Frattini tells Bulgaria to speed up prosecutions ALL - 2007/2/22
A European Commission report will list corruption, money laundering, organised crime and delays in investigations and prosecutions as areas that the Bulgarian government needs to tackle if it is to avoid EU sanctions.
Franco Frattini, commissioner for justice, freedom and security, highlighted the areas during a trip to Sofia this week (19 February) ahead of next month’s deadline for the Bulgarian government to report on progress made since the country joined the EU on 1 January. Because of concerns about corruption and the quality of the judiciary, the EU is monitoring Bulgaria and Romania in the first years of membership. The Commission will in June
report to the member states on progress made by the two countries and could recommend sanctions.
Frattini said Bulgaria had made progress in fighting corruption and organised crime because of better co-operation between prosecutors and police but prosecutions had to follow. “Now courts have to speed up trials. Arrests are not enough, we are waiting for sentences. That is what is absolutely necessary,” he said.
Bulgaria has been keen to show that the standards used to measure corruption are often harsh, focusing on perceptions rather than hard facts. “Double standards are out of the question, they are not to be tolerated,” said Interior Minister Rumen Petkov last week.
A study by the Sofia-based think-tank, the Centre for the Study of Democracy, shows corruption has fallen when bribes paid by companies to get a telephone line or a licence are assessed. The perceived spread of corruption among professional groups is also falling, though still remaining high, the study shows. Over 80% of companies polled in November 2003 considered customs officials to be corrupt, with this figure falling to 67.8% by January this year; almost 63% of companies considered politicians corrupt in November 2003 with the figure at 58.3% in January this year.
Petkov said that work on reducing corruption would continue. “There is still much work to be done. Zero tolerance will continue in the future,” he said.
Dimitar Markov, project co-ordinator of the law programme with the Centre for the Study of Democracy, said that up to now prosecutions for corruption cases only involved minor offences and lower officials. “We hope by the end of the year Bulgaria could finally have a big case before the courts,” he said.
Potential cases could involve the Sofia Central Heating Company’s alleged embezzling of ˆ50 million or a recent investigation into fraud involving pre-accession funds.
Bulgaria has been praised for its recent approval of a constitutional amendment on judicial immunity while further legislation on recruitment procedures, management and terms of office of judges is also set to be introduced. But the continued pressure from the Commission and the possibility of Brussels invoking safeguard clauses – which would see sanctions imposed on Sofia if enough progress is not made – forced the government to focus on reform, said Markov. “It is useful to be persisting on criticising the government to counter political corruption as this is not as low as we would like to see it,” he said.
Author: Judith Crosbie