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Bulgarian police detain seven for embezzling EU farming funds

Bulgarian police detained seven local businessmen and charged them with embezzling €7.5 mln ($9.7 mln) from a European Union agriculture development funding program known as SAPARD.

Bulgarian, German and Swiss law enforcement agencies broke the crime ring in a joint operation that swept across the three countries, Vanio Tanov, chief of the Bulgarian police's organized crime unit, said in Sofia yesterday. The embezzlement, which also involved two Germans and two Swiss citizens, lasted two years and seven months. Tanov didn't identify the suspects. „The falsified documents, used to misappropriate the funds, have been seized,” Boiko Naidenov, Bulgaria's deputy chief prosecutor, said at a news conference with the police unit. „The prosecution has the confessions of the detained individuals.”

Bulgaria, which was criticized by the EU prior to its accession on January 1 for overhauling laws too slowly, stands to receive €11 billion in the next five years, should it comply with EU terms. The funds are needed to improve infrastructure and raise living standards in the EU's poorest country. The suspects used forged documents to pass off old meat- processing machines as new ones when claiming reimbursement from SAPARD, Tanov said. The equipment was shipped through several countries to Bulgaria using the falsified documents, he added. The Bulgarians were detained in Sofia, the capital, as well as in the towns of Shumen and Yambol. The Balkan nation of 7.8 million received some €50 million a year under the SAPARD pre-accession funding program between 2000 and 2006. The EU forced Bulgaria to step up its fight against wide-spread graft and organized crime before it joined the bloc. Last year, the former communist country started investigating a dozen prosecutors for obstruction of justice. (Bloomberg)