Adding fuel to an ongoing controversy, Deputy Prime Minister Valeri Simeonov called "outrageous""and "lobbyist" a bill on the administrative regulation of businesses involving oil and petrochemical products, and said it caters to the interests of several large fuel companies and particularly LUKOil. Speaking on Bulgarian National Television Tuesday, Simeonov said that large companies already control 80 per cent of the fuel market and want to kick out of it the few remaining small distributors.
If the bill is passed conclusively, fuel wholesalers and the owners of tax warehouses (where fuel is kept) will be required to have a statutory capital of 3 million leva or more and fuel retailers 20,000 leva. They will also be required to take out a collateral or bank guarantee of 500,000 leva.
Small businesses have protested and warned that the bill will bring their demise. They, too, believe that the bill is custom-made to serve the interests of large fuel companies.
Taking their side, Simeonov denied information that the bill was authored by his nationalist United Patriots coalition, which is in GERB's government coalition.
The bill was tabled by MPs of all groups but its most vocal supporter has been the United Patriots' Emil Dimitrov. He has argued throughout that the bill is aimed against shadow businesses in the fuel sector.
Simeonov said that while there is a shadow segment in the fuel business, it is not as big as the advocates of the bill say: 1 billion leva. "The bill is not about fighting the shadow economy: it is about clearing the market for several large players, notably LUKOil of Valentin Zlatev," said Simeonov.
He went on to say that in the past ten years LUKOil Bulgaria has been in the red and is paying no taxes while its revenues stand at 5 billion leva. The mother company in Russia, however, has been making an annual profit of some 120 billion leva. Simeonov believes that this is a classic case of profit syphoning.
Also, "nobody knows what is happening" at the LUKOil port, he said referring to the Rossenets port near Bourgas, for which LUKOil holds a concession to use for the needs of its business.
The Deputy Prime Minister warned that the large companies will monopolize the market and fuel prices will go through the roof. "Prices never go down on a monopolist market. They go down on a competitive market. What will happen with the small traders? To demand of them 500,000 leva bank guarantee and 3 million leva statutory capital: this is an unrealistic requirement!"
Simeonov said that large businesses are trying all the time to monopolize the markets where they operate and this should not be allowed.