February 13, 2023

US and UK impose coordinated sanctions upon former and current Bulgarian officials for engaging in corruption

On February 10, 2023, the US and the UK took coordinated action to address corruption in Bulgaria by sanctioning prominent Bulgarians, including government officials, for their extensive involvement in corruption in Bulgaria. The UK reports that Transparency International, a nonprofit organization aimed at ending corruption around the world, ranks Bulgaria as one of the European countries most harmed by corruption.

The US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control designated Rumen Stoyanov Ovcharav, Aleksandar Hristov Nikolov, Ivan Kirov Genov, Nikolay Simeonov Malinov, and Vladislav Ivanov Goranov, 5 current or former Bulgarian government officials, as well as 5 entities that they own or control pursuant to Executive Order 13818, which builds upon and implements the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act and targets those who engage in serious human rights abuse and corruption around the world. The State Department also imposed visa restrictions upon Ovacharov, Nikolov, Goranov, and their immediate families for serious corruption and abuse of public institution funds under section 7031 (c) of the annual Department of State, Foreign Operation, and Related Programs Appropriations Act. As a result of these sanctions, all property and interests in property of the designees within the United States or within the possession or control of a US person are blocked, and US persons are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions involving the designated persons. In addition, entities owned 50 percent or more by one or more designated persons are also blocked, unless they are exempt or authorized by a general or specific license issued by OFAC.

According to OFAC, Ovcharov, Nikolov and Genov were sanctioned for receiving bribes and other kickbacks in exchange for fixed-price contracts with Russian energy companies, while Malinov, who now leads a pro-Russian Lobby group, allegedly bribed a Bulgarian judge so that he could travel to Russia to receive the Friendship Medal from Russian President Vladimir Putin. In addition, Goranov, who has connections to OFAC-designated oligarch Delyan Peevski, allegedly used his position as Minister of Finance to support a corruption scheme in which tens of millions of euros were paid to Bulgarian officials in exchange for legislation that favored Bulgarian oligarchs and deprived the government of tax revenues.

On the same day, the UK sanctioned 3 Bulgarian individuals for abusing their positions of power to divert state funds away from the people of Bulgaria, for their personal benefit. The UK imposed travel bans and assets freezes upon two former Bulgarian officials, Delyan Peevski and Ilko Zhelyazkov, and Bulgaria’s richest man, Vasil Bozhkov, under The Global Anti-Corruption Sanctions Regulations 2021 (SI 2021/488). The UK reports that Peevski, a media mogul, has attempted to use bribes and his media empire to control key institutions and sectors in Bulgaria, while Zhelyazkov has allegedly used his current position as a board member for Bulgaria’s largest state energy company to redirect a lucrative state contract for his personal gain. The UK also reports that Bozhkov, who made his fortune in the gambling industry, has liberally used bribes to protect his business interests.

Department of Treasury Press Release | Department of State Press Release | UK Government Press Release | OFSI Financial Sanctions Notice