SOFIA – Bulgaria's government is creating a blacklist of individuals and entities associated with three prominent Bulgarians hit by sanctions imposed by the United States for their alleged "extensive roles in corruption."
All state and local authorities will be banned from working with former parliament member Delyan Peevski, oligarch Vassil Bozhkov, and top intelligence official Ilko Zhelyazkov, the cabinet said on June 4.
The restrictions also apply to companies the three men own or control and all individuals or companies said to be linked to them.
The move aims to "protect companies with state and municipal participation and other spending units from falling within the scope of the sanctions," the cabinet said.
On June 2, the U.S. Treasury Department announced sanctions against the three powerful figures under the Global Magnitsky Act for their "extensive roles" in corruption in Bulgaria. It also placed sanctions on 64 entities said to be linked to them.
Bulgaria, a NATO member and the poorest country in the EU, is plagued by endemic corruption.
The Global Magnitsky Act bans entry to the United States of any person under sanctions. It also blocks any U.S.-based property, including overseas U.S. dollar accounts, held by sanctioned individuals and prevents U.S. entities from doing business with them.
The Bulgarian government said it was setting up a working group to prepare its blacklist "as a matter of urgency." Anyone related to or who has worked with the individuals and companies sanctioned by the United States is to be included.
The sanctions come before snap parliamentary elections scheduled for July 11 and could potentially hurt the image of the former ruling GERB party.
Peevski, who controlled large swaths of the Bulgarian media landscape, including newspapers and television stations, is considered one of the most powerful people in the country.
He served in parliament as a member of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) party, which is mostly made up of ethnic Turks.
The Bulgarian opposition accuses Peevski of controlling the former ruling GERB party, including ministers in the government of former Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, from behind the scenes.
Bozhkov is one of Bulgaria's richest individuals, having made his fortune in the country's gambling industry. He fled Bulgaria last year for Dubai amid accusations of corruption.
Earlier this year, he formed the Bulgaria Summer political party, which was among the 64 entities put on the Treasury Department sanctions list.
Following the U.S. announcement of the sanctions, Peevski was quoted as saying he had not been engaged "in any corrupt activity."
Bozhkov denounced "an attempt to stop a legally registered Bulgarian party from participating in the elections."
Zhelyazkov took a leave from his post at the National Bureau for Control on Special Intelligence-Gathering Devices.
Also on June 2, the U.S. State Department announced a travel ban on three former Bulgarian officials for their involvement in corruption. Their immediate family members are also banned from entering the United States.