Bulgaria charges outgoing health minister over vaccine deal

November 21, 2016 1:09 PM EST

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SOFIA (Reuters) - Bulgarian prosecutors charged the outgoing health minister on Monday with mismanagement that led to state losses of more than $400,000 relating to an agreement over the supply of vaccines from neighboring Turkey.

Prosecutors said the deal, which Petar Moskov signed, had proven unprofitable for Bulgaria and created distrust between patients and the Health Ministry. Moskov denies any wrongdoing.

Under the terms of the agreement signed last year, Turkey donated 100,000 doses Pentaxim, a combination vaccine for infants, and 100,000 doses of the hepatitis vaccine Euvax to Bulgaria to enable it to fulfill its child immunization timetable.

In return, Bulgaria had to supply to Turkey 5 million doses of vaccines, mainly against tuberculosis.

The Euvax vaccines, however, were not used as they are not allowed in the European Union, but the Bulgarian Health Ministry still paid 323,000 levs ($175,145) in value-added tax as well as delivery costs.

Moskov was also accused of overstepping his authority by asking a state pharmaceutical company that made the vaccines to donate them to Turkey, thus avoiding paying the production costs of 413,370 levs.

Moskov told reporters the deal was done to keep the immunization program on schedule at a time when Bulgaria was experiencing a shortage of the necessary vaccines. He said that the prosecutors did not take into account that while the cost of vaccines donated to Turkey was 400,000 levs, the ones Bulgaria received in exchange were worth 4 million levs.

Moskov's deputy, Adam Persenski, was also charged over the vaccine deal. He was not immediately available for comment.

Last week, Bulgaria's parliament approved the resignation of Moskov along with the rest of Prime Minister Boiko Borisov's center-right minority government, opening the way to months of political uncertainty and a likely snap election in early 2017.

Borisov decided to step down after his center-right GERB party candidate lost the presidential election to a political novice backed by the opposition Socialists.

Three former Bulgarian energy ministers were charged in the past weeks with mismanagement that led to significant state losses in relation to the Belene nuclear plant. Their cases have yet to come to court. They all denied wrongdoing.

(Reporting by Angel Krasimirov; Editing by Alison Williams)



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