US State Department Bans Bulgarian Judge From Entering Country
The US State Department banned a Bulgarian judge from entering the country on Wednesday because he was allegedly involved in “significant corruption,” said Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo.
Andon Mitalov “was involved in corrupt acts that undermined the rule of law and severely compromised the independence of democratic institutions in Bulgaria,” the statement said, adding that Mitalov’s wife and daughter are also banned from entry.
It’s the first time that the US has sanctioned individuals in Bulgaria, and the move, according to the statement, “reaffirms the U.S. commitment to combatting corruption in Bulgaria and globally.”
The statement did not concretely specify what Mitalov had done, but Radio Free Europe’s Bulgarian service reported that the State Department was responding to Judge Mitalov’s pro-Russian sentiments.
The media outlet reported that the judge’s blacklisting was likely connected to his decision to allow Nikolai Malinov, a former Bulgarian lawmaker who had been charged for being a Russian spy, to visit Moscow in order to receive an award from President Valdimir Putin.
Reuters reported that the former Bulgarian lawmaker was the head of the National Russophile Movement, which prosecutors argued had a goal of distancing Bulgaria from its Western allies.
Bulgaria has maintained economic ties with Russia, as indicated in an investigation published in March 2018 by OCCRP and its member center, Bivol. The story revealed a golden visa scheme that took advantage of a banking loophole which allowed Russian assets to flow into the EU through Bulgaria.
The former soviet satellite has made a gradual transition towards privatizing its industries and setting up democratic institutions, but remains, by some metrics, the most corrupt country in the European Union. It scored 71 out of 180 on Transparency International’s 2019 Corruption Perceptions Index.