April 9, 2008 / 8:10 PM / 11 years ago

Bulgaria approves plan to reform graft-prone police

(Updates with coalition, changes dateline and byline)

By Anna Mudeva

SOFIA, April 9 (Reuters) - Bulgaria’s ruling coalition agreed on a plan on Wednesday to rid police of corrupt officials linked to crime bosses and show the European Union it is serious about fighting rampant crime.

The plan for reforms at the scandal-tainted interior ministry comes a day after the EU told Sofia urgent action was needed following the killings of an author of books on the Bulgarian mafia and the chief of an energy company.

The Socialist-led coalition approved a plan drafted by Interior Minister Rumen Petkov for police reforms, including staff changes, legal amendments and tougher controls.

"The minister’s report is a good basis for in-depth reform of the system, which will renovate and cleanse it and make it more effective and transparent," the government said in a statement.

The EU newcomer is struggling to clean up its image after high-ranking police officials were arrested last month and accused by prosecutors of passing sensitive information to shadowy businessmen and irregular phone tapping.

Bulgaria joined the EU in 2007 along with neighbouring Romania in the second wave of the bloc’s eastward expansion, despite complaints by some European politicians it was not doing enough to combat organised crime and corruption.

There have been more than 150 gangland assassinations in Bulgaria since 2001. Despite its declared war on crime and graft, Bulgaria has failed to convict a single suspect, nor has it charged any senior officials with corruption.

The interior minister’s reform plan includes radical transformation and staff changes at the police unit combating organised crime as well as putting more police on the streets.

"We had two dead people in the past days and this is serious," Foreign Minister Ivailo Kalfin said on the sidelines of a conference in Athens. "There is still work to be done but we are not trying to escape from this. We are committed."

Local observers and EU diplomats say the root of the problem is that often politicians and magistrates are linked to crime groups, and tensions within the three-party coalition do not help. (Additional reporting by Karolos Grohmann in Athens)

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