SOFIA (Reuters) – Bulgaria will set up its own “blacklist” of companies and people associated with three Bulgarians and 64 entities that the United States has imposed sanctions on over alleged corruption, preventing state dealings with them, the interim government said late on Friday.
The United States this week blocked assets and cut off access to its financial system to former lawmaker and media mogul Delyan Peevski, government official Ilko Zhelyazkov and fugitive gambling tycoon Vassil Bozhkov.
The interim government, in office until a July 11 parliamentary election, is setting up a group of financial and interior ministry officials as well as tax and intelligence officers to identify and list people and entities associated with those under U.S. sanctions.
State administrations and companies with state or municipal ownership will have to cut links with those on that list, the government said in a statement.
“State structures and state companies need to stop any transactions with the people and their associates on the U.S. sanction list, because otherwise they could potentially end up in that list themselves,” Finance Minister Assen Vassilev said.
Peevski, whom many in Bulgaria see as a powerful behind-the-scenes power broker with strong influence on judiciary and political elites, has denied wrongdoing. Zhelyazkov, currently on paid leave, has not commented on the U.S. sanctions.
Bozhkov, who faces over 18 charges at home, including for fax fraud and influence peddling, has said the sanctions ignored his own status as a victim of extortion.
Many Bulgarians, who protested last year for months against endemic graft, welcomed the U.S. sanctions in hopes that the move will prompt a action against high-level corruption at home.
Bulgaria is the poorest member of the European Union and is ranked as the bloc’s most corrupt member by Transparency International. Despite a declared will to root out graft, it has not jailed a single high-level official on corruption charges.
(Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; Editing by Frances Kerry)