SOFIA (Reuters) - Bulgaria followed neighbour Romania on Friday in seeking to shed an image as one of Europe’s most corrupt states, announcing plans to form a special unit to investigate high-level graft.
Corruption has eroded Bulgarians’ trust in their public institutions and been a deterrent to businesses for years. Brussels has repeatedly criticised the authorities for failing to jail officials and overhaul its slow and inefficient judiciary.
As a result, it has kept Bulgaria out of the European Union’s passport-free Schengen zone.
The new unit will consist of prosecutors, investigators and inspectors and become operational by the start of 2016. The government estimates some 7,670 officials could become targets for investigation. People who tip off authorities will receive money if their information leads to convictions.
“Bulgaria has a problem with corruption,” Deputy Prime Minister Meglena Kuneva told reporters. “We do not have progress in the fight against corruption on high levels.”
Kuneva wants Bulgaria to emulate Romania, where senior politicians, officials and businessmen have been investigated or jailed.
Romanian Finance Minister Darius Valcov resigned last month after being accused of taking kickbacks for a public works contract. He has denied any wrongdoing.
Tackling corruption and judicial reform is among the reformist measures laid out by Prime Minister Boiko Borisov, who returned to power after a snap election in October.
But “this anti-corruption strategy needs wide political support and support of the entire judicial system to be effective,” said Daniel Smilov, a political analyst at the Centre for Liberal Strategies.
Bulgaria and Romania joined the EU in 2007 but concerns over the state of their judiciaries prompted the creation of the Co-operation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) to track the progress of judicial reform and the fight against corruption.
“The CVM report was an important source,” Kuneva said. “It plays a highly important role in the political life of the country. We will not forget what we have to do.”
Editing by Matthias Williams/Ruth Pitchford