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Bulgarian prosecutors to investigate owners of luxury cars, expensive homes

SOFIA (Reuters) - Bulgarian prosecutors said on Monday they would investigate wealthy Bulgarians who drive luxury cars or own expensive real estate, part of a drive to demonstrate to the European Union that the country is serious about tackling corruption.

Chief Prosecutor Sotir Tsatsarov ordered a nationwide probe into the origins of the funds of Bulgarians who acquired real estate worth more than half a million levs (£225,068) in 2015 and 2016.

Owners of luxury cars will also come under scrutiny, the prosecutor's office said in a statement, after warnings from the police and the tax office that some of them could have been involved in tax evasion, fraud or money laundering.

More than 350 Bulgarians bought property worth more than 500,000 levs in 2015 and 2016, the prosecutors said, in a country where the average monthly salary is only about 1,000 levs.

Some 450 people in Bulgaria are driving luxury cars such as Maybach, Bentley, Ferrari, Rolls Royce or Lamborghini, the prosecutors' statement said, citing police data.

Bulgaria, which joined the EU in 2007 and currently holds the bloc's rotating six month presidency, is under pressure from Brussels to show it is taking measures to end a climate of impunity for organised crime and to ensure the rule of law.

A lack of tangible results in fighting graft has discouraged much needed foreign investment and is among the main reasons why Bulgaria has not yet been allowed to join the EU's Schengen area of passport-free travel or the euro zone.

(Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; Editing by Gareth Jones)

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