Washington Focuses on Corrupt Bulgarian Officials
On June 2, the US State Department announced the designation of four former Bulgarian officials as well as one current official for involvement in corrupt activities. This designation is based on the same legal framework that the State Department used on May 19 to designate former Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha for similar large-scale corrupt activities. It is not clear at this time whether Washington is applying a special regional focus or whether these cases have simply been dealt with in consecutive months.
The State Department appointed former Bulgarian officials Alexander Manolev, Petar Haralampiev, Krasimir Tomov, Delyan Slavchev Peevski as well as the current Bulgarian official Ilko Dimitrov Zhelyazkov, due to their involvement in significant corruption.
In their official capacities as Deputy Minister of Economy, Director of the State Agency for Bulgarians Abroad and Chief Secretary of the State Agency for Bulgarians Abroad, respectively , Manolev, Haralampiev and Tomov were involved in acts of corruption which undermined the rule of law. and the confidence of the Bulgarian public in the democratic institutions and public processes of its government, including using its political influence and official power for personal gain.
As an MP, Peevski used Zhelyazkov, an official of the State Office for the Control of Special Intelligence-Gathering Devices, as an intermediary and accomplice to peddle influence and pay bribes both to protect himself. of public scrutiny and also to exert influence on key institutions and sectors of Bulgarian society.
The Treasury Department plays an important supporting role
In addition to the State Department designations, the Treasury Department also appointed Peevski, Zhelyazkov and Bulgarian oligarch Vassil Bojkov, as well as 64 entities that are said to be owned and controlled by Bojkov and Peevski, for their roles in public corruption, in accordance with Executive Order 13818, which builds on and implements the Global Magnitsky Law on Human Rights Accountability.
These sanctions are administered by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), an organization with decades of experience in economic sanctions. OFAC sanctioned properties in the United States have been frozen and all transactions by American entities involving these assets require special OFAC licenses. OFAC has added them all to its list of “Specially Designated Nationals” (SDNs), roughly equivalent to OFAC’s public “Hall of Shame”.
Designated persons are not eligible to travel to the United States
Department of State designations are made under Section 7031 (c) of the Department of State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs Appropriations Act, 2021, the same provision used in the case of the ‘Albania last month. The designation renders Manolev, Haralampiev, Tomov, Zhelyazkov and Peevski, and each of their immediate families, ineligible for entry into the United States.
Together, these actions reaffirm Washington’s commitment to supporting the rule of law and strengthening democratic institutions in Bulgaria. In the State Department’s public announcement, he noted that “the United States stands by all Bulgarians whose work advances reforms, and the Department will continue to use its authorities to promote the accountability of actors. corrupt in the region and in the world ”.
Political fallout in Bulgaria
Washington’s sanctions come just over a month before the snap parliamentary elections scheduled for July 11 and could potentially damage the image of Bulgaria’s former ruling party, GERB. As expected, opposition leaders have already used US announcements to criticize GERB and former Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, and a protest in Sofia on June 2 called for the attorney general’s resignation.
The sanctions will undoubtedly have an impact on the July elections, which were called after parties that entered parliament in April failed to form a new government. It remains to be seen how this plays out and affects the dispute between Bulgaria and neighboring North Macedonia over language and history. Conspiracy theorists will see the timing of Washington’s decision, however, as more than a coincidence, even if overt election interventions through such sanctions are not currently in fashion.
Hit the oligarchs
Delyan Peevski is a powerful businessman, media mogul and legislator of the Bulgarian Opposition Movement for Rights and Freedom (DPS), a party predominantly made up of ethnic Turks. He controlled large swathes of the Bulgarian media landscape, including newspapers and television stations, and is considered one of the most powerful people in the country. Described by an analyst as the “chief oligarch,” Peevski sought to influence the 2019 municipal elections by offering politicians positive media coverage in return for protection from criminal investigations, one of the book’s oldest tricks. political game of any oligarch.
He would now live in Dubai. In late 2020, Peevski hired a large Washington lobbying firm to help him solve “problems in the United States” according to lobbying registration documents viewed by various media outlets. His case was handled at that company by a retired former FBI official.
In a possible sign that he expected Washington to end up imposing sanctions on him, Peevski sold his media assets, ditched the DPS list for the April 2021 parliamentary elections and disappeared from the Bulgarian political scene.
Also now based in Dubai, Vassil Bojkov, is a more traditional Bulgarian business mogul, having amassed his fortune in the gambling industry. Its corrupt business activities focused on controlling the industry using outright bribery of government regulators as its primary tool.
In politics, he financed and created this year the new political party “Bulgaria Summer”, which obtained almost 3% in the April elections but did not meet the threshold required to obtain a seat in parliament. The Bulgaria Summer party is one of the 64 Bulgarian entities sanctioned by the OFAC unit of the Treasury Department.
On a more worrying note, in nominating Bojkov for sanctions, the OFAC of the Treasury said that Bojkov also planned to provide a sum of money to a former Bulgarian official and a Bulgarian politician earlier in 2021 to help Bojkov ” to create a channel for Russian political leaders to influence Bulgarian government officials.