Bulgarian police on Thursday arrested a former defence minister and a judge on suspicion of bribery as part of efforts to root out high-level corruption, which risks jeopardising aid to the EU member state.
Police also arrested a former senior finance ministry official after catching him paying 20,000 euros (some $27,000) to try to block an investigation into former defence minister Nikolai Tsonev for alleged abuse of power.
Prosecutors said Sofia City Court judge Petar Santirov helped arrange the bribe. The three men, who have not yet been officially charged, were not immediately available to comment.
Tsonev has already been charged with abuse of power over military equipment deals prosecutors said defrauded Bulgaria of more than 13 million levs ($9 million).
Magistrates are also investigating whether Tsonev signed deals that further swindled the state budget of the European Union's poorest member out of 120 million levs ($82.76 million).
Prime Minister Boiko Borisov, whose centre-right GERB party came to power last July, has pledged to end a climate of impunity, reform the judiciary and root out endemic corruption.
Earlier this week, Health Minister Bozhidar Nanev became the first serving minister to be indicted for graft in the Balkan country since the fall of communism 20 years ago. Nanev resigned but denied wrongdoing.
Prosecutors have also charged three ministers, including Tsonev, from the previous Socialist-led government with corrupt practices and arrested members of powerful crime gangs since the new cabinet came to power but no trial dates have been set yet.
The European Commission will assess Bulgaria's progress in fighting graft and organised crime in July. Failure to show results could threaten access to some of the 11 billion euros in aid earmarked for Sofia between now and 2013.
In an interim report last week, Brussels said the new government had the political will to fight graft but criticised the lack of convictions.
ReutersGüncelleme Tarihi: 02 Nisan 2010, 00:13