Bulgaria loses billions levs a year from graft-NGO Reuters - 2007/4/23
European Union newcomer Bulgaria is losing billions of levs each year due to rampant corruption, more than it is likely to receive from the bloc in development aid, an independent survey showed on Monday.
Corrupt deals in public procurement, land sales and smuggling cost the state 2 billion levs ($1.39 billion) last year, over 10 percent of its annual state budget revenues, according to the Centre for the Study of Democracy.
"Political corruption remains a serious problem that is left unsolved," said the independent think tank, which receives grants from the United States, the EU and other foreign donors. Its findings were based on interviews and other monitoring.
The EU's executive Commission has warned Bulgaria, which joined the bloc in January, to sever links between top criminals and corrupt high-ranking officials and put them behind bars or face tough sanctions.
Brussels has said it may quarantine Bulgarian courts from the rest of the Union and withhold aid if Sofia fails to show clear results in the fight against graft and organised crime.
U.S. Ambassador to Bulgaria John Beyrle said widespread corruption was discouraging millions euros of much needed foreign direct investment.
"There is no doubt the uncertainty coming from graft has put off investment worth hundreds of millions of euros and dollars," Beyrle told an anti-graft forum in Sofia.
Diplomats and foreign investors have complained senior government officials from some ministries have blocked deals, asking for bribes. Sofia is set to tap around 11 billion euros in EU funds through 2012. Brussels is expected to rule whether to stop 25 percent from the direct payments for agriculture in June, depending on Bulgaria's progress on reforms.
The government has repeatedly said it will fight to put an end to what diplomats have called a climate of impunity for powerful crime gangs with links to top officials that control much of the economy, but it has so far detained only mid-level figures on corruption charges.
"One is more likely to get hurt in a car accident than to be punished for offering a bribe," the think tank said.