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EU May Halt Funds Over Bulgarian Corruption


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EU May Halt Funds Over Bulgarian Corruption

For some time critics have claimed that EU money was flowing into Bulgaria's organized-crime coffers, not to its people. Now the European Commission -- in a sharply-worded report -- will threaten the government in Sofia with severe funding cuts.

Bulgaria stands to lose control of half a billion euros in European Union funding -- as well as planned membership in the Schengen agreement -- if it can't clean up mafia-driven corruption, a critical report to be released next week by the European Commission is expected to state.

The report, due out July 23, may be one of the most explicit and withering condemnations of a member state ever delivered by the EU's executive body. A draft of the report expresses concern that money earmarked for "less favored regions in Bulgaria" has been diverted "by corrupt officials, operating together with organized crime."

Brussels has frozen about €1 billion ($1.6 million) to four Bulgarian agencies out of concern over where the money winds up. A good portion of that money may be unfrozen, but two agencies in particular may have to give up control of €610 million ($966.9 million). Bulgaria may also be kept out of the Schengen agreement, a treaty that allows visa-free, borderless travel throughout much of Europe. The country is expected to join in 2011.

"The lack of firm commitment and results in the fight against corruption and organized crime is worrying," reads the Commission's draft report. "It impacts directly on Bulgaria's administrative capacity and hence its ability to ensure the sound management and efficient delivery of EU funds."

The move comes following considerable pressure placed on the EU to act by the Netherlands, France and Great Britain, who are pushing for the country to fix its legal system and do more to combat corruption at the highest political levels.

Agencies Under Suspicion

Bulgaria joined the EU in 2007, but for years it has received "pre-accession" funding to prepare the ground for full membership and larger amounts of aid. The money now in question still flows from pre-accession programs like PHARE and SAPARD. But the Commission has also warned that Bulgaria may lose even larger rewards of full membership, like a much-needed budget of €11 billion for the period between 2007 and 2013.

For now, though, the Bulgarian agencies set up to manage the pre-accession funds are under suspicion. An executive director of Bulgaria's SAPARD Agency, for example, "was dismissed in 2007 after allegations of wrongdoing in regard to the management of the State Fund Agriculture," according to the draft. "The Bulgarian authorities have argued that the allegations were not related to the management of the SAPARD funds. However, the Prosecutor's Office of Bulgaria is currently investigating the case and has recently accused the ex-executive director for 'wrongful approval of projects.'"

The draft mentions links between crooked administrators and top politicians: "High-level corruption and organized crime exacerbates these problems of general weakness in administrative and judicial capacity." It also sounds an alarm over 150 still-unsolved mafia killings on record in Bulgaria since the fall of communism.

Full story, source: Der Spiegel

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