[JURIST] A Bulgarian court on Monday began criminal proceedings against nine people accused of embezzling millions of dollars from European Union (EU) [official website, English] aid funds. The defendants are accused of stealing 14 million leva ($9.6 million) from funds made available to Bulgaria by the EU as part of the Special Accession Program for Agricultural and Rural Development (SAPARD) [official website]. The suspected criminal network, made up of more than 50 Bulgarian, European, and offshore companies, is allegedly controlled by Mario Nikolov and Lyudmil Stoykov. Charges were filed against Nikolov and his wife, but no charges have been filed against Stoykov. The Sofia Echo has local coverage.
A probe was launched more than two years ago on a tip from the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) [official website]. The reported widespread abuse spurred the EU into freezing projects [JURIST report] worth millions of dollars in July. This is reportedly the first case of its kind in Bulgaria, which only joined the EU in 2007.