provided to the inspectors, nor were any wood shavings found on site.
Vizior Ltd. is a leading Bulgarian manufacturer of wooden pellets. The company is owned and managed by Alexander Danchev Dobrev and Zlatka Stoykova Dobreva, the parents of Delyan Dobrev, former energy minister and longstanding chairperson of the Committee on Energy at the National Assembly.
“The official documents referenced in our investigation show that, in 2022, around BGN 285,000 per month, or roughly BGN 3 million, were paid by Maritza 3 TPP to the company owned by Mr. Dobrev’s parents,” said Lora Georgieva, Legal Program Coordinator at ACF.
“The question is why were these payments made as there are many clues suggesting that the wood had not been delivered,” she said.
According to the inspection report, representatives of Maritza 3 TPP and Vizior claimed that the 3,000 tons of wood delivered monthly consisted of wooden shavings and other by-products of the process to manufacture wooden pellets. The statements contradict official information on Vizior’s website, where the company claims to produce 2,600 tons of wooden pellets per month.
“This means that Vizior, a leading Bulgarian manufacturer of pellets, produces more waste than products – something which is far from the truth. The pellets are supposedly produced from wood shavings and other waste products, and thus the process should not generate much waste,” she said.
According to evidence from a company representative, filmed via hidden camera by ACF team members during a visit to Vizior’s factory near the village of Sushevo, the company does not manufacture wooden shavings, at least not in the amounts declared as sold to Maritza 3 TPP. What is more, the technology that the company uses to manufacture wooden pellets does not allow the separation of large amounts of wood shavings in the production process.
This information is confirmed by checks of the logbooks tracking the amounts of wood that have entered Vizior’s factories. In 2022, 11,000 tons of wood have entered the company’s premises, several times less than the amount of wooden shavings allegedly delivered to the power plant.
“When the available data is cross-referenced, serious doubts arise that the wooden material, supposedly sold by Vizior to Maritza 3 TPP, only existed on paper. This raises the question of why Maritza 3 TPP made these payments to Vizior,” said Lora Georgieva.
In the past few years, Maritza 3 TPP has been found responsible for SO2 pollution, its emissions surpassing the maximum allowed levels. It is public knowledge that the power plant is linked to Hristo Kovachki, a businessman with extensive interests in the energy sector. Maritza 3 TPP operates under a waste incineration permit which means it can replace coal with wood shavings to produce electricity. The reliance on biomass instead of coal allows the power plant to substantially decrease payments for carbon emissions allowances owed to the national and European budget. Thus, in its 2022 emissions report, Maritza 3 TPP has declared twice as much biomass emissions (80,888 tons) compared to fossil fuel emissions (46,339 tons), for which it is obligated to purchase emissions quotas.
A 2021 journalistic investigation has shown that two other coal-fired power plants, also linked with Hristo Kovachki, had been underreporting their CO2 emissions for years. The power plants claimed to have introduced “innovative technologies,” diversifying their energy mix by the addition of biomass. This scheme harmed the Bulgarian and the European budget with around BGN 60 million because the plants paid less for emissions quotas. Precisely because of suspicions of fraudulent underreporting of carbon emissions, the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) has ordered searches and investigative measures targeted at power plants linked with Kovachki.
In February 2023, EPPO carried out four checks in the power plants and announced that they had underreported their emissions. A private company responsible for verifying emissions – also linked to Kovachki – had knowingly submitted false carbon emissions data in order to under-declare the plants’ emissions output under the EU Emissions Trading System.
According to official data by the Executive Environmental Agency, the same verifying company, GMI Verify, was responsible for verifying the emissions output of Maritza 3 TPP in 2022.
“Considering the serious doubts about whether Maritza 3 TPP used biomass and whether the declared carbon emissions had been verified objectively, it makes sense to ask if the power plant has implemented its environmental plan, has it managed to reduce its environmental impact, and has it paid all its dues for carbon emissions quotas? Or perhaps, here again, we have a case where the health of people living in nearby communities has been threatened, and millions have been subverted from the national and the European budget?” said Lora Georgieva.
The ACF investigation also raises the issue of whether the commercial relationship between Vizior and Maritza 3 TPP has had an impact on Delyan Dobrev’s public statements about the future of coal-fired plants in Bulgaria.
In his capacity as an MP and chairperson of the Committee on Energy at the National Assembly, Delyan Dobrev is one of the leading proponents of the idea of renegotiating Bulgaria’s Recovery and Resilience Plan, postponing the closure of coal-fired power plants until 2038. He has stated publicly that it is better not to implement the Recovery and Resilience Plan but to keep coal-fired power plants running.
A simple calculation shows that should Vizior’s supposed deliveries to Maritza 3 TPP from 2022 continue over the next 13 years – the extension for coal-fired plants proposed by Delyan Dobrev – his parents’ company would receive around BGN 44,46 million from Maritza 3 TPP.
The case raises legitimate doubts that MP Delyan Dobrev has acted in a conflict of interest. It also points to possible corruption crimes and violations of environmental protection legislation. This is why ACF has sent reports to the Anti-Corruption Commission (CAFIAP), the Prosecutor’s Office, and the Minister of Environment and Water.
“We expect these institutions to take all necessary actions, and we will keep the public informed,” said Boyko Stankushev, director, ACF. “We will also send information to EPPO regarding their ongoing investigation.”
The video about ACF’s “Pelletgate” investigation is available here