AN American basketball player, Priest Lauderdale, has naturalised as a Bulgarian citizen, at the same time leaping into the record books to become - at 222 cm - the country's tallest Bulgarian.
While getting Bulgarian citizenship usually is a complicated and time-consuming process, the law allows people to be nominated by government ministries for "fast-tracking".
Lauderdale was one of 31 sports people who have acquired citizenship with the backing of Bulgaria's sports ministry. Lauderdale plays for Lukoil Akademik and is now eligible for the national team.
He was handed his identity card at a recent ceremony held at Sofia's Hilton Hotel.
With the approach of Bulgaria's EU membership in 2007, Bulgarian citizenship is becoming more and more attractive for citizens of certain countries.
The procedure is long and tedious, unless the applicant brings "special merits" to the country or their naturalisation would bring an advantage to the country, as provided for by article 16 of the Bulgarian Citizenship Act, or can prove his or her Bulgarian descent.
The regular procedure requires a long list of documents and a lot of time.
It takes at least five years of residing in the country for a foreigner to acquire Bulgarian citizenship through the regular procedure.
Things are a little easier if the foreigner is married to a Bulgarian national, in which case the would-be citizen is required to have lived at least three years in Bulgaria after the marriage. It is obligatory not only to have a good command of the Bulgarian language but for this to be certified by the Ministry of Education after taking an exam.
The other required documents are a certificate issued by the Prosecutor's Office stating there is no legal proceeding against the applicant for a premeditated offence, a certificate by the employer to prove that the applicant works under a labour contract or from a given tax office stating declared income and paid taxes for the previous year.
Besides, a document from the National Social Insurance Institute is required to prove paid health and pension insurance or another paper for allotted pension.
After the applicant eventually manages to obtain all these documents, he or she will have to wait another year or two before they reach the Vice President, who has the right to grant or refuse citizenship, to sign the decree.
For these reasons the people who have acquired Bulgarian citizenship following these steps is few.
The easier way to obtain Bulgarian citizenship, without having any special merits to the country, is to prove Bulgarian descent.
This is particularly easy for Macedonians and Bessarab Bulgarians from Ukraine and Moldova, who comprise the highest proportion of naturalised Bulgarians in the past few years.
This procedure still takes time and some paperwork, but is less time consuming than the one described above.
The easiest way to become Bulgarian is to be a professional sport star or a large investor who has created new jobs in the country.
The procedure in that case takes around three months and requires a suggestion by a ministry to the Justice Ministry and a decree by the Vice President. This is what happened in the case of Lauderdale.
Simeon Saxe-Coburg and his spouse Margarita opened a new heating and insulation system at the Tsar Ferdinand Hospital for Pulmonary Diseases in Iskrets, a project implemented thanks to the Embassy of the Sovereign Order of Malta in Sofia and the Nando Peretti Foundation.
According to the law's provisions, the commission will have the power to investigate individuals without prior notification and would not require a criminal conviction in order to launch an investigation.
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