Bulgaria will bring corrupt officials and powerful gangsters to justice, its chief prosecutor said on Wednesday, but cautioned that the process could not be rushed if investigations were to be watertight.
Bulgaria's centre-right government elected last July has taken a hard line on graft and organised crime, trying to clean up the Balkan country's image as the European Union's most corrupt country, which threatens EU aid flows.
The EU will publish a report on Bulgaria's progress on reforms next month.
Police have arrested scores of suspected kidnappers, smugglers, car thieves and tax fraud schemers and prosecutors have charged several ministers from the former Socialist-led cabinet with abuse of power, misappropriation and bribery.
However, trials have not yet started and the government has turned its focus to the country's often slow and graft-prone judiciary, urging reforms to restore the rule of law -- key to regaining the trust of the EU.
Chief prosecutor Boris Velchev said his teams needed time so they can ensure verdicts that will put criminals behind bars.
"You cannot expect, when a police operation is held today, to have an indictment tomorrow, especially when organised crime groups are involved," Velchev told Reuters.
"We need to carry out investigations which guarantee verdicts. This may look very easy from outside, but this is very serious work which requires technical time," he said.
Judges and lawyers say prosecutors and police need to improve their investigations and collect evidence that can stand up in court.
Aid under threat
Failing to show concrete results in fighting graft and organised crime before the EU's assessment in July could threaten Sofia's access to some of the 11 billion euros ($13.58 billion) of EU aid earmarked for Sofia between now and 2013.
Velchev said Bulgaria had acted to end a climate of impunity as most notorious criminals suspected of drug and human trafficking as well as money laundering in the past 20 years were either arrested or charged or on warrant lists.
But local media questioned the work of the prosecution after a court acquitted suspected crime bosses the Marinov brothers after a five-year trial for plotting a string of assassinations.
Velchev said the verdicts will be appealed and advised commentators not to jump to conclusions.
He said indictments against members of a suspected kidnapping gang, arrested last December, should be filed in court next month and that another powerful criminal gang that has been protected by corrupt authorities for over a decade was also set to face justice soon.
Probes into agriculture, labour and defence ministers from the former Socialist-led coalition were also on track.
"None of these investigations are heading towards cancellation. Trials will start. We have to show some patience. In a country ruled by law, there are regulations," Velchev said.