The United States has imposed sanctions on a Bulgarian judge who the State Department says is involved in "significant" corruption in the Balkan country.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday in a statement that he was blacklisting Specialized Criminal Court Judge Andon Mitalov because of his involvement in "corrupt acts that undermined the rule of law and severely compromised the independence of democratic institutions in Bulgaria."
The statement added that Mitalov's wife, Kornelia Stoykova-Mitalova, and his daughter, Gergana Mitalova, were also given "special designation" status, which bars them from entering the United States.
Ex-lawmaker's award from Putin
Mitalov raised the ire of many within and outside Bulgaria when he allowed Nikolai Malinov, a former Bulgarian lawmaker who is charged with spying for Russia, to visit Moscow, where he received an award from President Vladimir Putin.
"This is the first such designation in Bulgaria and reaffirms the U.S. commitment to combating corruption in Bulgaria and globally,” Pompeo said in the statement. “The United States continues to stand with the people of Bulgaria in their fight against corruption. The State Department will use these authorities to promote accountability for corrupt actors in this region and globally."
The U.S. move came a day after Bulgarian President Rumen Radev said he was "withdrawing my confidence" in the government of Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, accusing it of failing to tackle endemic corruption.
The country has experienced steady economic growth under Borisov, but his government has also been criticized for slow progress in the fight against corruption and a perceived f ailure to hold corrupt officials and businessmen accountable.
'Acute crisis in governance'
"This government and administration are leading to the collapse of the state and depriving us of our future as a nation," Radev, a former air force commander, said in a live televised address. "Today we are witnessing an acute crisis in governance at all levels, a lack of will to reform and fight corruption.”
The European Commission has also slammed Bulgaria over its record in the areas of rule of law and white-collar crime.
Malinov has said Bulgarian prosecutors have been targeting him because he openly promotes stronger ties with Russia.