SOFIA, Bulgaria (AP) — Bulgaria’s interim prime minister on Monday urged the government to redouble its efforts to fight endemic graft, calling for changes in prosecutors’ offices, the judiciary and all law enforcement agencies.
Prime Minister Stefan Yanev spoke at a meeting of the government security council that he convened to discuss new anti-corruption policies following U.S. sanctions on Bulgarian officials and businessmen for their allegedly “extensive” roles in corruption.
Last week, the U.S. Department of the Treasury announced sanctions under the Global Magnitsky Act against the former member of parliament and media mogul Delyan Peevski; oligarch Vassil Bozhkov; and former national security official Ilko Zhelyazkov for their alleged roles in public corruption.
It also imposed sanctions on 64 entities allegedly linked to them, saying the move was its single biggest action targeting corruption to date.
The sanctions on the Bulgarians and companies effectively prevents them from accessing the U.S. financial system, freezes their U.S. assets and bars Americans from dealing with them.
Yanev said the Bulgarian government will try to minimize the political and the economic risks for the country from the U.S. sanctions.
“We must protect state-owned companies from financial sanctions being imposed. To this end, we must prevent bank transactions with these investigated persons, so that businesses and state-owned companies are not blocked,” Yanev said.
He admitted, however, that the U.S. sanctions are a serious signal that corruption in Bulgaria has deep roots in the country’s political and economic system and the consequences of that already go beyond the country’s borders.
Bulgaria, a member of the European Union and NATO, has repeatedly been reprimanded by its Western partners for failing to effectively fight corruption. Transparency International, a corruption watchdog, has declared Bulgaria the most corrupt country in the 27-nation EU.
Yanev said the corrupt environment in Bulgaria not only destroys the country’s international authority, it undermines its political system and the foundations of its democracy, making it dysfunctional and inefficient.
“There is no way we can have a stable political system, a prosperous economy, or a functioning social system without solving the fundamental problems with corruption,” he said.
The interim government, appointed after an inconclusive general election in April, has made a series of revelations of alleged corruption involving the previous government under former Prime Minister Boyko Borissov.