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Oil report

Prosecutors charge Bulgarian tycoon with tax evasion

* Bulgarian businessman charged with tax evasion

* Kovachki business spans energy, soccer, banking

* Sofia under EU pressure to tame crime

SOFIA, Aug 18 (Reuters) - Prosecutors have charged one of Bulgaria’s richest men, whose party failed to win seats in July’s parliamentary election, with tax evasion, a prosecutor said on Tuesday.

Hristo Kovachki, whose business empire spans energy, soccer and banking, faces up to eight years in jail if found guilty, Bozhidar Dzhambazov of the Sofia prosecutor’s office told reporters.

Kovachki, 46, who has been under investigation since November, denied any wrongdoing in a statement quoted by local media.

The Balkan country is under pressure to deliver results in its fight against entrenched corruption and powerful organised crime to avoid European Union sanctions.

Last year, Brussels cut Sofia’s access to over half a billion euros in EU aid as punishment for the previous Socialist-led government’s failure to tackle fraud.

The new centre-right government of the GERB party, which won the July election, promises to put corrupt officials and oligarchs in jail to win back the trust of the EU.

Some officials and businessmen suspected of fraud are being prosecuted, but Bulgaria has failed to convict a single senior official of graft and has jailed only one crime boss since the end of communism 20 years ago.

Dzambazov said Kovachki’s case would soon be in court.

“We are talking about a large-scale tax evasion crime between 2005 and 2008. The tax duties are worth around 16 million levs (8 million euros),” he said.

Kovachki owns coal mines, regional heating plants and one of Bulgaria’s biggest power utilities, Bobov Dol. Last year, the head of a Kovachki company licensed to do repairs at the Kozloduy nuclear power plant was shot dead in Sofia.

Kovachki also has a stake in a Sofia bank and owns premier league soccer club Minyor Pernik.

Last year, the Polish magazine Wprost ranked him among the 100 richest people in central and eastern Europe with a personal fortune of $700 million.

Last month, the political party Leader backed by Kovachki ran in the parliamentary election but failed to win any seats. Other parties, anti-graft groups and voters have accused Leader of widespread vote-buying. (Reporting by Irina Ivanova and Anna Mudeva)

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