Saturday, March 22, 2008

Sofia stories

There are two very different but strangely apposite stories coming out of Bulgaria this weekend. The first, which has received headlines around the world, but has only been picked up by the Guardian in the UK is that Bulgaria is the sixth and latest of the EU 27 to ratify the Constitution/Lisbon Treaty.

The vote of 195-15 was, of course, a foregone conclusion. So much so that the event was witnessed by MEPs, the Bulgarian diplomatic corps and various great and good. His neo-Imperial Highness, Mr Barosso was of course delighted.
The only opposition were 10 MPs from the nationalist Ataka party and five independents who had been calling for a referendum. These demands were dismissed out hand by the Bulgarian Foreign Minister, Ivaylo Kalfin countered the idea saying the a referendum in unnecessary,
“since even the leader of Ataka didn't understand what the treaty is all about”.
Whereas of course the 195 lobby fodder really had a clue...

The other story is what I guess we should expect more of,

About 350,000 euro in counterfeit bills were found in the possession of two individuals after a police operation in Sofia, the head of Chief Directorate for Combating Organised Crime told reporters on March 21.

The two were arrested close to Madara swimming complex in downtown Sofia while closing the deal to sell the counterfeit euro bills. In other places in Sofia, police found another 5000 euro in counterfeit bills as well as a firearm that had not been licensed and 200 dozes of hard drugs.
Interesting Europol was involved in the case. Which is no surprise seeing as how one of the key 'European crimes' involving the European Arrest and evidence warrant is the counterfeiting of the Euro.
Whoops missed two others but they seem to confirm the trend.
Firstly today sees the opening of the European Information Office in Sofia. Maginficent timing, it will allow Bulgarians to read the Treaty that their politicians ratified on their behalf all of twenty four hours previously.
And secondly, it appears that Euro crime is a real growth industry in Bulgaria,

European Commission has frozen funding under pre-accession aid programmes for Bulgaria over fears that organised crime in the country had created an entire system for defrauding European Union funds, Dnevnik daily reported on March 19, quoting sources familiar with talks between officials in Brussels and Sofia.

Worse yet, the EU executive body believed that the criminals enjoyed protection from officials at the highest level, the newspaper claimed. EC cut off funding for Bulgaria under the Ispa (infrastructure), Phare (development) and Sapard (agriculture) pre-accession programmes, but is also stalling on signing projects that would be financed with structural funds under operational programmes for transport and regional development.

Brussels' suspicions that criminal schemes were protected by high-level officials grew after Bulgarian authorities showed almost no reaction to the results of an investigation by the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF), which uncovered an international scheme for defrauding SAPARD funds with Bulgarian participation....

On March 18, police arrested Ivan Ivanov, deputy head of the Chief Directorate for Combating Organised Crime, in charges of abusing his power and disclosing classified information about ongoing police investigations. Although little information on the case was announced, it was seen as the consequence of the tip-off made last week by opposition member of Parliament Atanas Atanasov.

Oh boy, and we thought that the Parliamentary expenses scandal was a problem, just wait until these chaps have got their feet fully under the table.

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