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Bulgaria: Lukanov's Power Extended From Politics To Business

  • Ron Synovitz

Prague, 2 October 1996 (RFE/RL) -- Andrei Lukanov, the former Bulgarian prime minister who was shot dead at his home in Sofia this morning, had been a central figure in the palace revolution that toppled Bulgarian communist dictator Todor Zhivkov in November 1989. He also played a key role in the development of Bulgaria's post-communist nomenklatura business empires.

The speaker of the Bulgarian Parliament, Blagovest Sendov, announced Lukanov's death today at the morning session of the National Assembly. He said the circumstances around the shooting were still not clear. The interior ministry and police have so far declined to provide any details. But correspondents quote Lukanov's neighbors as saying that he was shot twice in the head as he left his house.

Lukanov, 58, had been one of the most powerful of the modern technocratic elite within the Bulgarian Communist Party's Central Committee in the late 1980s. Zhivkov's regime fell when Lukanov and his allies gained the upper hand against Zhivkov's long-time allies in the Central Committee.

In March 1990, just a month after being elected as Bulgaria's first post-revolution prime minister, Lukanov declared a moratorium on repayment of about $11 billion in foreign loans.

The move infuriated Western lenders and prevented Sofia from getting crucial credits for rebuilding its economy until a debt settlement was reached with the London Club of commercial lenders in 1994.

During Lukanov's ten months in power, thousands of millions of dollars in state funds were withdrawn from Swiss and Austrian bank accounts. The "Financial Times" of London has reported that former officers of the Bulgarian secret police withdrew the money and used it as start up capital to form their business empires. Among those business groups is the powerful Multigroup, which quickly gained control of Bulgaria's oil and concrete sectors, as well as building up vast casino gambling interests and private security firms.

By the time he resigned as prime minister in November 1990, Lukanov had become a powerful businessman and was closely tied to Multigroup. Lukanov also remained in politics and, behind the scenes, had considerable control over the Socialist Party during the early 1990s.

Public rifts between Lukanov's allies and other Socialist Party factions became apparent after the election of Socialist Prime Minister Zhan Videnov in January 1995.

Lukanov also had been the board chairman of TopEnergy, a joint venture grouping Multigroup and the state-owned Bulgargaz with Russia's Gazprom. TopEnergy is attempting to build a pipeline that would carry Russian and Central Asian oil shipments from Bulgaria's Black Sea coast to the Greek Aegean coast.

But earlier this year, Videnov accused Lukanov of trying to give Russia the rights to own pipelines on Bulgarian territory. Lukanov, in turn, called for Videnov to resign over Sofia's economic crisis. Lukanov resigned as chairman of TopEnergy in July.

A British newspaper, the "Guardian," published a series of stories early this year which linked Lukanov to an alleged money laundering scheme involving the late publishing tycoon Robert Maxwell. Lukanov denied the allegations.