US sanctions coordinator: Real actions against corruption in Bulgaria are necessary

There is an understanding in Bulgaria of the importance of carrying out reforms in the field of fighting corruption, but real actions in this regard are also necessary, Jim O’Brien, head of the Office of Sanctions Coordination at the US Department of State, told Bulgarian National Radio (BNR) in an interview on February 14.

O’Brien is visiting Bulgaria a few days after the US Treasury Department announced sanctions against five current and former top Bulgarian officials.

Those sanctioned are former finance minister Vladislav Goranov, former energy minister Rumen Ovcharov, former Kozloduy nuclear power station head Alexander Nikolov, former Kozloduy nuclear power station head and former MP Ivan Genov and Russophile leader Nikolai Malinov.

The five were listed “for their extensive involvement in corrupt activities in Bulgaria,” the US Treasury Department said. All five have denied wrongdoing.

O’Brien said that the Magnitsky Act were aimed at strengthening Bulgaria’s choice to deepen its integration in Europe and cooperation with global companies, as well as the diversification of energy sources.

“We would like to see a process where the parties come together and agree on a specific text and commit to voting on it at the start of the new Parliament. And then implement it fully,” O’Brien told BNR.

“Because we want, not just laws on paper, right? And Bulgaria should have an independent, impartial and responsible investigative service, anti-corruption service, chief prosecutor, etc. In addition to legislation, these laws must also be enforced,” he said.

It was important that some old practices were identified and discontinued.

“These sanctions follow the evidence we have and establish tens of millions of euros that have been taken from the Bulgarian people and given in some cases to officials, in some cases to foreign companies,” he said.

The purpose of these sanctions was for Bulgaria to be able to investigate and stop such behaviour in order to be a full participant in the world economy, O’Brien said.

“What we would like to see next is a focus on judicial reform. It is important that we have taken these actions with our UK colleagues in full harmony with the values of the EU as well,” he said.

Moves towards judicial reform, which were presented in the last session of Parliament, aim to make it possible for Bulgaria to investigate and prosecute those involved, and then to reform the institutions responsible for these actions, he said.

The sanctions were not intended to undermine or circumvent Bulgarian institutions, and were not attacking any political party, O’Brien told BNR.

“They refer to individuals who created a parallel system that diverted a lot of money from the people of Bulgaria and hindered especially the reformation of the Bulgarian energy system. And now it’s time to continue in a better way.”

Asked if more Bulgarians would be sanctioned, O’Brien declined to speculate on the matter.

(Photo, of a meeting on February 13 between O’Brien and President Roumen Radev:

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