Thursday, January 22, 2009

Bulgaria, Romania indict high-profile suspects

EurActiv.com

Published: Thursday 22 January 2009

Just weeks ahead of a European Commission report on the two countries' dealings with corruption and organised crime, Romania indicted a former prime minister, while Bulgaria arrested the leaders of what is widely known to be a powerful organised criminal group.

Background:

When Bulgaria and Romania joined the EU on 1 January 2007, the European Commission made clear that there was still work to be done for the two countries to meet the necessary EU requirements.

Otherwise, the Commission retained the right to use special safeguards. Such safeguards are included in both countries' accession treaties and can be invoked against new member states as a last resort. If used, the process could lead the EU to refuse to recognise court decisions or even freeze payments of EU funds.

The current report is part of a 'Cooperation and Verification Mechanism' which replaced a previous monitoring system on 1 January. It looks in particular at progress made in the areas of judicial reform and the fight against corruption and organised crime.

A matter of hours after European commissioner responsible for justice, freedom and security, Jacques Barrot, sharply criticised Bulgaria for failing to crack down on organised crime, two notorious "businessmen" were jailed on racketeering charges, the Bulgarian press reports today (22 January).

A popular saying describes the notorious 'Galevi brothers' as "the owners of the first private city in Bulgaria" – Dupnitsa, 60 kilometres south of Sofia. The Galevi 'brothers' are in fact not brothers, but they each have the same macho appearance favoured by the mob in Bulgaria.

Meanwhile, in neighbouring Romania, prosecutors have indicted Adrian Nastase, the country's prime minister until 2004, on corruption charges, along with four alleged accomplices.

The charges against them are that the Social Democrat politician pushed companies to participate in a fraudulent corporate certification scheme, the proceeds of which were used to finance Nastase's failed presidential bid in 2004.

Bulgaria and Romania may have not coordinated their moves, but it is precisely the "fight against high-level corruption" that is seen by the Commission as an important criterion for the two countries in the monitoring process that followed their accession to the EU. The corruption benchmark is currently the heaviest burden on Romania, while Bulgaria has been unable to fulfil the Commission's expectations regarding fighting powerful organised crime gangs.

Barrot was in Sofia on Tuesday, and said Bulgaria's "judicial system is producing very few positive results". Indeed, even in the few cases where high-profile mobsters have been arrested and prosecuted, they have always got their own way in court, confirming suspicions that the judiciary is not only inefficient, but corrupt.

A progress report on both countries under the 'Cooperation and Verification Mechanism', put in place as an unprecedented measure to accompany the two countries' first years of membership, is due in February. Sources told EurActiv that Romania is struggling to complete its monitoring, while Bulgaria is trying to avert the worst EU sanction: a safeguard clause that would invalidate its court rulings with respect to EU countries.

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