Corruption, Europe, New in Lobbying

Business clan caught in Bulgarian political showdown hires US lobbyist

One of Bulgaria’s top business clans has hired a US lobbying firm after getting caught in the middle of a political clash over widespread corruption in the Balkan country.

The Bobokov family, owners of the Prista Oil motor oil company, hired Alexandria Group International for $156,000 to “assist in representing your interests in Washington and in Bulgaria as those interests pertain to Bulgarian-US bilateral relations.” The firm is representing Prista Chairman Plamen Bobokov; his wife, Hristina Bobokov; and his brother, Atanas Bobokov. The two brothers were charged in May as part of an investigation into the illegal import and export of hazardous waste.

The lobbying registration states that the firm will raise “awareness of the state of and developments related to the business climate, civil society, corruption, transparency, the judiciary, and the overall rule of law in Bulgaria” and “provide analysis of US political, international economics, trade, human rights, and democratization and related developments.” The Alexandria Group anticipates contacting “policymakers and opinion-shapers,” including executive branch officials, members of Congress, think-tank experts and media representatives.

The contract is dated July 1 and will continue for six months. The firm has already been paid $78,000. Neither the Alexandria Group nor Prista Oil responded to requests for comment.

Registered to lobby on the account are Zorica Maric Djordjevic, a former Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Montenegro, along with Marshall Harris, a former State Department official who worked in Bulgaria and was later Vice President at Freedom House.

The contract comes as Bulgaria is witnessing its biggest protests in seven years as citizens rally behind President Rumen Radev‘s showdown with Prime Minister Boyko Borissov over accusations of government graft. The Balkan country had the worst perceived level of corruption of any European Union nation in the most recent Transparency International index.

The Bobokovs have been taking fire from both sides.

Prosecutors have questioned Borissov over his frequent contacts with Plamen Bobokov and public support for his companies, which both men insist have been above board. “It is normal for business people to talk to the administration,” Bobokov told reporters last month.

At the same time, Bobokov is also in trouble for links to the president’s team. He was arrested last week in an influence peddling probe over texts sent to presidential Secretary for Legal Affairs and Anti-Corruption Plamen Uzunov in which Bobokov allegedly recommended ambassadors for countries where he has business interests.

The United States for its part has come out in support of Radev’s calls to clean up the country.

“Every nation deserves a judicial system that is non-partisan and accountable to the rule of law,” the US Embassy in Sofia posted on its Facebook page on Monday. “We support the Bulgarian people as you peacefully advocate for increased faith in your democratic system and promote the rule of law in Bulgaria. No one is above the law.”