Bulgaria is seen as the EU's most corrupt country. Bulgaria was ranked 69th out of 167 countries in Transparency International's corruption perceptions index in 2015, the highest in the EU. The concept of ‘organised crime’ has became a universal metaphor used to explain political and business dependencies and practically any economic and corporate crime committed in Bulgaria. Similarly, the topic of corruption is perceived as closely related to anything from the underdeveloped and ineffective state institutions to the constant political conflicts in the country.
In Bulgaria, the borderline between the legal and the illegal economies is much less clear than most of the EU. Organised crime, generating wealth from drugs, smuggling and prostitution, has merged with corporations and groups that have privatised state-owned assets, or has transformed its accumulated wealth into political and administrative power. This influence in the political and administrative structures allows companies to use corruption to win public tenders, avoid taxes, and systematically break the laws to gain competitive advantages. Organised crime networks have infiltrated to significant levels most public institutions: the police, customs, and prosecution. The political elite and political parties are highly influenced by organised criminals at the local level, while some criminal structures have been able to influence MPs or national level politicians.
Despite having been part of the European Union for nearly a decade, tackling high-level corruption remains one of Bulgaria's "biggest challenges," the European Commission pointed out in a 27 January 2016 progress report. The report, which criticized the country's slow progress, said tackling high-level corruption and organized crime "must be the highest priority." To realize its potential as a strong and modern and prosperous democracy, Bulgaria must also strengthen rule of law and curb corruption. Despite new laws and tougher enforcement, corruption is still one of most difficult problems in Bulgaria. Bulgaria consistently ranks among the EU Member States with the highest perceived level of corruption, and corruption is considered to be one of the most important barriers to doing business in Bulgaria.
Bulgaria came under fire from its major business partners 25 January 2016 over its failure to strengthen the rule of law, just before the publication of the EU monitoring report expected to be highly critical of the lack of reforms in the Union’s poorest member state. The bilateral chambers of commerce of nine EU countries and the United States said that there was the “increasing impression, both locally and among foreign investors’ circles, that there is not enough rule of law in Bulgaria”. In a joint statement, they said investors in Bulgaria are discouraged from pursuing their activities in Bulgaria, and are look towards other countries. The investors call the deficiencies in the Bulgarian judiciary “systemic” and say that changes are impossible without political will.
The Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) is the key institution governing the Bulgarian judiciary. Controversies over the SJC have revolved around issues such as non-transparent procedures for judicial appointments, inconsistent practices in disciplinary proceedings, and a lack of follow-up to concerns about potential manipulation of the random allocation of cases in courts. To this has been added controversy about political influence in the SJC.
Bulgaria’s ruling right-wing made an unprecedented demand 25 January 2016 for the resignation of the country’s top judiciary body after a series of scandals. The 25-member Supreme Judicial Council (SJC / VSS) is Bulgaria’s top judiciary body responsible for all appointments in a much criticised system. VSS was embroiled in a series of scandals recently that opened a rift between its members. Experts and the media criticised the body for its alleged dependence on political circles, leading to a lack of transparency on nominations and even nepotism in the appointment of top judges.
Serious allegations of corruption and trading of influence in the judiciary have only been followed up after internal and external pressure, with the authorities unable or unwilling to initiate pro-active investigations.
The October 2011 local and presidential elections demonstrated new political trends in the country. Many candidates relied on democratic principles and European-style communication. This new style, however, coexists with the old-fashion political behavior. The European trends existed together with typical Balkan features during the latest elections. The share of bought votes, or votes received under corporate, administrative, and other types of pressure, was unprecedentedly high. According to Mr. Tonchev these were 15% of the votes. What is even more worrying is the fact that in some municipalities such practices were used by all political parties.
However, as recognized in the European Commission's annual Cooperation and Verification report published in July 2010, the government has shown increased political will in combating corruption and organized crime. Since 2009, numerous high-level officials and four former ministers, including one from the current government, have been investigated and indicted for corruption-related crimes. Numerous high-profile anti-smuggling operations have generally had a deterrent effect on contraband, but well-established human trafficking, narcotics, and contraband smuggling channels that contribute to corruption in Bulgaria still exist.
The Prosecution service, the State Agency for National Security, and the Ministry of Interior are the primary institutions responsible for combating corruption. Despite some reforms, the police, customs officials, and the judiciary as a whole (which includes prosecutors and judges) consistently receive poor scores in the area of public confidence in opinion polls. Bulgaria has laws, regulations, and penalties to combat corruption effectively, but internal oversight within institutions is often weak. Lack of transparency in the public procurement system is also often cited as a source of corruption.
Bribery is a criminal act under Bulgarian law for both the giver and the receiver. Penalties range from one to fifteen years imprisonment along with possible confiscation of property depending on the circumstances and seriousness of the case. In the most egregious cases, the Penal Code calls for prison terms of 10 to 30 years. Bribing a foreign official is also a criminal act. The government does not require companies to establish internal codes of conduct nor compliance programs to detect and prevent bribery.
Bulgaria has an NGO sector that monitors corruption and organized crime, including a local chapter of Transparency International (TI). Bulgaria ranks 73rd of 178 countries in TI's Corruption Perception Index for 2010, down two places from 2009.
In 1998 Bulgaria was one of the first non-OECD nations to ratify the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention. Bulgaria has also ratified the Council of Europe’s Convention on Laundering, Search, Seizure, and Confiscation of Proceeds of Crime (1994) and Civil Convention on Corruption (1999). Bulgaria has signed and ratified the UN Convention against Corruption (2003); the Additional Protocol to the Council of Europe’s Criminal Law Convention on Corruption; and the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime.
Corruption in the sphere of national security constitutes direct encroachment on the integrity of the state, on the citizens’ sense of security, on the authority of the institutions and the international image of the country. The occurrence of corruption in the defence sector compromises the reforms aimed at modernizing the armed forces. If the prerequisites that generate corruption are not abolished, the planned changes will only remain theories written on paper while their practical implementation is doomed to failure, and they turn into a screen behind which shady groupings seek influence and conceal unacceptable abuses of power and position-in-office.
In a period when in defence sector arbitrariness in resource management reigned, there was total non-transparency in the decision making process and reckless disregard for the internationally accepted standards of defence management. Therefore, the basic task that the leadership of the Ministry of Defence took upon itself was to build such a strategic environment for conducting the reforms, in which there are not only guarantees that corruption will be eliminated at the present moment, but also that the risk of subsequently generating corruption in the future will be reduced to a minimum.
Bulgaria's new center-right government took aim at widespread graft among top officials. Bulgarian Deputy Prime Minister Meglena Kuneva confirmed on 03 April 2015 that Sofia planned to launch an investigative body in a bid to rid the country of corrupt politicians. According to a study by the Sofia-based Center for the Study of Democracy, 2014 was a record year for graft in the southeastern European government, with officials purportedly receiving up to 158,000 bribes per month.
In 2015 these problems were finally acknowledged by the Bulgarian authorities, as the government adopted a new comprehensive national strategy to fight corruption. The level of political support for a new approach was called into question by the failure of the government's proposal for a new anti-corruption law to pass the first reading in the National Assembly in September 2015. The draft law was designed to back up the approach with a sound institutional basis: it provides for the establishment of a unified anti-corruption authority, charged with the control of conflicts of interest and property declarations of high-ranking officials and investigations into possible corruption and illicit enrichment.
There has been a tendency of high-profile cases involving initial charges of serious wrongdoing being subsequently overturned or delayed in the courts or terminated by the prosecution, citing lack of sufficient evidence or procedural issues.
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