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Bulgarian Minister Proud of Cutting Down Fast Track Naturalisations

By EUDO Citizenship expert Vesco Paskalev

On the occasion of the recent resignation of the Bulgarian government the outgoing Minister of Justice Zinaida Zlatanova gave a press conference and summarised the changes in the naturalisation policy for the last year under her watch. She proudly announced that the Bulgarian citizenship is not for sale, and that her ministry fought to stop this practice. She was apparently echoing Commissioner Vivian Reding who famously made this statement with regard to the controversial investor citizenship program introduced by Malta (eventually amended under pressure from the European Parliament and Commission, see here). However, in the Bulgarian context Minister Zlatanova must have had an entirely different practice in mind. While a few months ago undercover reporters of the Telegraph, the British daily, filmed consultants who were promising a 'fast track' to Bulgarian passports for their clients at the price of € 180,000, there are no known cases when citizenship was actually acquired for such a hefty price. Indeed, Bulgarian legislation does provide for fast track naturalisation to foreign investors, but only if they have made an investment much bigger than this (€ 1 million, which can be reduced for certain projects to € 500,000). Thus, it remained unclear what the consultants were promising.

What the outgoing minister was referring to was rather corruption in the process of facilitated naturalisation of applicants of Bulgarian origin (mostly from Macedonia but also from Moldova and Ukraine, see details). According to some media, her deputy even accused the Macedonian authorities of helping such applicants for a fee of € 1000-1500. It remains unclear what this help could possibly consist of as these authorities have no part in the procedure that unfolds in Bulgaria. Yet Bulgaria was in the habit of giving out passports to people of Bulgarian origin in neighbouring countries with little verification of this origin.  

While the legal regulation of facilitated naturalisation has not been amended during the last year, the applications were subjected to a much stricter scrutiny by the ministry and the numbers fell considerably. Thus, in 2013 there were 16 941 applicants of which only 8285 were successful, compared to 18473 naturalisations in 2011 and 17329 in 2012. Few months after assuming office in June 2013, Minister Zlatanova publicly criticised the laxity of the Agency of the Bulgarians Abroad, which used to issue certificates for Bulgarian origin on the basis of personal statement of the applicants. This is no longer considered sufficient and the Ministry of Justice had started to require additional documents to prove the claimed origin such as birth or baptism certificates or military IDs of the ancestors. This change of policy appears even more dramatic when compared with that the previous government, which explicitly aimed to speed up the procedures and boosted the increase of the number of naturalised Bulgarians it brought about. However, the decrease of the numbers of naturalisations may be due to factors independent from government policy: Over the last decade most eligible applicants may have already received passports, and since 2010 Macedonians can also travel (but cannot work) freely without visas in the Schengen area.

Apart from the case of facilitated naturalisation on the basis of Bulgarian origin, naturalisation is rarely an issue of interest. According to the deputy-minister of justice Ilia Anguelov in an interview for the daily Trud, only two or three citizenships were granted on the basis of special services given to the country, to a Finnish motorcyclist who is now competing for Bulgaria and to an American film producer who was not named. As for the investor citizenship scheme, according to the deputy-minister there was not a single investor naturalised under the current regime (requiring a minimum investment of 1 million euro), but there are about 10 pending applications from investors (mostly Russians) who have invested less (minimum 250,000 USD before 2005 and minimum 500,000 USD before 2009) but on account of this have already received permanent residence and have lived in the country for more than 5 years.

The deputy minister also mentioned about a dozen cases of deprivation of citizenship of naturalised Bulgarians on the ground of prior convictions which they had failed to disclose. According to him, as the scrutiny of naturalisations tightened, such cases decreased. Interestingly, he was quoted as saying that "upon receipt of information from the Schengen Information System (SIS) about the conviction [we] repeal the naturalisation directly." Indeed, the legislation does not provide for any procedural guarantees for the rights of the person concerned, and the authorities have a free hand to withdraw citizenship in such cases as quickly as they wish.

 

Read more in Novinite and Balkan Insight (in English) and in Cross, Trud, 24 Hours and Offnews (in Bulgarian).

Read our earlier news on naturalisation in Bulgaria.

Read our earlier news on investor citizenship schemes in other European countries here and on the controversy with Malta here.