The Treasury and State Departments said the decision underscores the US commitment to fighting corruption around the world.

The United States on Wednesday announced sanctions against six Bulgarian citizens and 64 companies controlled by them, accusing them of involvement in corruption.

In a statement, the Ministry of Finance called this decision the largest step to date in the fight against corruption.

The Finance Ministry has imposed sanctions on businessman and oligarch Vasil Bozhkov, accusing him of trying to create a channel that would allow Russian leaders to influence the Bulgarian government.

Bozhkov, a gambling magnate and one of Bulgaria’s richest men, fled the country in 2020, hiding from criminal prosecution, including on charges of extortion, tax fraud, and influence peddling. He currently resides in Dubai.

The sanctions list of the Ministry of Finance also includes former MP Delyan Peevski, former government official Ilko Zhelyazkov and 64 companies owned or controlled by these three individuals.

Peevski, 40, is a Bulgarian businessman, media mogul, and former MP. He is considered to have a strong influence on the Bulgarian judicial system and the country’s political elites.

“Corruption not only deprives citizens of resources but can also undermine the institutions designed to protect them,” said Andrea Gatzky, director of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, adding that the decision demonstrates the US commitment to fighting corruption around the world.

The sanctions deprive the list’s defendants of access to the US financial system, freeze their assets in the US and prohibit Americans from doing business with them.

The State Department on Wednesday also announced sanctions against Peevski and Zhelyazkov, as well as former Bulgarian officials Alexander Manolev, Petr Kharalampiev, and Krasimir Tomov.

According to the ministry’s statement, Manolev, Kharalampiev, and Tomov were involved in corrupt practices that “undermined the rule of law and the faith of the Bulgarian public in democratic institutions and public processes.”

“Today’s actions confirm our commitment to supporting the rule of law and strengthening democratic institutions in Bulgaria,” the State Department said in a statement. – The United States supports all Bulgarians whose work contributes to advancing reform, and the State Department will continue to use its authority to hold corrupt actors in the region and around the world accountable.”

Bulgaria’s acting Prime Minister Stefan Yanev said Deputy Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland informed him about the sanctions by phone.

The European Union has long called on Bulgaria to take more effective measures to combat corruption and improve standards of compliance with the rule of law. The former communist country has been a member of the EU since 2007. According to Transparency International, Bulgaria is considered the most corrupt state in the bloc. Last summer, in an attempt to calm massive anti-government protests against corruption, then-Prime Minister Boyko Borisov fired three ministers suspected of collaborating with Peevski.