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Europe

Bulgaria Suffers as EU Corruption Clampdown Continues

Bulgaria has missed the chance to claim 220 million euros ($280 million) in European Union funds because of ongoing corruption problems, the first time an EU state has ever suffered such a loss, officials in Brussels sai

An EU flag is inspected at a small private company which manufactures flags in the Bulgarian capital of Sofia

The EU's corruption investigations have caused Bulgaria to lose millions of euros

The EU's executive, the European Commission, has decided that Bulgaria's authorities still cannot be trusted with the money, and it is therefore "too late" for the country to award the funds to contractors before a November 30 deadline, commission enlargement spokeswoman Krisztina Nagy told journalists.

"There has not been such a situation before," she said. "It is important that we protect the interests of taxpayers across Europe, including in Bulgaria."

A further 340 million euros which have already been contracted out, and which the commission froze in July following reports of widespread misappropriations, remain blocked because Sofia has not yet provided sufficient guarantees that the funds will be spent on the projects for which they were designed, she said.

While the Bulgarian government has set out an action plan for cleaning up its use of EU handouts, "most measures are only a promise of future action, and have not yet been delivered," Nagy said.

The commission's move is a further blow to Bulgaria's already- battered image. The country joined the EU in January 2007, but on July 23 this year, citing corruption concerns, the commission froze over half a billion euros in support for projects focused on waste management and boosting local government.

It also froze 115 million euros from a fund for major infrastructure projects, mainly highways.

The commission has not yet reached a decision on the road-building funds, but is "optimistic that the Bulgarian government's action plan will bring results," commission spokesman for regional policy Dennis Abbott said.

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