A former Bulgarian government official was sentenced to four years' imprisonment on Thursday for misappropriating European Union farm aid, in a trial that tested the Balkan country's ability to tackle corruption.
The Sofia City Court said Asen Drumev, former head of the State Agriculture Fund who was suspended in 2007, had approved illegal contracts that caused losses of nearly 48 million levs ($33 million) in farm aid.
Drumev denied the charges. He has two weeks to appeal against the verdict.
His case was among several high-profile trials being closely watched by the EU and the Bulgarian public as an indicator of Sofia's will to prosecute those suspected of corruption.
A failure to show results by July, when Brussels will assess Sofia's progress, may threaten access to some of the 11 billion euros promised to the bloc's poorest country up to 2013.
Drumev was the first former senior official convicted of corruption in Bulgaria since the collapse of communism 20 years ago and the first to be jailed for misappropriating EU aid since the country joined the grouping in 2007.
He is also on trial in another embezzlement case, the court's spokeswoman said. Drumev also denies those charges.
In 2008, the EU executive froze millions on euros in EU infrastructure and agriculture aid after finding that the previous Socialist-led government had failed to crack down on organised crime and graft.
Brussels unblocked those funds after the new centre-right administration took office last July pledging to restore the rule of law and clean up Bulgaria's image as the most corrupt country in the EU.
The EU has praised the government of Prime Minister Boiko Borisov for taking action against organised crime gangs and for prosecuting former ministers suspected of graft, but said convictions were now needed.
ReutersGüncelleme Tarihi: 19 Mart 2010, 08:17