March 2. 2024. 2:30

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Bulgaria has not sanctioned Russians since 2014


Bulgaria has not imposed sanctions against Russian citizens or companies featured on the EU sanctions list since they were first imposed after the annexation of Crimea in 2014, according to answers provided by the national tax agency in response to an access to information inquiry filed by EURACTIV and Mediapool.bg.

In total, the EU has so far sanctioned 1,386 Russian citizens and 171 companies, as well as all related individuals and legal entities. Last year, it froze more than €300 billion from Russian banks and €20 billion in assets belonging to Russian oligarchs. Even Hungary, which often defends positions in favour of Russia, froze Russian assets worth more than €900 million.

In Bulgaria, nearly 300,000 Russians own over 500,000 properties, according to the latest data released by the authorities in 2019, but the tax agency, while acknowledging that it should apply the EU regulation on sanctions, has not done so for now.

While the Bulgarian legal system only provides a procedure to seize assets and not freeze them, EU countries like Bulgaria must directly apply EU regulations on sanctions, meaning tax authorities should initiate freezing procedures even if no national regulation provides for such procedures, lawyers told EURACTIV.

On top of that, the tax agency has not issued a single act to impose sanctions for the last eight years, according to the agency’s answers as part of the inquiry.

Were it to impose sanctions in the future, the agency said it would not disclose the names and assets of those possibly sanctioned as such data is personal and thus protected by the EU’s General Data Protection Directive (GDPR).

Investigative site Bird.bg already revealed some of the names on the EU sanctions list.

These include Sergey Chemezov, Maxim Topilin, Vladimir Pligin and Alexey Chepa, who own properties along the Black Sea through their relatives, Bird.bg reported in April last year.

“It is not surprising that Bulgaria does not seem to apply EU sanctions against individuals and companies from the Russian Federation. It is obvious that the Bulgarian authorities do not dare, do not want, and do not have the procedures and capacity to apply the sanctions,” Ruslan Stefanov from the Bulgarian think tank Center for the Study of Democracy (CSD) commented to EURACTIV and Mediapool.

“A signal is awaited on this from the highest political level for any action, and such is not only not coming at the moment, but even on the contrary – the signals are that the Bulgarian government would like to soften or cancel the sanctions on Russia”, Stefanov added.

“The most vivid example is the inexplicable desire to negotiate with Gazprom, which happened last summer, and the request for derogation from the sanctions for the Russian-owned Lukoil Neftohim refinery in Burgas. The derogation was made and defended by the Bulgarian governments, despite the lack of grounds and need for such,” he added.

(Krassen Nikolov | EURACTIV.bg)