INDEPENDENT: CITY BANKERS DITCH THE HIGH LIFE TO REBUILD BULGARIA'S ECONOMY

Views on BG | July 24, 2001, Tuesday // 00:00| Views: | Comments: 0

By Andrew Jivkov
Two young former City investment bankers are giving up pay packets worth Ј500,000 a year to join the government of Bulgaria, a country where the average salary is only about Ј100 a month.
The former King of Bulgaria, Simeon II, who won last month's general election to become prime minister, is set to appoint Nikolai Vassilev, a 31-year-old ex-Lazard Capital Markets banker, and Milen Velchev, a 34-year-old former Merrill Lynch analyst, to run the Bulgarian economy.
Mr Vassilev is to be appointed economy minister while Mr Velchev is expected to take over the finance portfolio in the new cabinet, to be voted in by parliament tomorrow. The pair is believed to have been handpicked by Simeon II`s son Kyril Saxe-Coburg, a director at the London-based asset management firm GLG Partners. The three were all members of an informal club of Bulgarian expatriates working in the City, which called itself the "City Club" and met occasionally to discuss Bulgarian politics. Both Mr Vassilev and Mr Velchev went to university in the US before ending up in the Square Mile covering emerging markets.
Associates of the two say that their move from the world of high-paid investment banking to run one of Europe's poorest countries is motivated by sheer patriotism. One associate said: "The move will do their bank balances no good, but it is something they have both been very interested in for a long time. When the opportunity arose they found the challenge difficult to resist."
Mr Vassilev put together the Lazard Bulgaria Index 10, an index of blue-chip Bulgarian stocks trading on the country's fledgling stock market. Associates say that he was keen to encourage more investment in Bulgaria despite the lack of interest in emerging markets in the aftermath of the Russian financial crisis three years ago.
Simeon II founded his party, the National Movement for Simeon II, in April and proceeded to win June's elections. The priorities of the new government are membership of the European Union and NATO, fighting corruption and fostering faster economic growth.
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