U.S. Sanctions on Bulgaria Forcing Government to Fight Corruption, Prime Minister Says

U.S. sanctions on Bulgarian officials and businesses are forcing the government to fight corruption, the country's interim Prime Minister Stefan Yanev said Monday.

Yanev said that Bulgaria cannot have a "stable political system" without solving corruption in the country after the U.S. Treasury Department put sanctions on three Bulgarian officials and 64 companies allegedly connected to them last week for their alleged participation in public corruption, the Associated Press reported.

"We must protect state-owned companies from financial sanctions being imposed. To this end, we must prevent bank transactions with these investigated persons, so that businesses and state-owned companies are not blocked," Yanev said during the government's security council meeting.

He also mentioned how the U.S. sanctions reveal the extent that corruption has infiltrated Bulgaria's political and economic system. Anti-corruption organization Transparency International has called Bulgaria the most corrupt country in the European Union.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Bulgaria's Prime Minister Stefan Yanev
The newly appointed caretaker Prime Minister Stefan Yanev speaks during an official ceremony at the Bulgarian Presidency, in Sofia, on May 12, 2021. Yanev is focusing on Bulgaria's government fighting corruption following U.S. sanctions on Bulgarian officials and companies connected to them. Nikolay Doychinov/AFP via Getty Images

Yanev urged the government to redouble its efforts to fight endemic graft, calling for changes in prosecutors' offices, judiciary and law enforcement agencies.

Yanev convened the meeting of the government security council to discuss new anti-corruption policies following U.S. sanctions on Bulgarian officials and businessmen for their allegedly "extensive" roles in corruption.

The U.S. Department of the Treasury announced sanctions under the Global Magnitsky Act against the former member of parliament and media mogul Delyan Peevski; oligarch Vassil Bozhkov; and former national security official Ilko Zhelyazkov for their alleged roles in public corruption.

The department said the sanctions move was its single biggest action targeting corruption to date.

The sanctions on the Bulgarians and companies effectively prevents them from accessing the U.S. financial system, freezes their U.S. assets, and bars Americans from dealing with them.

Yanev said the Bulgarian government will try to minimize the political and the economic risks for the country from the U.S. sanctions.

He admitted the consequences of corruption already go beyond the country's borders.

Bulgaria, a member of the European Union and NATO, has repeatedly been reprimanded by its Western partners for failing to effectively fight corruption.

Yanev said the corrupt environment in Bulgaria not only destroys the country's international authority, it undermines its political system and the foundations of its democracy, making it dysfunctional and inefficient.

"There is no way we can have a stable political system, a prosperous economy, or a functioning social system without solving the fundamental problems with corruption," he said.

The interim government, appointed after an inconclusive general election in April, has made a series of revelations of alleged corruption involving the previous government under former Prime Minister Boyko Borissov.

Bulgarian Interim PM Stefan Yanev
Bulgarian Interim PM Stefan Yanev attends a press conference in Sofia. Bulgaria’s interim prime minister called for a consolidation of national efforts to eradicate endemic graft. Yanev spoke at a meeting of the government security council he convened on Monday, June 7 to discuss new anti-corruption policies following the sanctions by the U.S. government on Bulgarian public officials and businessmen for their allegedly “extensive” roles in corruption. Valentina Petrova/AP Photo