Tackling corruption in Europe and getting results

Advocates in Bulgaria, Cyprus, Latvia and Ukraine are among reformers across Europe challenging corrupt officials. They often do so at the risk of arrest or intimidation.

Headshot of Juris Juriss (State Dept.)
Juris Juriss (State Dept.)

Juris Juriss, the head prosecutor for the anti–money laundering division in Latvia’s prosecutor general’s office, is one of them. He led the successful prosecution of oligarch Aivars Lembergs for corruption. Lembergs, a former mayor of Ventspils, is one of the nation’s wealthiest individuals; he was convicted for bribery, money laundering and corruption-related offenses.

Juriss continued to pursue the case despite receiving threats from Lembergs and his associates. The United States sanctioned Lembergs under the Global Magnitsky sanctions program for corruption in 2019.

Juriss also works to strengthen ties between Latvian and U.S. law enforcement agencies. He is now a volunteer who trains Latvian prosecutors and police.

Demanding action in Cyprus

Headshot of Alexandra Attalides (State Dept.)
Alexandra Attalides (State Dept.)

Corruption and abuse of power are a worldwide problem.

Alexandra Attalides, a political activist in the Republic of Cyprus, lamented the “resources that disappear into the black hole of corruption.”

“Our country is no exception,” she told the Cyprus Mail.

Attalides led the nation’s first anti-corruption demonstrations in 2020. She and fellow activists called for an end to a controversial citizenship-by-investment program. She was recently elected to the House of Representatives in Cyprus

The investment scheme, which continued from 2007 to 2020, allowed investors to acquire Cypriot citizenship and a Cypriot passport.

After details came to light of its potential for abuse and money laundering, Attalides organized demonstrations outside parliament to protest the scheme and called for greater transparency and for politicians implicated in the scheme to resign. “The fight against corruption continues,” she said.

Ousting corrupt Bulgarian officials

Headshot of Nikolay Staykov (State Dept.)
Nikolay Staykov (State Dept.)

Nikolay Staykov is a Bulgarian investigative journalist and co-founder of a watchdog group, the Anti-Corruption Fund.

In 2020, Staykov broadcast a documentary about the involvement of public officials, including prosecutors, in a high-profile corruption case. He received death threats and his house was vandalized after the broadcast.

The work of Staykov and his team at the Anti-Corruption Fund led to the resignation of several officials, new progress in corruption cases and stronger public demand for good governance in Bulgaria.

In July 2020, the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders called on the Bulgarian authorities to conduct “a thorough and independent probe” into the threats Staykov received after he released a documentary about corruption allegedly involving state institutions. “Reporters who investigate corruption are often victims of pressures in Bulgaria,” the international nonprofit said.

Hailing the ‘father of anti-corruption’ in Ukraine

Headshot of Ruslan Ryaboshapka (State Dept.)
Ruslan Ryaboshapka (State Dept.)

Ruslan Ryaboshapka led reform efforts inside Ukraine’s Office of the Prosecutor General (OPG) that included retention of effective prosecutors and dismissal of corrupt individuals.

During Ryaboshapka’s tenure as prosecutor general more than 50% of prosecutors at OPG headquarters in Kyiv were dismissed for failing to meet minimum standards for integrity and professionalism.

Viktor Chumak, Ryaboshapka’s former deputy, said his supervisor was “the most successful prosecutor in the history of Ukraine.” One civil society activist called Ryaboshapka “the father of the anti-corruption strategy in Ukraine.”

The United States recognized these four anti-corruption champions from Bulgaria, Cyprus, Latvia and Ukraine among awardees announced in February and December 2021.

“People have experienced — and understand to their core — just how harmful and unjust corruption is,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.