June 30 Bulgaria's Socialist-led government has
been plagued by high-level corruption scandals during its four
years in power, prompting the European Union to freeze millions
of euros in aid for the bloc's poorest member.
Brussels criticised Sofia for failing to cut links between
virtually all political parties and "rings of companies", a
phrase used by Ahmed Dogan -- the kingmaker in the ruling
coalition and leader of the ethnic Turkish MRF -- to explain how
parties are funded.
Last year, Transparency International rated Bulgaria the
most corrupt EU nation. Despite numerous pledges, Sofia has not
convicted a single senior official of graft and has sent to jail
only one crime boss since the end of communism in 1989.
Suspected criminals have received temporary immunity from
prosecution after registering to run for parliament.
The agriculture and environment ministries, both controlled
by the MRF, and the construction and the economy ministries,
controlled by the Socialists, have been allegedly involved in
some of the most notorious schemes in the past few years.
Here are the main scandals:
JACUZZI AND INTIMIDATION
Valentin Dimitrov, director of the state-owned heating
utility Toplofikatsia Sofia was sacked in June 2006 after an
audit showed he had misused over 15 million levs ($10.63
million), installed massage chairs and a jacuzzi in his office,
and claimed for a boat and a water scooter on expenses.
He was later charged with money-laundering and tax evasion
after prosecutors said they had received a signal from an
unidentified Austrian bank that he had a deposit of 1.6 million
euros in it.
The scandal led to the dismissal of then Economy and Energy
Minister Rumen Ovcharov in June 2007, after a senior
investigator accused the minister of trying to blackmail him and
influence the probe into Toplofikatsia. Ovcharov was
investigated but not charged.
The Sofia City Court sentenced Dimitrov to 14 years in jail
on June 25 after he was found guilty of misusing more than $4.2
million from the loss-making utility.
ENVIRONMENT CARE OR BENEFITS
Canadian mining company Dundee Precious Metals lodged a
complaint against Bulgaria at the European Commission in 2007
for effectively blocking a planned $250 million investment in
its gold operations in the country.
For more than two years Environment Minister Dzhevdet
Chakarov had refused to sign environment permits for two gold
mines, and Dundee had argued that the heart of the matter lay in
the political interests of his ethnic Turkish MRF party.
The government and Dundee settled in March 2008 after Dundee
agreed to pay a substantially higher fee to Bulgaria for
exploring a gold mine, and allowed the state to take a stake in
a planned gold and copper producing plant.
EU FARM AID SCHEME
In Feb. 2007, the police services of Bulgaria, Germany and
Switzerland exposed a criminal network accused of abusing funds
worth 7.5 million euros ($10.5 million) in EU pre-accession farm
The network consisted of over 50 Bulgarian and various other
European and offshore firms and was allegedly run by two
Bulgarians -- Lyudmil Stoikov and Mario Nikolov -- who were said
to have close links with the government, the EU anti-fraud
agency OLAF said in a letter to Sofia last year.
"There are powerful forces in the Bulgarian government ...
who are not interested in punishing anyone from the circle
around Lyudmil Stoikov-Mario Nikolov," the OLAF letter said.
The group was allegedly involved in tax evasion, subsidy
frauds, forgery, money laundering and illegal imports to
Bulgaria, as well as exports to the EU before 2007 of Chinese
rabbit and chicken meat.
Nikolov and Stoikov -- the latter donated 25,000 levs for
the election campaign of President Georgi Parvanov, a Socialist,
in 2006 -- were arrested. Stoikov was later released after no
evidence of his guilt was found.
Stoikov is under investigation for alleged money laundering
in a related case, prosecutors have said.
In July 2008 after pressure from Brussels, Nikolov, together
with eight other people, was charged with participating in a
criminal group and document fraud.
A Sofia court temporarily suspended the trial in mid-June as
one of the defendants, Ivan Ivanov, won temporary immunity after
registering to run in the July national elections.
BROTHERS AND ROADS
Veselin Georgiev, former head of the national road agency,
resigned in February 2008 after media reports he had arranged
contracts worth millions of levs for his brothers' construction
firms. He was later charged with conflict of interests.
MEET THE CRIME BOSSES
Former Interior Minister Rumen Petkov was forced to step
down in April 2008 after two former high-ranking police officers
were arrested and accused by prosecutors of irregular phone
tapping and passing sensitive information to crime bosses.
Petkov, a senior member of the Socialist party, said then he
was "responsible for some appointments in the ministry through
which I misled the leadership of the country". He later said he
had met accused crime bosses and former members of the police
anti-terrorism unit, Plamen Galev and Angel Hristov.
Business partners Galev and Hristov, charged with running an
organised crime group and racketeering, spent some six months in
custody until mid-June when they were released after registering
to run in July elections, winning temporary immunity.
The former head of the State Revenue Agency, Maria Murgina,
resigned in February after prosecutors said they were
investigating a sizeable fraud involving value added tax. No
details were made available but local media quoted police
sources as saying the damage to public finances was more than
1.0 billion levs.
In May, Murgina was charged with abuse of power, putting
pressure on a subordinate and document fraud. She denied any
In March, the national security agency and prosecutors
raided the agriculture ministry and seized documents in an
investigation into large-scale illegal land deals. Prosecutors
are investigating swaps of thousands of hectares of state-owned
arable land and forests for private land that took place in 2008
Bulgaria has lost 8 billion levs in the past four years due
to swaps of high quality state-owned land for cheaper,
fragmented private land, according to a report by an
anti-corruption coalition of 30 non-government organisations.
The Sofia-based anti-graft Centre for the Study of Democracy
said the swaps had become "the most conspicuous and intolerable
form of political corruption in Bulgaria in 2008".
(Reporting by Irina Ivanova; Editing by Sara Ledwith)