Corruption Hampers Bulgaria's EU Ambitions
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Bulgaria's government said yesterday that it's planning to charge dozens of suspected crime bosses. It's an attempt to stamp out organized crime. The Balkan state wants to join the European Union in January 2007, but the EU has warned that unless Bulgaria cracks down on its underworld and corruption, its membership may be delayed. NPR's Rachel Martin reports.
RACHEL MARTIN reporting:
It looks and sounds like an American crime drama.
(Soundbite of music)
MARTIN: But the Bulgarian television show "Nachisto" has real characters and real corruption. The topics change from week to week. Sometimes, it's about counterfeiting, sometimes corporate fraud, but always corruption and how it affects Bulgarian society.
Mr. BOYKO SANKOUCHEV(ph) (Host, "Nachisto"): (Foreign language spoken)
MARTIN: Fifty-three-year-old Boyko Sankouchev is the host of the program. His investigations tackle both the hustler on the street and the corporate executive. He says despite personal attacks by some critics, he and his team have helped shut down some illegal privatization deals and corporate scandals. But Sankouchev says it's the crimes at the highest levels of government that are the most damaging to the country and the hardest to prove.
Mr. SANKOUCHEV: (Through Translator) It's very important to understand that the Mafia is connected to all the powerful levels of government, to the executive and to the judiciary, so you're stuck. Very often, you can't prove these connections that sometimes go all the way to the ministerial level. And even if we could, there would be no consequences.
MARTIN: Just after the EU warned Bulgaria about its problems with organized crime, one of the country's wealthiest bankers, with alleged Mafia connections, was shot and killed in downtown Sofia. It was the latest in a string of high-profile assassinations that has put the Bulgarian government on the defensive and prompted calls for stricter judicial reform. But the slow pace of arrests and convictions have spurred a blame game. Boiko Kotzev, deputy minister of the Interior, says the judges are slow, corrupt and too soft on sentencing.
Mr. BOIKO KOTZEV (Deputy Minister of The Interior, Bulgaria): The reproaches are on the side that we don't have sentences, so we need to improve our--this adjudication procedure from the beginning to the end and especially at the judicial phases.
Judge RUMEN NENKOV (Bulgaria): That's absolutely not true. The most corrupt system is the police.
MARTIN: Rumen Nenkov is a judge and a member of the body which appoints Bulgaria's judges and prosecutors.
Judge NENKOV: We need witnesses in the courts. We need proof. We cannot convict a guy only because the police says, `This is the bad guy.'
MARTIN: But it is Bulgaria's judicial system that's been a target of the strongest criticism from international and domestic watchdog groups. They say judges violate conflict-of-interest rules, abuse their authority and accept bribes, and that the state prosecutors are even worse.
Mr. DIMITAR MARKOV (Lawyer): I think the major reason for the reforms to go so slow is that there is not enough political will to implement all of them.
MARTIN: Dimitar Markov is a lawyer at The Center for the Study of Democracy in Sofia. He says corruption can be found in everything, from customs and corporate business to health care and education. Markov says some key anti-corruption reforms have been implemented, like a new tougher penal code and new codes of ethics for ministries. But it's important that Bulgaria's leaders don't stop there. He says there are some European countries that would use corruption as an excuse to keep Bulgaria out of the EU.
Mr. MARKOV: Corruption is not--would not be the reason for not accepting Bulgaria as an EU member, but it will be more like justification of a political decision.
MARTIN: Rachel Martin, NPR News, Sofia, Bulgaria.
INSKEEP: This is NPR News.
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