EU says U.S. within its rights to sanction Bulgarians


BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The United States is within its rights to impose sanctions on three Bulgarians and 64 companies linked to them over alleged corruption, the European Union said on Thursday, saying it would not impose countermeasures.

The response is in contrast to EU protests to Washington over U.S. sanctions affecting EU business with Iran and Cuba, and likely reflects Brussels’ determination to support efforts to combat endemic corruption in Bulgaria.

The country ranks as the bloc’s most corrupt member state according to Transparency International’s index.

The U.S. Treasury Department on Wednesday said the sanctions were its single biggest action against graft to date, targeting an oligarch accused of planning to create a conduit for Russian political leaders to influence the Bulgarian government.

The U.S. sanctions “do not apply on EU territory … so there is nothing that would justify us taking any kind of counter measures,” EU foreign affairs spokesman Peter Stano told a regular news briefing.

“These are the measures that the United States took within their legal framework, they apply on people sanctioned in relation to their activities with or in the United States,” Stano said.

The sanctions block the Bulgarians and companies blacklisted from accessing the U.S. financial system, freezing any of their U.S. assets and barring Americans from dealing with them.

The EU has a blocking statute to counter U.S. sanctions, although it has never been used.

The blocking statute can legally ban any EU company from complying with U.S. sanctions and, if used, would not recognise any court rulings that enforce American penalties.

(Reporting by Robin Emmott; Editing by David Holmes)

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