Four Nordic Embassies and ACF Host Conference Discussing Measures Against Corruption and Money Laundering

Representatives of public institutions, civic activists, experts from international organizations, diplomats and journalists gathered today at the premises of the House of Europe in Sofia for a day-long conference focusing on counteracting corruption and money laundering.

The event European Perspectives on Combatting Corruption and Money Laundering: Is Nordic Best-Practice Applicable in Bulgaria? is jointly organised by the Nordic embassies to Bulgaria: Denmark, Norway, Finland and Sweden, and the Anti-Corruption Fund Foundation (ACF).

Абонирайте се за бюлетина на АКФ, за да научавате за най-новите ни разследвания и анализи:

С натискане на бутона потвърждавате, че сте запознати с Политиката ни за поверителност

The expert panels featured high-level prosecutors from Bulgaria, Finland and Sweden. Also present were Viktor Ivanov from the European Commission, Andrew Strijker with the permanent monitoring body MONEYVAL of the Council of Europe, and David Dolidze, representing the Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) of the Council of Europe, as well Andrey Yankulov from ACF, and Nickolay Stoyanov, a journalist with Capital and Member of the Board of ACF.

„We must recognize that the challenges we face in combating corruption and money laundering, are neither confined by borders nor are they unique to any one nation,” said Jes Brogaard Nielsen, Ambassador of Denmark to Bulgaria. “Neither are they just financial issues; they are also societal issues with far-reaching implications for real people living in our countries.”

Therefore, the idea of the conference today is to learn from each other. Both in terms of best practice and in terms of the various problems and techniques encountered,” he said.

The Minister of Justice of Bulgaria, Atanas Slavov, said that the event is important as a form of support “for the efforts of the civic sector to fight corruption” and for the “reforms undertaken during the last eight months in the country”.

Minister Slavov outlined the specific legislative attempts for reform in the recent months: “constitutional reform in support of an independent judiciary and accountable prosecution”, a new legal act targeting the Anti-Corruption Commission, upcoming amendments to the Judicial System Act.

“We expect to introduce amendments to the Criminal Code, amendments were already introduced to the Measures Against Money Laundering Act. We are considering all recommendations by the Venice Commission, The Rule of Law Report by the European Commission, the reports of MONEYVAL and GRECO, and embedding them as legal norms,” said Slavov.

However, legal norms are not sufficient. They are just a framework, an opportunity. What we would like to achieve are results: convictions, a greater number of investigations, better protection for the individuals – be it within the public or the civic sector – who are subjected to threats because of their work, unfortunately, there are many such examples. What is crucial is that we shift our focus from legal norms and strategies to implementation, to practices. I believe that if we still have time left within the current difficult political context, we will focus on this.”

Boyko Stankushev, director of ACF, said that the reputation of Nordic public institutions, which are known for their effectiveness, accountability, and transparency, makes them important examples for Bulgarian institutions and civic organizations.

“We don’t believe that it is possible to make direct comparisons or to just adopt and implement a foreign model for the work of the anti-corruption institutions,” said Stankushev. “At the same time, the need for change in Bulgaria is clearly evident and widely anticipated. Instead of politicizing the topic of the need for anti-corruption reform, our society should engage in a constructive discussion of the factors which could strengthen the efforts to fight corruption.”

According to Martin Bresman, Chief Public Prosecutor and Head of Unit, National Anti-Corruption Unit under the National Prosecution Department and the Swedish Prosecution Authority,  the high level of trust in in the efficiency of public institutions and zero tolerance of corruption in society as a whole are two key reasons behind the reputation of Sweden and other Nordic countries for low levels of corruption.

„To fight corruption effectively you have to engage the whole society including both the public sector and the business sector,” said Mr. Bresman. ”The trust of the public and the business sector is therefore very important for us, and we put a lot of effort in building good relations with other authorities, municipalities and business organizations.”

In order to engage society and keep high levels of trust, the Swedish prosecution respects citizens’ rights to receive public information, communicate in an open manner with the media, and approaches investigations of both low- and high-level corruption with equal attention, said Mr. Bresman. Citizens and the medias’ right to access information also work as a control mechanism for the prosecution to work effectively.

Mari Mattila, state prosecutor with the Office of the Prosecutor General of Finland, highlighted the role of prosecutors.

“In Finland, every public prosecutor is an independent and impartial judicial authority whose responsibility it is to ensure that criminal offences have consequences as defined by the law,” she said. “Prosecutors shall consider charges independently and autonomously. The duties and the powers of the prosecutors are defined in the law.”

Ms. Mattila also mentioned the link between corruption and money laundering and said that the globalization of the financial sector and the adoption of new technologies for making financial transactions underscore the need for enhanced crossborder cooperation.

”The problems and challenges are therefore common to all of us,” she said. “It is therefore clear that in order to combat money laundering and to prevent the laundering of funds of criminal origin, we need effective measures and powers to track, suspend and freeze the assets. We need to assist each other and ensure that information is exchanged in an effective ja timely manner. We also need effective legislation to confiscate the proceeds bearing in mind the compensation of the victims of the predicate offences.”

An important tool in the fight against corruption and money laundering is transparency. The media has an important role in bringing corrupt practices to light and keeping institutions accountable. Therefore, the event also featured training sessions for investigative journalists by Atty. Dimitar Kaldamukov, an expert in cryptocurrency and Ståle de Lange Kofoed, Associate Director of The Norwegian Institute for Journalism.

“Investigative journalism is about stitching together pieces of a puzzle to see the bigger picture. Documents, company information, peoples’ online media presences are all valuable pieces of that puzzle,” said Mr. Kofoed.

The event was supported by the Nordic Council of Ministers.