|Corruption by country|
Bulgaria has "systematically demonstrated very high levels of perception of corruption." Government officials reportedly engage in embezzlement, influence trading, government procurement violations, and bribery with impunity.
Reports by Transparency International under the Corruption Perceptions Index indicate that Bulgaria is considered the most corrupt member state of the European Union, to which Bulgaria acceded in 2007. In 2015, the European Commission found that Bulgaria had done almost nothing to stem the tide of corruption and organized crime. Other metrics, such as the Global Corruption Barometer, the Freedom Barometer and the Rule of Law Index, also show worrisome trends.
The Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) is released by Transparency International at the beginning of each year. The report is based on the polling of experts from around the world on topics such as a free press, integrity, and independent judiciaries. In the CPI, lower-ranked countries experience "untrustworthy and badly functioning public institutions like the police and judiciary." Often, anti-corruption laws are ignored: "People frequently face situations of bribery and extortion, rely on basic services that have been undermined by the misappropriation of funds, and confront official indifference when seeking redress from authorities that are on the take."
Transparency International's 2017 Corruption Perceptions Index ranked the country 71st out of 180 countries, and the most corrupt in the European Union.
Transparency International's 2018 Corruption Perceptions Index also ranked Bulgaria as the most corrupt member of the European Union, placing it 77th in the world. The organization noted that Bulgaria is "seriously lagging behind" other countries in the Union. A poll of Bulgarians indicated that 76% believed that political parties are corrupt, and 86% believed that the judiciary is corrupt.
The 2013 Global Corruption Barometer by Transparency International indicated that 49% of respondents believed that the level of corruption remained the same in Bulgaria over the preceding two years. The same poll of Bulgarians indicated that 76% believed that political parties are corrupt, and 86% believed that the judiciary is corrupt.
In 2019, the Freedom Barometer by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Liberty stressed: "Bulgaria is the worst-corrupted EU-member, behind the otherwise comparable Hungary, Romania, Greece, or Croatia, so much so that it is among major obstacles to its accession to Schengen Area, and the anticipated rapid economic development." It also noted: "State capture by the informal alliance of political and business oligarchy, organized crime, only partially-reformed secret services, and biased media has remained as the main catalyst of corruption."
In 2019, the Rule of Law Index gave Bulgaria the same marks as Russia for corruption of the executive branch. This category is supposed to measure "the prevalence of bribery, informal payments, and other inducements in the delivery of public services and the enforcement of regulations. It also measures whether government procurement and public works contracts are awarded through an open and competitive bidding process, and whether government officials at various levels of the executive branch refrain from embezzling public funds."
A 2014 study by Transparency International indicated that lobbying in Bulgaria is mainly unregulated and happens behind closed doors. "The report Lobbying in Bulgaria: Interests, Influence, Politics shows that there are significant deficits in the transparency, integrity, and equality of access regarding influence over public decision-making in the country." The study used a framework from a project called "lifting the lid on lobbying," and Bulgaria received a "paltry overall score of only 25%." For transparency, Bulgaria received a score of 13%; for integrity, 25%; and 38% for free quality of access. By 2014, four legislative proposals had been introduced in Bulgaria's parliament, but none of the bills passed.
During the 2014 parliamentary election, Bulgaria's Transparency International telephone helpline received 202 complaints. One of the top three complaints concerned vote-buying. A pub owner in a small village offered Roma voters US$40-$55 to vote a certain way, with the money paid only if the political party in question won. Some 480,000 illegally printed ballots were discovered at a printing house in Kostinbrod the day before the May 2013 parliamentary election. The blank ballots might have been prepared to manipulate the vote. The owner of the printing house, a municipal councilor from GERB, claimed that the ballots were technical spoilage.
The Bulgarian Supreme Judicial Council, responsible for personnel policy in the country's judiciary, has a high level of legislative autonomy. It has been involved in a number of scandals, suggesting that it has been subject to external influences on its decisions. Recently, the Council of Europe expressed concern about the lack of judicial independence and the compromised separation of powers in the country. The Venice Commission has raised concern about the Soviet model of Bulgaria's Prosecution, which turns it into "a source of corruption and blackmail." Civil activists have demanded the resignation of Bulgaria's General Prosecutor Sotir Tsatsarov for some time now, due to his alleged involvement in high-profile corruption cases.
Government procurement is an area of significant corruption risk. Many of the public contracts are awarded to a few politically connected companies amid widespread irregularities, procedure violations, and tailor-made award criteria. Ognyan Gerdzhikov's interim government found widespread violations in defense procurement, after it took over from the Second Borisov Government in 2017; 45 out of 82 defense ministry contracts signed the previous year were in breach of public procurement laws and regulations. Fraud was strongly suspected in nine of the procedures. Public tenders in energy and infrastructure are particularly associated with alleged siphoning of funds from EU and state coffers.
An estimated 10 billion leva ($5.99 billion) of state budget and European cohesion funds are spent on public tenders each year; nearly 14 billion ($8.38 billion) were spent on public contracts in 2017 alone.
In 2014, bank runs on Corporate Commercial Bank and First Investment Bank "focused new attention on the fragile economy and dysfunctional politics that are hobbling Bulgaria." The bank runs destabilized international investment and the business community's confidence in Bulgaria. The Corporate Commercial Bank run was provoked by its prosecution, and the bank was seized by the Bulgarian central bank. First Investment Bank remained open, while Corporate Commercial Bank remained closed.
Corruption has resulted in significant economic losses and underperformance in Bulgaria. Since its accession to the EU in 2007, it has remained the Union's poorest country, with a per-capita GDP of $16,300--less than half the European average. By 2014, the Bulgarian government was accused of mismanaging the economy so badly that the European Union froze billions of euros in aid. Between 2008 and 2018, foreign direct investment collapsed, dropping from 28% to 2% of GDP, or $9 billion to just $1.13 billion. The cabinets of Boyko Borisov have been in power through most of the decade, establishing a system of impunity for high-profile crime, and favoritism of certain local companies. Approximately 22% of GDP is lost to corruption each year, and a number of major foreign companies, like ?EZ Group, have withdrawn from Bulgaria.
Corruption is a source of profound public discontent. Corruption and government inaction against convicted Roma criminal Kiril Rashkov sparked the 2011 anti-Roma riots. The 2013 Bulgarian protests against the first Borisov cabinet spread to over 30 cities, and were marked by seven self-immolations, five of which were fatal. The protests, directed against corruption, poverty, and political parties, led to the resignation of the First Borisov Government. Mass demonstrations continued against the government of Plamen Oresharski, which also resigned following the appointment of Delyan Peevski as head of the State Agency for National Security. Another wave of demonstrations occurred in November 2018 against low wages, as well as fuel price and vehicle tax hikes. Some 20 cities saw protests demanding the resignation of the Third Borisov Government; several major roads were blocked.
According to Reporters Without Borders, the press industry in Bulgaria is rife with "corruption and collusion between media, politicians, and oligarchs." Media ownership is opaque, not transparent, and concentrated in the hands of a few owners--despite a superficial diversity in ownership. Upon joining the European Union in 2007, Bulgaria ranked 35th on the Press Freedom Index, alongside France. It has since tumbled to 111th, by far the worst press freedom performer of any EU member and candidate state. More than 90% of Bulgarian journalists, as polled by the Association of European Journalists, have reported frequent interference with their work. Lawmakers have gone as far as threatening TV journalists with sacking during a live broadcast. The media environment has been further degraded by EU funds diverted by the government to sympathetic media outlets. In 2018, two journalists were detained and later released by police while they investigated a massive scheme to drain EU funds by a company associated with a number of high-profile government procurement projects.