Formula One President and CEO Bernard Charles "Bernie" Ecclestone has shown interest in the idea of constructing a Forula 1 circuit in Bulgaria and undertook to come to this country within the following weeks to acquaint himself with the project, the Ministry of Economy, Energy and Tourism said Saturday. Also on Saturday Economy, Energy and Tourism Minister Traicho Traikov met with Ecclestone in Monza, Italy, with the aim of specifying the opportunities and conditions for the construction of a Formula 1 circuit in Bulgaria.
The project for the construction of a Formula 1 circuit in Bulgaria hits the headlines again after Traikov signed an agreement for economic cooperation with Abu Dhabi's Emirates Associate Business Group (EABG) on August 30. The visiting Board of Directors Chairman Mohammed Abdul Jalil al-Blouki, who also signed the agreement, was dubbed "sheikh" and the company was called state-owned. A day later it emerged that the initially circulated information about the company was not true.
Arriving in Sofia on September 4, Anwar Badwan of Abu Dhabi's Emirates Associate Business Group (EABG) confirmed his company's desire to work on the construction of a Formula 1 circuit at the Sofia suburb of Dobroslavtsi, despite a scandal which broke out earlier in the week.
Badwan said it is not true that EABG is giving up the idea of investing in Bulgaria, as alleged by a Friday report in the "Sega" daily, which featured a letter from the company. According to that report, EABG was disappointed that the Bulgarian authorities had mis-presented the company as "state-owned" (it is private) and its president as "sheikh".
According to bTV, this caused a lot of trouble to the company managers, who had to explain to the emir of Abu Dhabi that they were not posing as his representatives in their talks with Sofia.
Badwan showed journalists an e-mail which he had received in the morning, signed "Alex Tsakov". The email asked EABG to send more than 94 million US dollars "in order to sort out the situation". "The email is only a part of a scenario to sabotage the company's intentions to invest in Bulgaria," said Roumen Petkov MP, who chairs the organizing committee for building the Formula 1 Sofia circuit.
According to Petkov, the email was preceded by another online message which told EABG that a similar project in Bulgaria failed some time ago.
He accused the media of bias and distortion of facts. "Bulgaria is closer than ever before to implementing a Formula 1 project," Petkov said, repeating a statement he made on Friday. He said Badwan was in Sofia to discuss the modalities of a September 11 meeting with Formula One Management President Bernie Ecclestone. Later, it turned out the e-mail in question had been sent as a joke by two Bulgarian Formula 1 buffs living in the United States.
Badwan again drew attention to the fact that EABG is not a state-owned company. He said the company has interests in agriculture and real estate as well as Formula 1.
A day earlier the Bulgarian Economy, Energy and Tourism Ministry said it has received an unofficial letter, care of the Bulgarian Motorcycle Federation, in which EABG confirmed its commitment to a letter of intent signed earlier in support of the Formula 1 project and other projects of mutual interest. The unofficial letter also said that the media circulated misleading information which created a bad atmosphere, but EABG stands by its intentions to work with the Bulgarian government in accordance with the letter of intent.
EABG is a private consortium of 67 companies active in telecommunications and system integration, oil and gas supply, computer software and hardware, cargo trade, manufacture of refrigerating and air-conditioning equipment, building materials, real estate and construction, among other areas, the Ministry wrote in its press release. EABG Board of Directors Chairman Mohammed Abdul Jalil al-Blouki comes from a well-known business family in Abu Dhabi, the Ministry said.
Reacting to the scandal, Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nickolay Mladenov said that his country follows up an active policy in the Middle East and expressed hope that the situation regarding the Formula 1 project will not affect adversely Sofia's relations with the Arab nations. "Note that this country's export growth over the last six months is highest to the Arab world," the Foreign Minister said.