Valentin Zlatev's entire working career has been linked to the oil sector. He graduated from the Moscow State Institute of International Relations in 1988 and started working for Lukoil in Russia in 1991. The apogee here began eight years later when the Russian giant privatized the Neftohim refinery in Burgas with Zlatev's active participation. Logically, he became the general director of Lukoil Bulgaria.
He has succeeded in his collaboration with each and every government - from the privatization period under Ivan Kostov, through subsequent coalitions between centrists and Socialists. It seems, however, that his strongest relationship was with Boyko Borissov whose GERB party ruled for almost ten years. According to media reports from the turn of the century, at the core of this relationship was the contract for the security of the fuel pipeline connecting Burgas and Sofia, a task entrusted by Mr Zlatev to "Ipon", established by Mr Borissov, who at the time was already secretary general of the Interior Ministry.
In 2019, however, Zlatev was replaced by Lukoil's management. The reason cannot be known for sure but probably there were several reasons - from loss of support in Russia to poor results in recent years at attempted modernization.
Valentin Zlatev, however, continued with his speciality - contacts with powerful politicians.
His relations with the Russians have not been severed either - Mr Zlatev is, effectively, the new intermediary through which Russia's Gazprom supplies natural gas to Russia's Lukoil Neftohim in Bulgaria. Imports are effectively conducted through the company Energiko Trading Bulgaria, where Valentin Zlatev has been a director since December 2020. And this means that the country's second largest consumer of natural gas - such as the oil refinery near Burgas with about 10-12% of annual consumption - will no longer be a client of state-owned Bulgargaz. This is confirmed by the fact that when Russian gas to Bulgaria was shut off at the end of April, the refinery experienced no supply difficulties.
Beyond gas, Zlatev has now officially declared interest in green energy. He plans to build a large solar park near Pomorie. We are talking about a plant with a capacity of 100 mW and the estimated investment in such a project is about 55-60 million euros.
Zlatev also manages a chain of hotels in Bulgaria and, at the end of last year, his hotel company announced it would build lodges for tourists in Tanzania.
Apart from being a politician, philosopher, secret service agent and hydro-engineer, Ahmed Dogan has had a new vocation for several years - energy company owner. In 2018, for an undisclosed sum, the honorary chairman of the MRF bought 70% of the company that owns Varna Thermal Power Plant. Until the end of 2017, the defunct plant was owned by CEZ, which sold it to the family of former transport minister Danail Papazov. Thanks to his influence over the state government, Mr Dogan quickly managed to restart the plant at least on paper and attract large contracts for "cold reserve" - capacities that are not turned on but are standing by, for which he receives 30 million BGN per year. This happened after state-owned Bulgartransgaz built him a gas pipeline and Bulgargaz provided him with gas. Subsequently, it became clear that the plant does not pay for its supplies, but transfers this obligation to the state-owned Electricity System Operator, which in turn pays for the cold reserve.
Along with Varna TPP, Mr Dogan has also recently turned his sights on renewable energy. He is planning at least two large solar plants in the country, which could be implemented over the next two or three years.
Mr Dogan is also an honorary member of the Bulgarian Hydrogen Society, and there are many indications that he was the initiator of the inclusion of hydrogen technology in Bulgaria's Recovery and Sustainability Plan.
Through MRF, Dogan continues to have some political influence in the National Assembly, as he can propose changes in legislation or vote against them.
It is no coincidence that Mr Kovachki's nickname is "the energy boss". He began building his energy empire at the turn of the century through a number of privatization deals. In a few years, companies linked to him became the owners of thermal power plants in Sliven, Pernik, Burgas, Vratsa, Pleven, Veliko Tarnovo, Gabrovo and Ruse, of the large thermal power plants "Bobov Dol", "Brickel" and Dimitrovgrad's "Maritsa 3", as well as a number of coal mines and companies such as "Atomenergoremont", which carry out the maintenance of nuclear power plants, for example. Mr Kovachki also entered the financial sector with the insurance company OZK and the pension and insurance company Toplina. At one point he had tens of thousands of people working under him.
In recent years, as the need for coal declined and environmental policies tightened, Mr Kovachki's business turned to electricity trading. In 2019 and 2020, it was his electricity retailer Grand Energy Distribution that became the country's largest, and together with its affiliate, European Trade of Energy, had revenues of nearly one billion.
In 2021, due to the volatility of energy prices, there was a shift in electricity traders and the Kovachki-related ones lost some of their business, but still remain leaders in the sector.
Mr Kovachki also plans to develop renewable energy, especially on the sites of TPP "Bobov Dol". Other companies linked to him are trading in natural gas and many of his plants have plans to burn biomass.
Through his plants, Mr Kovachki is a regular bidder for cold reserve or spare capacity, like Mr Dogan. And with other companies, he is bidding to build gas infrastructure, a waste incineration plant in Sofia, and more.