SOFIA (Reuters) - Bulgarian President Rumen Radev on Tuesday vetoed anti-graft legislation passed by parliament in December, saying the bill would not allow the efficient investigation of corruption networks.
Radev acted only a day after Bulgaria, the European Union's poorest country, assumed the six-month, rotating presidency of the bloc. It is the first time the Balkan state has taken over the role since it joined the EU on Jan. 1, 2007.
Bulgaria has made scant progress towards stamping out graft and organized crime, and the European Commission, the EU's executive, has repeatedly rebuked the Black Sea country for failing to prosecute and sentence allegedly corrupt officials.
According to Transparency International, Bulgaria is the EU's most corrupt country.
The measures in the law, approved by the national assembly two weeks ago, included the creation of a special anti-graft unit, meant to investigate persons occupying high state posts as well as assets and conflict of interest.
"I believe that the adopted law not only does not create an adequate legal basis for tackling corruption but will even make it difficult to fight it," Radev, who won a presidential election in November 2016, said in a statement.
Bulgaria’s president is chosen by popular vote.
Analysts have also voiced concern that the bill was not fit for purpose as the new unit, whose management would be appointed by parliament, may not be truly independent and could be used by those in power to persecute opponents.
"No doubt, the president has strong arguments (to veto the law)," political analyst Petar Cholakov said. Analysts, however, expect the parliament to overturn Radev’s veto.
The new law also focuses on improving control and accountability of law-enforcement agencies, and the government in Sofia is hoping that Bulgaria will be able to change opinions and remove its tarnished image during its EU presidency.
Corruption has deterred foreign investment since communism collapsed in Bulgaria in 1989, and the EU has kept Sofia as well as neighboring Romania - for the same rule-of-law failings - outside its Schengen zone of passport-free travel.
(Reporting by Angel Krasimirov, Editing by William Maclean)