Corruption in Bulgaria

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Corruption in Bulgaria has been a central problem of the country's government since the late 1990s, and fighting it has been at the top of the government's agenda. Despite that, Bulgaria has "systematically demonstrated very high levels of perception of corruption."[1] Government officials reportedly engage in embezzlement, influence trading, government procurement violations and bribery with impunity.[2]

Reports by Transparency International under the Corruption Perceptions Index indicate that Bulgaria is considered the most corrupt member state of the European Union, which Bulgaria accessed in 2007.[3][4] In 2015, the European Commission found that Bulgaria had done almost nothing to stem the tide of corruption and organized crime.[5] Other metrics such as the Global Corruption Barometer, the Freedom Barometer and the Rule of Law Index also show worrisome trends.[6][7]

Corruption Perceptions Index[edit]

The Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) is released by Transparency International at the beginning of each year. The report is based on the polling of experts from around the world on topics such as a free press, integrity, and independent judiciaries. In the CPI, lower-ranked countries experience "untrustworthy and badly functioning public institutions like the police and judiciary."[8] Often, anti-corruption laws are ignored: "People frequently face situations of bribery and extortion, rely on basic services that have been undermined by the misappropriation of funds, and confront official indifference when seeking redress from authorities that are on the take."[8]

In the 2016 Corruption Perceptions Index, Bulgaria ranked 75th out of 176 countries (a score of 42 out of 100). The lower the number, the more perceived corruption exists in a country.[9]

Transparency International's 2017 Corruption Perceptions Index ranks the country 71st out of 180 countries, and the most corrupt in the European Union.[10]

Transparency International's 2018 Corruption Perceptions Index also ranked Bulgaria as the most corrupt member of the European Union, placing it 77th in the world. The organization noted that Bulgaria is "seriously lagging behind" other countries in the Union.[11] A poll of Bulgarians indicated that 76 percent believe that political parties are corrupt and 86 percent believe that the judiciary is corrupt.[12][13]

Other Metrics[edit]

The 2013 Global Corruption Barometer by Transparency International indicated that 49 percent of respondents believed that the level of corruption remained the same in Bulgaria over the preceding two years.[14] The same poll of Bulgarians indicated that 76 percent believe that political parties are corrupt and 86 percent believe that the judiciary is corrupt.[15]

In 2019, the Freedom Barometer by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Liberty stressed:"Bulgaria is the worst corrupted EU-member, behind the otherwise comparable Hungary, Romania, Greece or Croatia, so much so that it is among major obstacles to its accession to Schengen Area and the anticipated rapid economic development."[16] It also noted: "State capture by the informal alliance of political and business oligarchy, organized crime, only partially reformed secret services, and biased media, has remained as the main catalyst of corruption."[17]

In 2019, the Rule of Law Index gave Bulgaria the same marks as Russia for corruption of the executive. This category is supposed to measure "the prevalence of bribery, informal payments, and other inducements in the delivery of public services and the enforcement of regulations. It also measures whether government procurement and public works contracts are awarded through an open and competitive bidding process, and whether government officials at various levels of the executive branch refrain from embezzling public funds.”[18]

Types of corruption[edit]


A 2014 study by Transparency International indicated that lobbying in Bulgaria is mainly unregulated and happens behind closed doors. "The report Lobbying in Bulgaria: Interests, Influence, Politics shows that there are significant deficits in the transparency, integrity and equality of access regarding influence over public decision-making in the country." The study used a framework from a project called "lifting the lid on lobbying", and Bulgaria received a "paltry overall score of only 25 percent." For transparency, Bulgaria received a score of 13 percent; for integrity, 25 percent, and free quality of access 38 percent. By 2014, four legislative proposals had been introduced in Bulgaria's parliament but none of the bills passed.[19]


During the 2014 parliamentary election, Transparency International Bulgaria's telephone helpline received 202 complaints. One of the top three complaints concerned vote-buying.[12] A pub owner in a small village offered Roma voters US$40 to $55 to vote a certain way, with the money paid only if the political party in question won.[12] Some 480,000 illegally printed ballots were discovered at a printing house in Kostinbrod the day before the May 2013 parliamentary election. The blank ballots might have been prepared to manipulate the vote. The owner of the printing house, a municipal councilor from GERB, claimed that the ballots were technical spoilage.[20]


The Bulgarian Supreme Judicial Council, responsible for personnel policy in the country's judiciary, has a high level of legislative autonomy. It has been involved in a number of scandals, suggesting that it has been subject to external influences on its decisions.[1] Recently, the Council of Europe expressed concern about the lack of judicial independence and the compromised separation of powers in the country.[21] The Venice Commission has raised concern about the Soviet model of Bulgaria's Prosecution which turns it into "a source of corruption and blackmail."[22] Civil activists have demanded the resignation of Bulgaria's General Prosecutor Sotir Tsatsarov for a long time due to his alleged involvement in high-profile corruption cases.[23]

Public tenders[edit]

Government procurement is an area of significant corruption risk. Many of the public contracts are awarded to a few politically connected[24] companies amid widespread irregularities, procedure violations and tailor-made award criteria.[25] Ognyan Gerdzhikov's interim government found widespread violations in defence procurement after it took over from the Second Borisov Government in 2017; 45 out of 82 defence ministry contracts signed the previous year were in breach of public procurement laws and regulations. Fraud was strongly suspected in nine of the procedures.[26] Public tenders in energy and infrastructure are particularly associated with alleged siphoning of funds from EU and state coffers.[27]

An estimated 10 billion leva ($5.99 billion) of state budget and European cohesion funds are spent on public tenders each year;[28] nearly 14 billion ($8.38 billion) were spent on public contracts in 2017 alone.[29]

Bank runs and seizures[edit]

In 2014, bank runs on Corporate Commercial Bank and First Investment Bank "focused new attention on the fragile economy and dysfunctional politics that are hobbling Bulgaria."[30] The bank runs destabilized international investment and the business community's confidence in Bulgaria. The Corporate Commercial Bank run was provoked by its prosecution, and the bank was seized by the Bulgarian central bank. First Investment Bank remained open while Corporate Commercial Bank remained closed.[30]


Economic mismanagement[edit]

Corruption has resulted in significant economic losses and underperformance in Bulgaria. Since its accession to the EU in 2007, it has remained the Union's poorest country with a per-capita GDP of $16,300, less than half the European average. By 2014, the Bulgarian government was accused of mismanaging the economy so badly that the European Union froze billions of euros in aid.[30] Between 2008 and 2018, foreign direct investment collapsed, dropping from 28% to 2% of GDP, or $9 billion to just $1.13 billion.[30][31] The cabinets of Boyko Borisov have been in power through most of the decade, establishing a system of impunity for high-profile crime and favoritism of certain local companies. Approximately 22% of GDP are lost to corruption each year, and a number of major foreign companies, like ČEZ Group, have withdrawn from Bulgaria.[31]

Social unrest[edit]

Corruption is a source of profound public discontent.[32] Corruption and government inaction against convicted Roma criminal Kiril Rashkov sparked the 2011 anti-Roma riots.[33] The 2013 Bulgarian protests against the first Borisov cabinet spread to over 30 cities and were marked by seven self-immolations, five of which were fatal.[34] The protests, directed against corruption, poverty and political parties, led to the resignation of the First Borisov Government.[35] Mass demonstrations continued against the government of Plamen Oresharski, which also resigned following the appointment of Delyan Peevski as head of the State Agency for National Security.[36] Another wave of demonstrations occurred in November 2018 against low wages, as well as fuel price and vehicle tax hikes.[37] Some 20 cities saw protests demanding the resignation of the Third Borisov Government; several major roads were blocked.[38]

Deterioration of media freedom[edit]

According to Reporters Without Borders, the press industry in Bulgaria is rife with "corruption and collusion between media, politicians, and oligarchs".[39] Media ownership is opaque, intransparent and concentrated in the hands of a few owners, despite a superficial diversity in ownership. Upon joining the European Union in 2007, Bulgaria ranked 35th on the Press Freedom Index, alongside France.[39] It has since tumbled to 111th, by far the worst press freedom performer of any EU member and candidate state. More than 90% of Bulgarian journalists, as polled by the Association of European Journalists, have reported frequent interference with their work. Lawmakers have gone as far as threatening TV journalists with sacking during a live broadcast.[39] The media environment has been further degraded by EU funds diverted by the government to sympathetic media outlets.[40][41] In 2018, two journalists were detained and later released by police while investigating a massive scheme to drain EU funds by a company associated with a number of high-profile government procurement projects.[42]


  1. ^ a b "National integrity system assessments - Bulgaria 2011". Transparency International. 2012-03-01. Retrieved 2017-02-06.
  2. ^ "US State Dept criticises Bulgaria on prisons, judiciary, corruption, people-trafficking and violence against minorities". The Sofia Globe. 21 April 2018. Retrieved 9 July 2018.
  3. ^ Nielsen, Nikola J. (2016-01-27). "Bulgaria seen as the most corrupt in EU". EU Observer. Retrieved 2017-02-01.
  4. ^ "Corruption Perceptions Index Europe - Transparency International".
  5. ^ Nielsen, Nikola J. (2016-01-27). "Bulgaria seen as the most corrupt in EU". EU Observer. Retrieved 2017-02-01.
  6. ^, 2013 GCB Report on Bulgaria
  7. ^, Freedom Barometer 2019
  8. ^ a b "Corruption Perceptions Index 2016". Transparency International. 2017-01-25. Retrieved 2017-02-01.
  9. ^ "Bulgaria". Transparency International. Retrieved 2017-02-06.
  10. ^ "Corruption Perception Index 2017".
  11. ^ "Corruption Perceptions Index Europe - Transparency International".
  12. ^ a b c "The Price of a Vote in a Bulgarian Pub". Transparency International. 2015-06-09. Retrieved 2017-02-06.
  13. ^ {{Cite web|url= Perceptions Index Europe - Transparency International|
  14. ^ e.V., Transparency International. "Bulgaria 2013 - World's largest opinion survey on corruption - Transparency International". Retrieved 2017-06-22.
  15. ^, 2013 GCB Report on Bulgaria
  16. ^, Freedom Barometer 2019
  17. ^, Freedom Barometer 2019
  18. ^, Rule of Law Index 2019
  19. ^ "Bulgaria: Opaque Relations Among Politics And Business Undermine Trust In Institutions And Democracy". Transparency International. 2014-12-16.
  20. ^ "Bulgaria's 'Fake Vote Ballots' Final Count Is 480 000". Novinite. 7 June 2013. Retrieved 28 November 2018.
  21. ^ "PACE, worried about threats to the rule of law, points to recent developments in five states". Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. 12 October 2017. Retrieved 29 November 2017.
  22. ^ "Delayed EU Audit of Bulgaria Prosecution Raises Concern". Balkan Insight. 5 May 2016. Retrieved 28 November 2017.
  23. ^ "Христо Иванов: Има 3 несъмнени основания за моментална оставка на Цацаров". 23 April 2017. Retrieved 28 November 2017.
  24. ^ Stefanov, Ruslan (2015). "The Bulgarian Public Procurement Market: Corruption Risks and Dynamics in the Construction Sector" (PDF). Government Favouritism in Europe: The Anticorruption Report 3 (3/2015): 35. Retrieved 6 August 2018.
  25. ^ "Public procurement in Bulgaria" (PDF). European Commission. 2015. Retrieved 16 July 2018.
  26. ^ "Bulgaria's new interim government finds many irregular defense contracts". Reuters. 17 February 2017. Retrieved 27 November 2018.
  27. ^ "Corruption". International Trade Administration. Retrieved 27 November 2018.
  28. ^ "10 млрд. лв. годишно се харчат с обществени поръчки" [10 bln. leva are spent on public procurement every year] (in Bulgarian). 21 February 2016. Retrieved 30 July 2018. Text "newspaper$224 Chasa" ignored (help)
  29. ^ Stanchev, Ivaylo (29 December 2017). "Рекорд при обществените поръчки: открити са търгове за почти 14 млрд. лв" [A record in public procurement: tenders worth nearly 14 billion lv unveiled] (in Bulgarian). Kapital Daily. Retrieved 16 July 2018.
  30. ^ a b c d Ewing, Jack; Kantchev, Georgi (2014-07-07). "In Bulgaria, Corruption and Mistrust Turn Promise Into Pain". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-02-06.
  31. ^ a b Holmund, Caroline (27 September 2018). "As Foreign Firms Flee, Bulgaria Must Finally Curb Its Corruption Problem". The Diplomatic Courier. Retrieved 18 November 2018.[permanent dead link]
  32. ^ Rankin, Jennifer (28 December 2017). "Cloud of corruption hangs over Bulgaria as it takes up EU presidency". The Guardian. Retrieved 9 July 2018.
  33. ^ "Sleepy village an unlikely spark for Roma protests". Reuters. 30 September 2011. Retrieved 27 November 2018.
  34. ^ "Bulgaria holds prayers to end suicides and despair". BBC News. 5 April 2013. Retrieved 10 May 2013.
  35. ^ "Protests in Bulgaria and the new practice of democracy". Al-Jazeera English. 21 February 2013. Retrieved 7 March 2013.
  36. ^ Tsolova, Tsvetelina (14 June 2013). "Bulgarians protests over media magnate as security chief". Retrieved 23 June 2013.
  37. ^ "Damp day of protests in Sofia, other Bulgarian cities". The Sofia Globe. 18 November 2018. Retrieved 28 November 2018.
  38. ^ "Thousands protest in Bulgaria against high fuel prices, car taxes". Reuters. 11 November 2018. Retrieved 28 November 2018.
  39. ^ a b c "Reporters face obstacle run in corruption-hit Bulgaria". Euractiv. 23 February 2018. Retrieved 18 November 2018.
  40. ^ "Bulgaria". Reporters Without Borders. Retrieved 20 May 2018.
  41. ^ Greenslade, Roy (23 September 2014). "Why Bulgaria is the EU's lowest ranked country on press freedom index". The Guardian. Retrieved 20 May 2018.
  42. ^ "PM Boyko Borisov orders the removal of officials named in Bivol investigative reporting about massive EU funds corruption scheme". Mediapool. 21 September 2018. Retrieved 27 November 2018.

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