Bulgaria faces uphill fight against corruption Financial_Times - 2006/2/23
Boris Velchev took over as Bulgaria's senior prosecutor yesterday, with a brief to reduce corruption in the police and judiciary and tame organised crime.
nless Bulgaria makes significant progress on tackling crime and corruption, its membership of the European Union may be delayed.
Mr Velchev, an academic specialist in criminal law who has not previously worked in the judicial system, says his priority will be to tackle corruption.
He says he will "investigate current flaws andsupport any change thatwill make the prosecution process more transparent".
The extent of Mr Velchev's task was highlighted by the killing in a Sofia suburbyesterday of Ivan Todorov,a prominent underworldfigure known as The Doctor. Mr Todorov was under investigation for money-laundering. Gunmen opened fire on his car beforeescaping, according to witnesses.
Sergey Stanishev, the prime minister, has pledged to clean up the administration and crack downon criminal gangs thathave made Bulgaria a channel for east-west trafficking in weapons, drugs andpeople.
But Bulgaria's failure to win convictions against high-profile criminals raises doubts about the Socialist-led coalition government's capacity to deliver on its promises.
"There's some progress on corruption, mostly related to a much better action plan for 2006, but results are still some way off," says Ivanka Ivanova of the Open Society Institute in Sofia.
The death last October of Emil Kulev, a prominent Bulgarian banker shot while driving to work in the centre of Sofia, prompted a sweep of alleged gangsters in the capital. Operation Respect, co-ordinated by the interior and justice ministries, led to a sharp fall in street killings, which averaged one every two weeks in 2004, but Mr Kulev's attackers are still at large.
Nikola Filchev, the outgoing senior prosecutor, who faced criticism for allowing several cases against high-profile alleged criminals to be dropped, made headlines this week by leaving behind a list of allegedly corrupt officials, including the president of the supreme cassation court, a senior legal body with the power to overturn decisions made by lower courts.
Bulgaria's parliament approved last month the first reading of proposed amendments to the constitution that would limit lawmakers' immunity from prosecution.
The proposals came in response to accusations that some deputies were on the payroll of business groups also involved in illegal activities such as smuggling of fuel and cigarettes.
Rightwing parties are pressing for deputies' immunity to be fully lifted, but so far the Socialists have proposed only a narrowing of the terms of immunity, on the grounds that freedomof speech needs protection.
"After some 15 years of peaceful co-existence bet-ween politicians and criminals, it becomes very hard to make a start on eradicating organised crime networks," says Ognian Shentov of the Centre for the Study of Democracy in Sofia.
Daniel Morar, Romania's young anti-corruption prosecutor, has unnerved the political establishment with his criminal investigations, as Brussels warns that Bulgaria and Romania must speed up reforms.
Author: Theodor Troev, Kerin Hope