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It is not so much under the table, as on the table." Only in July, the European Commission suspended payments of £350 million to Bulgaria, accusing it of mismanagement of European funds through corruption and inefficiency, and failing to prosecute offenders, who are often thought to be shielded through political connections.
Instead, they ended up as virtual money machines, after being shipped to an accomplice in East Germany and "bought" back as new for 24 times the original price.
A leaked copy of a report by the European Anti-Fraud Office seen by the Sunday Telegraph also accuses the group of committing tax fraud, illegally importing Chinese rabbit meat into the EU with fake health certificates and buying rolling stock from Bulgaria's dilapidated Communist-era railways.
Throughout the 1990s, its government became infiltrated by ex-communists, former secret agents and organised criminals known as "thick necks", who to this day cruise the boulevards of Sofia accompanied by bodyguards, and who settle business feuds through contract killings rather than the courts.
For many of their number, the EU grants are a once-in-a-lifetime chance not to rebuild their countr, but to line their own pockets.
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"I am not guilty, I am proud of my department's work," protested a bemused-looking Mr Droumev on Thursday, as he was brought handcuffed into court by two paramilitary policemen.
But that effort largely overlooked the fact that in Bulgaria, the corrupt, gangster-ridden political class that emerged in the vacuum of communism's collapse already owed far more to Russia than it did to Europe."They said, 'Just look for the people driving the most expensive SUVs.' It isn't accidental that these people have suddenly got so much money, and it isn't just in that one town either.It's everywhere." The plundering of the scheme, which handed over more than £2 billion to Bulgaria between 20, is just one of the many murky tales surrounding what has really happened to the vast quantities of taxpayers' cash poured by Brussels bureaucrats into Europe's poorest nation, which is earmarked for another £7 billion between now and 2013.Among the locals sipping brandy in the village bars, there is little doubt what the most lucrative annual harvest is these days.It comes not from the soil or the vine, but from piles of grant application forms marked "Sapard"."The former communists that rule Bulgaria are fond of European money, but not European regulations," said Mr Atanasov. I hate to say it as a Bulgarian, but corruption is rife here.