No products in the cart.
The United States on Wednesday imposed sweeping anti-transplant sanctions on high-profile Bulgarian power brokers and more than 60 companies, while the EU failed to address the Balkan nation’s widening rule of law crisis.
America’s unusually long-reaching move is an embarrassment for the EU as it exposes the bloc’s inability to oversee its own backyard over a host of corruption scandals, often linked with EU funds ending up in the hands of the Bulgarian mafia and powerful oligarchs . The move represents America’s largest act in a day under the country’s Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, which targets perpetrators of corruption and human rights abuses around the world.
“The United States stands by the side of all Bulgarians who strive to eradicate corruption by promoting accountability for corrupt officials who undermine Bulgaria’s economic functions and democratic institutions,” said Andrea M. Gacki, Director of the Office for the Control of Foreign Assets.
In contrast, the EU has made a striking decision not to stand with the Bulgarians in the fight against corruption.
EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Chancellor Angela Merkel have ignored the rule of law meltdown in the poorest EU country in recent years. Former Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, who dominated the country’s politics for almost a decade, was her close ally on the EU political stage in the center-right European People’s Party and was never challenged over his country’s judicial failures. Although the former firefighter and karate champion lost power in an indecisive April election, his GERB party is still ahead in polls ahead of another July 11 election.
While corruption has long been identified as a problem in Bulgaria, the scale of the transplant scandals unfolding over the past year has highlighted how an oligarchic mafia has effectively taken over the state by exercising control through institutions such as the judiciary, security services and media.
The best-known tycoon to be sanctioned is Delyan Peevski, a controversial media mogul and former MP.
Peevski was “regularly involved in corruption by using influence and bribes to protect himself from public scrutiny and to exercise control over important institutions and sectors of Bulgarian society,” wrote the US Treasury Department in its sanction decision.
Peevski, who belongs to the Movement for Rights and Freedom and a member of the liberal group Renew Europe, has become one of the symbols of the country’s corruption problems. The US said he had “worked to negatively affect the Bulgarian political process” in the 2019 election.
The department also has the fugitive casino baron Vasil “the Skull” Bozhkov, one of the richest citizens of Bulgaria, and Ilko Zhelyazkov, currently serving in the National Bureau for Control on Special Intelligence-Saming Devices, as well as 64 units linked to the men , sanctioned, cut off access to the American financial system.
In parallel, the US State Department announced entry bans for an even wider list of Bulgarian public figures and their families, including a former deputy minister.
“The big question is who have they corrupted?” said Elena Yoncheva, Member of the European Parliament, a leading critic of Borissov and a member of the Bulgarian Socialist Party.
In support of its decision, the Treasury Department said that Bozhkov – who is currently on the run in Dubai but registered a political party that received nearly 3 percent of the vote in the April elections – had “bribed government officials on several occasions,” including ” a current political leader. “
The businessman also said that the businessman “wanted to donate an amount of money to a former Bulgarian official and a Bulgarian politician earlier this year” to help him “create a channel for Russian political leaders to influence Bulgarian government officials” .
The Ministry of Finance also accused Shelyatskov of having acted as the front man for Peevski in corrupt deals.
“Peevski used Shelyatskov to conduct a bribery project with Bulgarian residence documents for foreigners and to bribe government officials in various ways in exchange for their information and loyalty,” the US government said.
Hristo Ivanov, head of the anti-corruption party Yes Bulgaria, welcomed the sanctions.
“Peevski and Bozhkov are participants in a major corruption plan that must be reversed while Borissov has to leave the political scene,” he told reporters in Sofia.
Maya Manolova, a former ombudswoman and one of the directors of Rise Up! Out With the Crooks !, an opposition party inspired by a wave of anti-corruption protests last year, said the sanctions identified an urgent need for reform.
“The Bulgarians want their institutions to finally step up their fight against corruption,” she told the online news platform Dnevnik.bg. The “Bulgarian state is the only one that has not recognized the need for decisive anti-transplantation measures. ”
In a statement late Wednesday, the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry did not address specific cases, but said the country is committed to the fight against corruption and is ready for a dialogue with Washington. Boschkov’s party did not want to comment at the time of publication.
Meanwhile, Peevski rejected the US move and vowed to contest it.
In an open letter to the Bulgarian media, he criticized the sanctions as “absolutely unacceptable, biased and contrary to the letter and spirit of Magnitsky Law”.
“I have not done anything to violate internationally recognized human rights, I am not a civil servant and I have not participated in acts of corruption,” he said.
Washington’s reasoning for imposing the sanctions “does not contain a single true fact,” he added.