First arrest made as Bulgarian prosecution starts probing local authorities for corruption

By bne IntelliNews February 1, 2018

The Bulgarian prosecution will investigate local authorities for corruption and has already arrested one mayor after raiding his office on February 1, daily Dnevnik reported, quoting Rumiana Arnaudova, spokeswoman for chief prosecutor Sotir Tsatsarov.

In recent weeks, the Bulgarian authorities have reactivated their attempts to show results in the fight against top-level corruption and organised crime as the country has been criticised for the lack of any significant progress by the European Commission. The latest initiative also comes one year ahead of local elections and could affect their results.

Arnaudova said that the prosecution has drafted a list of municipalities where there are signs of corruption among the local authorities, according to Dnevnik. All of them will be investigated.

“In all cases, in which there are proofs that the mayor is hindering the investigation […] the prosecution will file requests for removal of mayors from office,” Dnevnik quoted Arnaudova as saying.

Arnaudova spoke to reporters in the town of Septemvri, where the mayor Marin Rachev was arrested earlier on February 1 after the police raided his office. He is the first mayor from the list who was under investigation.

Rachev, who is member of the ruling Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB), has been under investigation since August 2017 and, according to local media, allegedly has caused damages worth BGN13mn (€6.7mn), signing contracts with firms owned by his friends and relatives for public works.

According to Arnaudova, the prosecution will file two charges against him, for damages equal to BGN100,000 each.

Bulgaria's prosecution has become more active in the fight against organised crime since the beginning of the year. Earlier this week, chief prosecutor Tsatsarov said that his institution will investigate all owners of luxury property worth above BGN500,000 and of luxury vehicles. He said at the time that the prosecution will probe the origin of the money spent on such property or vehicles. However, many Bulgarians saw this as a PR action that will not lead to any significant results.

Bulgaria is struggling to prove it is stepping up the fight against top-level corruption and organised crime, and the government has already adopted several legislation changes. However, they have all been strongly criticised by the opposition and by magistrates as inefficient or opening the door for even more corruption.

In its latest CVM report in November, the European Commission noted that although Bulgaria has made progress, it still has work to do. The government of Prime Minister Boyko Borissov has been criticised on the grounds that the legislation changes lacked transparency on key decisions.

Moreover, despite the recent activity of the government and the prosecution, the European Union’s justice commissioner Vera Jourova said in January that Bulgaria has to increase its efforts in the fight against corruption and organised crime to exit the Co-operation and Verification Mechanism (CVM).

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