The Anti-Corruption Fund (ACF) presented for the fifth time its Annual Monitoring Report on the activities of state institutions against high-level corruption, entitled “Anti-Corruption Institutions 2022: Eyes Wide Shut”.
The report analyses the development of 56 key corruption investigations by the Prosecutor’s Office and the practice of the Commission for Anti-corruption and the Forfeiture of Illegally Acquired Property (CAFIAP).
“The past year of 2022 did not clarify the real picture of high-level corruption. For another year, the actions of the anti-corruption authorities failed to reflect the true state of high-level public sector corruption,” said the report’s authors, Andrei Yankulov and Daniela Peneva, legal experts at the Anti-Corruption Fund. “Judging by these actions, no high-ranking officials are guilty of corruption crimes at all.”
Regarding the 56 key corruption investigations, the ACF report shows that:
– In six years, a single conviction with an effective prison sentence has been issued. However, it was against a person in a relatively low public office – a district mayor of a Sofia district. “This conviction was publicized beyond any measure by the leadership of the Prosecutor’s Office as if the convicted person was the personification of political corruption in the country, which is far from true,” said Andrei Yankulov.
– The only conviction does not change the steady trend: final acquittals significantly dominate in the cases of high-level corruption monitored – 15, against only four convictions. In other words, charges brought by the Prosecutor’s Office have a success rate of just over 20%.
– This is a stark disparity between the conviction rate in Bulgaria in general (close to 100%) and for all corruption charges in particular (close to 90%).
– The vast majority of acquittals are because the charges did not fit the definition of the alleged crimes – for acts that the court considered not constituting crimes in the first place. These types of convictions have been steadily increasing and, in 2022, now account for 13 of all 15 acquittals, reflecting the weakness of the Prosecutor’s Office cases.
One of the tests for anti-corruption institutions throughout the year was the introduction in 2021 of the first sanctions
under the US Global Magnitsky Act against Bulgarian citizens. However, anti-corruption authorities in Bulgaria in 2022 have shown no willingness or ability to address the corrupt actions of the vast majority of sanctioned individuals. “The most prominent name among them, long-time politician and businessman Delyan Peevski, in 2022 received a kind of indulgence from the Bulgarian prosecutor’s office through its refusal to even launch a formal investigation against him, a decision taken by the prosecution in complete silence, typical for such cases,” commented Andrey Yankulov, author of the section of the report “Criminal Prosecution of high-level Corruption.”
2022 also marked the closure of the Specialized Court and Prosecutor’s Office. In the fight against high-level corruption, specialized justice has failed to achieve remarkable results at both the central and local levels. At the central level, the Specialized Prosecutor’s Office could not secure a single final conviction in a case involving the most senior civil servants. On the contrary, the initiation and development of some investigations of high public interest managed to create enough suspicions of hidden extra-legal purposes of the criminal proceedings conducted.
The situation is similar in the specialized anti-corruption body, the Commission for Anti-corruption and the Forfeiture of Illegally Acquired Property (CAFIAP).
Analysis of public information does not testify that the Commission is very effective in identifying conflicts of interest and countering corruption:
– In 80% of its decisions in 2022, CAFIAP found no conflict of interest: out of 124 decisions, the Commission found a conflict of interest in 25, and in 99 – it did not. The main reason for the low percentage of identified conflicts is the predominantly formalistic approach in the analysis of facts and the formation of conclusions in the decisions of CAFIAP in 2022.
– 20 out of the 25 decisions establishing a conflict of interest have been challenged in court, and only 3 court decisions upheld the acts issued by CAFIAP. The Supreme Administrative Court (SAC) reviewed one of the upholding decisions, overturned the first-instance decision, and, therefore, the decision of CAFIAP. Thus, at this stage, there are only 2 confirmed but not final, first-instance decisions of CAFIAP. Out of all 124 proceedings, only the five that have not been challenged in court and the decision of the SAC have entered into force.
– The overwhelming number of Commission’s decisions (88) concern persons holding public office at a local level. The remaining decisions, 36, concern persons holding public office at a central level in the civil service, but a substantial proportion of the cases are of low public interest.
– A tiny part of the CAFIAP activities is publicly accessible, creating a serious problem with the Commission’s work transparency and establishing its results.
– According to CAFIAP’s annual report, asset forfeiture decisions exceed at least ten times the acts issued in almost all its other activities. In other words, the Commission deals primarily with the confiscation of illegally acquired property, while at the same time, the case law shows that there is no link between these proceedings and corruption offenses.
– A significant problem for the CAFIAP activities, arising from the early termination of the powers of its chairman, Sotir Tsatsarov, is that since his resignation in March 2022, no acting chairperson has been elected or authorized by the National Assembly. Thus, the Commission cannot fully carry out its key activities.
The aggregate results of the anti-corruption bodies’ activities confirm that in 2022 the real picture of high-level corruption remains hidden.
“The statistics of the cases brought to a conclusion in 2022 clearly show that Bulgarian anti-corruption institutions are still far from being systematic, professional, and independent in the fight against corruption,” summarizes investigative journalist and co-founder of ACF Nikolay Staykov in the introduction of the report.
“In this environment, citizen control over their work remains one of the few guarantees for real, not imitative, change.”
The ACF’s 2022 Annual Monitoring Report “Anti-Corruption Institutions 2022: Eyes Wide Shut” is available here
The ACF Annual Monitoring Report for 2022, “Anti-Corruption Institutions 2022: Eyes Wide Shut,” was prepared under a project supported by the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung under the Rule of Law Programme for South East Europe.