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Bulgaria's corruption circle
by Robert Chesal, 25 June 2004
Radio Netherlands

Listen to the interview, 4'13

Bulgaria is well on its way to rounding off EU accession talks ahead of schedule - but the economy is threatened by corruption and organised crime. If all goes well, this impoverished but fast-growing Balkan state will join the EU in January 2007.

But the European Commission has warned the Sofia government that rampant graft and organised crime are scaring investors away. And its accused the judiciary of blocking key privatisation projects.

Ruslan Stefanov is an economist at the Center for the Study of Democracy, the largest Bulgarian think-tank. In this interview with Radio Netherlands, he explains that the problem begins with political abuse of the public prosecutor's office:
"It has been used by different political forces and by various opposing groups to actually stall several deals, especially the ones on telecommunications company and the Bulgartabac deal [involving the privatisation of Bulgaria's tobacco monopoly company, ed.]. Also, the fate of Sofia mayor Stefan Sofianski is a clear sign of the judicial system being used by various groups to influence economic and political dealings in the country."

RN: "What happened to the mayor?"
"He was actually taken out of office through an unusual court procedure on a deal that he concluded eight years ago. This leads to the conclusion that there must have been certain economic and political interests at play. These are certain groups that cannot be clearly identified. Practically any political party that has a stake in the judiciary can influence it and through it virtually any political process, which shows the crucial need for the Bulgarian judiciary to be reformed."

RN: "There have also been many instances of gangland shootings in the streets of Sofia recently. What is the background to that?"
"Well, that's a long story, but if we talk about petty crime, that is not a key priority in Bulgaria. Compared with other European cities, Sofia is relatively safe."
"The background to these shootings might be sought in several directions. First, there's the drug market and Bulgaria is of course a major transit route. Secondly, Bulgaria is affected by the legacy of the former Yugoslavia and the war in Kosovo, with a lot of dirty dealings and dirty money being stashed away here in the country. And thirdly, again, we have the malfunctioning judiciary. Practically, not a single major criminal has been put behind bars in recent years."
"The Center for the Study of Democracy recently issued a report on the drugs market. It was the first publication by any Bulgarian institution to name certain people that are publicly known to be dealing with drugs. This shows, on the one hand, the effects of what's going on in the former Yugoslavia and Kosovo as well as on the other side of the Black Sea: Georgia and Chechnya, and on the other hand, the inability on the part of the judiciary to deal with certain criminal elements. This has created what we have seen in recent years: that there's practically self-regulation within the criminal world, and that the judiciary and the law enforcement system are incapable of dealing with it. And partly, this is the result of corruption."

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