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Bulgaria: Corruption Problems Call For Action

Sofia, 8 December 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Bulgaria's Prime Minister Ivan Kostov today said that a special 'financial' police unit will begin operations no later than mid-1998.

Kostov described crime fighting as the top priority of his government, together with administrative reform of state agencies. But, Kostov added that "only after the successful of this priority task will I turn my personal attention to the privatization process as a strategic goal of the government."

Kostov last week appealed to Parliament to speed constitutional changes, in order to fight crime and corruption.

Our Sofia correspondent reports that this is the first time Kostov has mentioned a firm deadline - mid-1998 - for setting up a special branch of the police to deal with 'financial' crime.

The opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) - the former Communists - strongly oppose the idea, calling it an effort to revive "a police state."

The BSP uses the same argument in opposing the government's plan to give permanent status to a parliamentary anti-crime commission (widely referred to as the 'Anti-Mafia Commission).

The head of the commission, Ekaterina Michailova, today said she hopes the commission will be granted permanent status early next year.

Mikhailova, who also heads the governing coalition's parliamentary majority, today asserted that "not a single notorious criminal has been jailed in Bulgaria for years."

Addressing parliament last week, Mikhailova said, "The sharp rise in crime reflects an unprecedented moral and legal crisis in Bulgaria. Many even think there is a threat to the authority of the state," she said.

The parliamentary commission has suggested legal measures to make political parties' funding more transparent, and to put an end to their dependence on what reports say are suspect business groups, which the commission asserts only encourages corruption.

Interior Minister Bogomil Bonev today is quoted in Bulgarian media as saying that the effectiveness of police reporting of crime statistics in Bulgaria is close to the average European rate. Bonev said that up to 42 percent of cases are resolved by police - but, he said, that only one percent of convicted criminals are sent to jail.

Bonev said that the whole process of prosecuting criminals in Bulgaria is "the clumsiest and the most expensive one in Europe."

Bonev and the governing coalition Union of Democratic Forces are appealing to parliament to take steps to mandate greater control over state prosecution and judges.

Widespread corruption among prosecutors and judges has been cited as one of the leading reasons for the ineffectiveness of the court system. Under the current constitution, prosecutors and judges are immune from prosecution.

Reuter news agency cites the London-based consulting group Control Risks as last month ranking Bulgaria the world's eighth most corrupt country.