Corruption worsens in EU aspirant Bulgaria: NGO Reuters - 2006/3/22
High-level graft worsened in Bulgaria last year, leaving the door open for organised crime to maintain control over large parts of the economy, an independent watchdog said on Tuesday.
The Centre for the Study of Democracy said in a scathing report that after a fall in corruption from 1998-2004, "over the past year and a half ... alarming indications of increased numbers of corrupt transactions have been identified".
Rampant corruption is Bulgaria's biggest stumbling block to joining the European Union next January. Brussels has warned it will delay entry until 2008 if the poor Black Sea state does not show it can control the problem.
The Centre for the Study of Democracy is an independent body which receives grants from the United States, the EU and other foreign donors. Its findings were based on interviews and other monitoring techniques.
It said that in 2005 political parties siphoned 320-370 million levs ($199-$231 million) from the state by giving concession and procurement deals to firms who then paid them back through party financing and other means.
These "friendly circles" of parties and companies were allowing organised crime gangs to influence politics, launder money and control key sectors of the economy, the study said.
"The institutionalisation of political corruption makes it easier for criminal interests to capture state institutions, thus allowing organised crime to enter the legal economy of Bulgaria and the EU with impunity," it said.
Bulgaria has promised to crack down on graft, but it has failed to convict a single high-level official for corruption.
The country's image has also suffered from a string of failed privatisations and concessions, including a stalled 720-million euro highway deal granted without a tender last year.
The government has also appeared to be masking its "reluctance and incapability" to deal with graft by launching highly visible crackdowns that had little actual effect on the problem, it added.
"Despite the worsening situation with corruption in 2005, the number of the cases, convictions and convicted people continues to be negligible," the report said.