Corruption seen as Bulgaria's main problem, survey shows Intrnl_Herld_Tribune - 2007/4/24
In Bulgaria, people are more likely to be the victim of a car crash than punished for bribery, according to a survey Monday.

A report on anti-corruption reforms in this EU newcomer country showed that Bulgarians identify corruption as the country's worst problem.

The survey, prepared by the independent Center for the Study of Democracy, found that while administrative corruption among public officials was falling just before and after Bulgaria's accession to the EU, corruption among politicians remained mostly unpunished.

The Balkan country joined the EU on January 1. European officials have repeatedly urged the government to continue reforms, especially of the judiciary, and to pursue the fight against corruption, warning that otherwise the country risks losing economic aid.

In June, the European Commission is to review Bulgaria's reform progress in several areas, including the fight against crime and corruption and reform of the judiciary.

According to the current report, Bulgaria loses more wealth each year through corruption than the amount given in EU funding.

Last year alone, the equivalent of some 500 million (US$680 million) was lost by corruption in public procurement, 400 million (US$544 million) in land swap schemes and state property management, and 200 million (US$272 million) in fraud involving duty-free stores.

The survey also found a growing public perception of political corruption. The efforts of state institutions to curb corruption among politicians and senior civil servants are perceived as insufficient.

The policy to punish corruption is also perceived as inefficient, especially in the field of political corruption.

"A comparison of the monthly average of 130,000 officially registered bribes in 2006 with the 233 legal proceedings initiated on corruption crimes and the 188 persons convicted shows that in Bulgaria it is more likely to become a victim of a road accident than to be punished for giving or receiving a bribe," the survey said.

Most cases are closed at an early stage and more than 60 percent do not reach the court at all. Verdicts are actually issued on only one quarter of the initiated preliminary proceedings and only 40 percent of the persons charged during the preliminary proceedings are convicted, the survey shows.

According to Bulgaria's chief prosecutor, the most "dangerous" type of corruption is within the judiciary.

"We cannot fight efficiently corruption if there is no moral in the judiciary," Boris Velchev said at a conference on anti-corruption measures on Monday.

U.S. Ambassador John Beyrle, who also attended the conference, urged Bulgaria to root out corruption, or it could shake the trust of its partners.

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