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Bulgaria Programs

Anti-Corruption and Public Integrity

The ABA's anti-corruption program provided commentary and analysis to a variety of non-governmental and governmental organizations involved in combating corruption and joined with local partners to sponsor a series of public hearings on key corruption-related topics such as procurement law reform, magistrate's immunity and the highly debated Ombudsman draft laws. The hearings facilitated a national policy dialogue on these issues. The ABA also provided an advocacy grant and faculty support to the nongovernmental organization Access to Information to conduct a series of training programs for hundreds of municipal officials and attorneys across Bulgaria on implementing the country's Access to Information Act.

Anti-Money Laundering

After Bulgaria adopted its 2001 Measures Against Money Laundering Act – a legislative framework that established reporting requirements and a financial intelligence unit to receive and analyze them – there was little understanding and a great deal of mistrust among the institutions that needed to collaborate to make the legislation effective. In response, the ABA brought together central bankers, officials from the Financial Intelligence Unit, prosecutors, financial police and commercial banks through a series of seminars in 2001. By the end of the series, bankers were talking constructively with the Financial Intelligence Unit, which in turn was more attuned to the investigative needs of prosecutors. The commercial banking association and the Financial Intelligence Unit signed a memorandum of understanding, and participants developed a consensus list of further legislative reform needed. The U.S. Treasury Department built upon this success with continued work in Bulgaria in 2002.

Ethics Standards

The ABA has sought to promote legal ethics and legal ethics enforcement through a public awareness campaign to eliminate corruption and uphold citizens' trust in the judiciary and law enforcement agencies. The ABA has also trained more than 500 police at a series of 15 ethics trainings across Bulgaria.

The ABA designed and presented a series of ethics lectures at the Economic University and the New Bulgarian University on the theory of ethics, Bulgaria views on ethics violations, practical applications of ethics theories and disciplinary systems were presented. The New Bulgarian University will include legal ethics in its clinical legal education program, and the Economics University will include ethics as an elective in its coursework.

Criminal Law Reform and Anti-Human Trafficking

The criminal law reform program in Bulgaria was initiated in August 1998 with the placement in country of the ABA's first full-time criminal law liaison. The program has focused on legislative reform and training to combat cybercrime, prosecutorial reform and assistance to combat money laundering. The ABA's criminal law reform program has also advised in the process of drafting and implementing modern criminal justice legislation, conducted comprehensive training programs for prosecutors, judges, investigators and defense attorneys, and worked to strengthen the operation of criminal justice institutions, such as prosecutors' offices, investigative bodies and professional associations.


The ABA sought to raise awareness of computer crime and assisted in drafting amendments to Bulgaria's Penal and Criminal Procedure Codes to enable law enforcement officials and magistrates to combat cyber crime effectively. The ABA also promoted the ratification of the Council of Europe Cyber Crime Convention. The ABA's activities to help Bulgaria combat this problem include:

  • Opening in January 2003 of a training center for combating cybercrime in partnership with the Bulgarian National Investigative Service and the private sector Bulgarian Association of Information Technologies.
  • A comprehensive training program for a broad range of participants, including judges, prosecutors, investigators, police, policymakers and executive branch officials.
  • Encouraging the formation of specialized computer crime units in the prosecution, investigation and police service and building the capacity of these groups to combat cybercrime through publications and trainings, including a manual on investigating and prosecuting cybercrime.

Regional Criminal Justice Initiative (RCJI)

The Regional Criminal Justice Initiative (RCJI) places an experienced prosecutor, assigned by the ABA, and an experienced investigator, assigned by the U.S. Department of Justice International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Program, within a local justice system in Bulgaria to work closely with local counterparts. The program was established to increase the capacity of the Bulgarian criminal justice system to investigate and prosecute crimes, particularly cases involving corruption and organized crime.

A lack of cooperation between Bulgaria's judges, prosecutors, investigative magistrates and police has prevented effective investigation and prosecution. The RCJI seeks to strengthen the relationship among the relevant parties and increase the number of successful prosecutions. Through mentoring, training and sharing of expertise between Bulgarian justice sector officials and their American counterparts, the RCJI also seeks to streamline case management procedures, identify and empower local justice sector personnel capable of becoming leaders in justice sector reform, and generate ideas for structural and legislative reform on a national level.

The project began in Blagoevgrad and after six months moved to Plovdiv to replicate its success. In Blagoevgrad, the RCJI organized the first joint meetings of the regional heads of all criminal justice agencies and solicited their opinions on priority areas of reform. Highlights of the resulting actions include:

  • The RCJI formed a working group of international and national officials at the regional level to draft a legislative amendment on illegal border crossings. A first-time border crossing with no other criminal conduct is a criminal offense under the current laws, overwhelming the resources of local police, prosecutors and the courts in border regions.
  • The RCJI conducted a border issues seminar in Petrich for representatives from regional courts, regional and district prosecutors' offices, regional police, border police, Customs and the Ministry of Agriculture forest service.
  • The RCJI worked with the Judicial Strengthening Initiative to establish a secure e-mail system between criminal justice entities in the Blagoevgrad region. The RCJI program is receiving bids for the equipment necessary for this project in order to move forward. This promises to increase the efficiency of the criminal justice system exponentially.

Judicial Reform

Bulgaria is the only country so far that has been assessed three times by the ABA's Judicial Reform Index (JRI). The first assessment occurred in 2002, and the most recent one was published in June 2006. The JRIs attracted extensive media coverage and helped to foster a public dialogue on the issues highlighted.

From the inception of its program in Bulgaria, the ABA promoted the idea of a judge-taught, independent, and indigenous judicial training/educational program. A "core group" of Bulgarian judges shared the ABA's commitment to this concept, and, ultimately, the result was the creation of the Bulgarian Legal Initiative for Training and Development (PIOR), a nongovernmental entity aimed at providing continuing legal education to all members of Bulgaria's legal profession (including judges, attorneys, and prosecutors). PIOR was formed in 1994, with the ABA's assistance, and over the years conducted numerous training workshops (in conjunction with the ABA and independently), on topics ranging from tax law to alternative dispute resolution. The ABA also assisted in the establishment of the Bulgarian Judges' Association (BJA) in 1997 and provided it with institution-building assistance.

The ABA has worked extensively on judicial ethics, including conducting training programs and assisting the BJA with developing a code of ethics. The ABA has also implemented workshops, assisted PIOR in the placement and training of court spokespersons, and published a manual to improve relations between the judiciary and the media.

In 1998, the ABA provided support to the BJA and the MOJ to create a national judicial training center (the Magistrates Training Center, which later became the National Institute of Justice). The ABA has also helped develop legislation on judicial restructuring, working with the National Investigative Service, the Prosecutor General's Office, the MOJ, the Supreme Administrative Court, the National Assembly, the BJA, and various other NGOs.

Alternative Dispute Resolution

The ABA's alternative dispute resolution program worked for years to mainstream mediation and ADR in Bulgaria. This included working with the Bulgarian Industrial Association to create arbitration and mediation "courts," conducting workshops on ADR, training mediators and arbitrators, and convening working groups for mediation professionals, as well as ongoing public awareness campaigns. In 2004, the Bulgarian Parliament passed the Mediation Act that the ABA had assisted in drafting. The ABA also assisted in the development of implementing regulations for the Mediation Act, including ethical and professional standards for mediators and the Unified Register of Mediators, which were made available to the public in March 2006.

Additionally, the ABA provided extensive substantive and institution-building assistance to a variety of mediation organizations, including the National Institute for Conciliation and Arbitration and the Bulgarian Association for Alternative Dispute Resolution in Plovdiv. The ABA has assisted in the creation of mediation centers in Vratsa, Assenovgrad, Stara Zagora and Bourgas. The ABA has also facilitated the implementation of court-referred mediation programs in all those localities, as well as the pilot program in Plovdiv. Finally, the ABA provided mediation skills training to more than 100 attorneys, covering 18 out of 28 Local Bar Councils.

Other Programs

Commercial Law

Between 1991 and 2003, the ABA's commercial law reform program focused on legislative drafting and substantive training. Furthermore, the ABA assisted with the creation and distribution of commercial law publications. Highlights of the ABA's work in this field include:

  • Assistance to the Competition Council to publish a pamphlet on competition law and the Council; training members of the legal and business community on competition law and procedure, and establishment of a website for Council discussions.
  • Legislative assistance to draft and revise laws on trademark, patent, industrial design, computer chip masking and copyright.
  • Training judges and prosecutors on copyright enforcement; assisting with policy reforms targeted at reducing copyright piracy.
  • Support to publish a Bulgarian language handbook containing international intellectual property agreements and commentary on the agreements.
  • Technical assistance in the drafting and implementation of amendments to the Commercial Code relating to Bankruptcy.
  • Publication of a bankruptcy practice and procedure manual for trustees and judges and training judges and trustees on bankruptcy law and practice.
  • Assistance with legislative and procedural reforms in the banking sector on privatization, insolvency, and deposit insurance.
  • Help to establish a central securities depository.
  • Support for legislative and procedural reforms in governmental concessions.