Ambassador Mustafa delivered a speech
Conference “The Rule of Law and the Business Environment in Bulgaria”
January 20, 2023
Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, Minister Zarkov, my friends, Ambassadors from Italy, France, Chargé from Germany, Ambassador Meyer and Ambassador Zarra, Deputy Head of the Röken delegation, Mr. Matthew Murray and Olivier Marquette.
It is a great honor to have you all sharing this stage today.
First of all, I want to thank the American Chamber of Commerce for organizing today’s event, and I hope you all take a moment to understand what you’re seeing today. This is a business organization that brings together Britain, France, Germany, Switzerland, Greece, Sweden, and Italy. In fact, all of us are here — and this has never happened before — coming together to discuss the rule of law. Take a moment to absorb it. In addition to owning these entities, we are also here with our partners, Bulgarian organizations, who are also actively involved in the fight against this issue – we are with members of the NGO community, we are with members of the business community Together here, other diplomats. I want to say thank you for continuing to make this issue a priority.
As you have heard, the rule of law remains one of the most important challenges here today. it is known. That’s why we’re here. When we talk about the rule of law, I think it’s the principle that all people and institutions are accountable to the law. This is a topic that is very close to my heart. When I look back at the end of my three and a half years in Bulgaria, the first thing that comes to my mind is all these successes that Bulgaria has had during this time. With the COVID-19 crisis, you’ve managed to come out of the pandemic, you’ve started the process of joining the OECD, you’ve put your relationship with North Macedonia on a constructive path, and to be honest, something that I don’t think was ever Possibilities, with energy away from Russia, are happening at breakneck speed. So, as we in the United States celebrate our 120th anniversary with Bulgaria this year, I’m proud that our relationship has never been stronger. I believe Bulgaria is today more than ever capable of long-term success.
However, I regret that we have not made so much progress in the area of the rule of law. I’m being completely honest. Our coming together today is a success, but for those of us who care deeply about this issue, together with our partners, we need to do more. Now, this is not for lack of effort by the Bulgarian people and Bulgaria’s international partners, but we have seen firsthand how difficult it is to reform institutions and root out entrenched interests. You heard from Olivier, he said that one of my top priorities was corruption, and before all my introductory meetings came to Bulgaria, many Bulgarian officials said to me: “Don’t use that C word. Don’t use that C The word — corruption, it’s impossible.” That would damage my relationship with the government. It will fail me. However, I would talk to Bulgarians and institutions and the first thing they would say is that their number one concern is corruption. Businesses, civil society, journalists, ordinary people will say: “Corruption is a problem we cannot deal with.”
So, of course, I have to make this my priority. This is a priority for the Biden administration. Now, some of you may be asking – why do I care so much? Because I personally care. why do i care so much I care because of true friends, true partners, true allies, working together to achieve each other. When Bulgaria is strong, so are we. True partners are open and honest with each other. So, I am here to say: I am a true friend of Bulgaria. I always will be. So if you will allow me to be honest with you today about some of the issues that have been of concern to me. You people in business, you know how high the stakes are. We’ve heard it, and I know other chambers have heard it, from a lot of investors who see great potential here in Bulgaria, but who fear that their rights will not be upheld if they get involved in legal disputes. We hear stories of businesses being targeted by powerful people. They use these institutions to harass, intimidate, and blackmail their opponents. We hear about suitcase lawyers, backroom deals, kickbacks. We hear about opaque procurement practices, tailor-made tenders, specifications and favoritism in government contracts. We hear this from our company, so we know it firsthand. In Bulgaria, we have seen corruption fundamentally distort how some institutions work and who controls them, to the detriment of the Bulgarian people. We understand that fighting corruption is a long-term project. It’s not easy. No country, not even my own, not even America is immune to corruption. It takes constant vigilance to fight it.
Now, our national security adviser, Jack Sullivan, has summarized our anticorruption strategy as essentially boiled down to two lines of effort: first, help the good guys; and second, go after the bad guys.
Bulgaria has a lot of support when it comes to helping good people, and we’ve done that with our American partners. I know many other chambers who have done this. That means increasing our training and assistance to judicial and law enforcement officials. Even in the past three years, our judicial resident legal advisers have carried out more than fifty capacity-building projects in Bulgaria. They have trained more than 1,000 prosecutors, investigators, judges and legal professionals. They send Bulgarian experts to the United States for a professional exchange program. We brought in new international and U.S. NGOs to work on anticorruption at the national and municipal levels. We are helping to build the capacity of local civil society to address these issues through USAID grants, training, and technical assistance. That’s all but the excellent work that the Bulgarian American Foundation is doing on this issue.
We also support the work of investigative journalists, and I can proudly say that in 2021 a Bulgarian journalist won the State Department’s prestigious Anticorruption Champion award. We have mentioned the rule of law in almost every meeting we have in cooperation with Bulgarian officials, and we are always looking for allies at all levels of government. Again, I want to be clear. I help. Unfortunately, the challenge is that a few have created a system that enriches the oligarchs and grabs the country’s resources. I know this personally because I work with our businesses trying to fix this problem. What happens to those who don’t get that help – it creates a sense of hopelessness. It discourages those who want to fight for their country. Really, it pains me to see this.
We often hear from members of the judiciary and law enforcement that they make valiant efforts to investigate and prosecute corruption, only to be closed, moved to other offices, or postponed indefinitely when investigations get too close to certain red lines . These civil servants were denied promotion, they were transferred to distant towns, and then fired. I’m not going to tell you anything you don’t know. I’m just being honest as your friend so we’re all concerned about this.
Let me give you an example. Just in the past few weeks, Varner and Shumen’s corruption investigations have ended or been diverted without publicizing the legal basis. do you know? This is just one example from the past few weeks. We’ve seen cases stall for years in pre-trial proceedings or trials, some never even reaching that stage. So, that’s why we turned to the second route, which is what we call hunting down the bad guys. To bring about lasting change, we need to increase the cost of corruption.
As the U.S. government, we have taken steps to make it harder for corrupt actors to use the U.S. financial system to advance corruption and to confiscate the proceeds of their crimes. For those of you, most of you already know this, but during our tenure, we designated three Bulgarians under the Global Magnitsky Program and restricted visas for six Bulgarians, All because of corruption.
I am proud of these actions. We adhere to these designations. None of them have been publicly summoned for corruption. None of them have been convicted in Bulgaria. Most were not even disciplined or fired.
While we will continue to use whatever tools we have as your partner to act as a catalyst, we all know that change must come from within. Bulgarian politicians have shown courage and, in the words of the Minister of Justice, will and citizens to demand accountability from the government. Again, this is why events like today are so important. The Bulgarian business community has enormous influence in encouraging public discussion, formulating policy and recommending feasible reforms to improve the business environment. We need a united effort, all of us, pulling together.
You know I’m an optimist — the American way, American optimism. Again, when I look back on my three-and-a-half years here, I remain hopeful because the fact that we came together – which was a taboo even two years ago – means that some progress has been made. The people of Bulgaria said: “We need to solve this problem! Parliament is now facing judicial reform legislation related to the European Recovery and Resilience Plan. And this legislation, which I believe my European colleagues will also solve this problem, responds to the European institutions specific proposals. I think it’s time to show a little bit of political will to pass this legislation. Of course, if passed, it will be implemented, not selectively, but comprehensively. This includes the reform of the Attorney General’s Office suggested by the Europeans I think now is the time to address these reforms. I believe that in the coming years we will see forward momentum in improving procurement practices, establishing robust investment review mechanisms, and strengthening intellectual property protections. I am optimistic that there will be Take measures to reduce impunity for those who misuse State resources.
I encourage you all to continue advocating for these and other reforms to hold your leaders to the high standards we are trying to do in America. And ask them to have courage and commitment.
I am sure that your joint efforts will continue to lead Bulgaria in a better direction. Again, I am proud to be your partner and friend in all of this.
I wish you continued success in your work and I look forward to working with you in the short time I have left.