Bulgaria Excels in Organized Crime, Corruption Acquittals - EC Report 2011

Bulgaria in EU | July 20, 2011, Wednesday // 14:12|  views

Bulgaria's Chief Prosecutor Boris Velchev (left) and Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov (right) have a lot of work to get done, according to the 2011 EC monitoring report. Photo by BGNES

Bulgaria has failed to achieve "convincing results" in its fight against organized crime and corruption, according to the annual monitoring report of the European Commission on its post-EU accession progress.

The EC is about as critical of Bulgaria's continuing failure to crack down on organized crime and corruption as it is of the country's flawed reform of the judiciary.

The 2011 monitoring report does recognize that Bulgaria has achieved progress with respect to police report through the integration of operative and investigative police work. This is recommended to be deepened, including a new focus on reforming pre-trial investigations.

"In spite of persevering police actions to tackle organized crime, the overall results need to be significantly improved. Although the joint team on organized crime achieved several indictments related to important organised crime-groups and some convictions have been rendered, other important cases have been concluded with acquittals since the Commission's last annual report. In appeal, severe detention sentences have been pronounced but not yet enforced in one emblematic organised crime case. Weaknesses exist in the collection of evidence, the protection of witnesses as well as in investigative strategies, comprehensive financial investigations and the securing of assets," the EC report states, urging Bulgaria's Chief Prosecutor to "systematically analyse the reasons for acquittals in high level cases."

The Commission notes the intention of the Bulgarian government to set up a specialized court and prosecution office to handle organized crime cases as of January 2012, and makes a number of recommendations on how to ensure that this institution would work properly. It further urges Bulgaria's authorities to reinvigorate their efforts on the adoption of a law for seizing assets acquired through illegal activities, i.e. to strengthen asset forfeiture.

As far as Bulgaria's fight against high-level corruption, the 2011 monitoring report under the so called Cooperation and Verification Mechanism sees "very few final and enforced verdicts in this area and... no indications of active targeting of high-level corruption." The EC sums up the situation in Bulgaria in this respect as follows:

"Since last summer, two suspended sentences were pronounced in cases of high-level fraud and corruption. Two cases against former ministers finished with an acquittal. Two other cases involving a former minister and a high public official have met difficulties and delays in court. Appeals in two cases involving fraud of EU funds and money laundering, reported last year, remain pending in court with little movement. A number of cases involving EU funds were terminated by the prosecution despite indications of fraud provided by OLAF and the judicial authorities of another Member State. Since the Commission's last annual report, Bulgaria registered acquittals in a number of important fraud and corruption cases. A Member of Parliament has been acquitted of conflict of interest charges and a former director of a Paying Agency for EU funds has been acquitted of abuse in office and concluding unfavourable contracts in three separate cases. The reasons for such acquittals should be carefully analysed by the General Prosecutor and corrective measures should be taken where appropriate."

It also stresses that the analysis of some of these cases by the Commission and independent experts demonstrated "serious weaknesses in judicial and investigative practice" concerning "the collection of evidence, the protection of witnesses and the general lack of investigative strategies, comprehensive financial investigations and securing of assets."

Bulgaria's Penal Code is described as "outdated" while court practice in the country is said to be "overly attentive to procedures at the expense of delivering justice."

It urges the use of interpretative rulings by the Supreme Court of Cassation as a corrective measure since the new Penal Code cannot be expected to enter into force before late 2013.

Delays in the nomination of the members of the dedicated commission created by Bulgaria's newly amended Conflict of Interest Act have led to an interruption in the follow-up of signals of conflict of interest since the first quarter of 2011, the EC says.

The Commission raises concerns regarding weaknesses in asset declarations and verifications of politicians, magistrates and senior civil servants.

"Bulgaria should consider establishing a set of concrete targets for the fight against corruption and organised crime for the different institutions involved in the implementation of the Integrated Strategy," the EC recommends.

Full Text of the 2011 EC Monitoring Report on Bulgaria's Post-EU Accession Progress READ HERE

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Tags: Conflict of Interests Act, conflict of interest, conflict of interests, Conflict of Interest Act, corruption, mafia, organized crime, interior ministry, police, prosecution, Prosecutor's Office, judges, magistrates, corruption, Chief Prosecutor, Boris Velchev, European Commission, EU, EC, monitoring report, cooperation and verification mechanism, CVM, assets


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