Bulgaria's Mafia War: Resolve versus Results

Editorial |Author: Maria Guineva | March 7, 2011, Monday // 19:09|  views

Last week the US Department of State released its 2011 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, whose assessment on the efforts of the Bulgarian cabinet and mainly the Interior Ministry to combat the international drug trade, can be subject to opposing interpretations, depending on what side of the political spectrum one stands on.

"The Bulgarian government has demonstrated political will to combat major organized crime rings and has begun prosecuting numerous cases where the defendants are high-level organized crime figures," the report reads.

Here is culprit – the four letter word "will" – for the ruling Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB) party and for Prime Minister, Boyko Borisov, this is certain and unprecedented praise; the opposition sees it as criticism.

Do Bulgarians want will or do they want results? We know plenty about the will. After all, GERB ran on it during the general elections and already got the voters' credit for their resolve to tackle corruption and organized crime.

Bulgaria keeps bragging to Brussels and Washington about its determination to fight crime, but when smoke subsides, it is the results that matter. The recap shows that once again, and this time around, still not even one of the emblematic underworld bosses has received an effective prison sentence, and not one of the former politicians, accused of various white-collar crimes, is in jail.

In 2010, Bulgarian authorities lost, by many accounts, their most important battle when former employee of the State Agency for National Security, DANS and controversial businessman, Aleksei Petrov, was released, first on house arrest, and then on recognizance, after spending nine months in jail. Initial charges included establishing and leading an organized crime group, racket, prostitution, illegal drugs trade, draining of the now-closed steel mill "Kremikovzi" and of the State treasury, trading in influence, money laundering and tax evasion.

These charges did not hold in court, except the racket one. Even more, they made Petrov a publically known and notorious figure, who has amply taken advantage, going as far as to announce he might run for President.

Also in 2010, Krasimir and Nikolay Marinovi aka The Marguin Brothers received not-guilty verdicts on charges of plotting three murders – Krasimir aka The Big Marguin is free on recognizance; Nikolay aka The Little Marguin was tried in absence – he disappeared right after the January murder of controversial radio host, Bobi Tsankov, and his whereabouts remain unknown.

The Marguin brothers are reputed as some of the biggest, still living, mafia bosses in Bulgaria, being among the leaders of the SIC corporation - allegedly one of Bulgaria's two powerful mafia structures in the 1990s, rivaling the VIS group. Many of the gangland killings in the country are attributed to the SIC-VIS conflict.

The trial against Zlatomir Ivanov aka The Beret, also believed to be one of the top, still living, Bulgarian underworld figures, started from scratch in November 2010, after one of the jurors was indicted for child pornography.

Zlatomir Ivanov, a heavily tattooed man in his late 30s, is charged with being the ringleader of an organized crime group dealing with illegal drug trafficking and with first-degree murder. He is currently under house arrest after complaining about stress and a urinary infection, following surgery.

Last year, the notorious pair of alleged mafia bosses from the town of Dupnitsa, Plamen Galev and Angel Hristov, known as the Galevi brothers, were acquitted on charges of leading an organized crime group dealing with extortion and racketeering.

Evgeni Milev aka Geyzo, known as member of the "Crocodile" highway robbery gang is free on bail; his brother Emil is wanted from the police and his exact location is still unknown.

Philosophy college major and leader of the opposition ethnic Turkish party, Movement for Rights and Freedom, Ahmed Dogan, who received huge consulting fees on hydro energy projects (BGN 1.5 M) while his party was in power, stands exonerated on conflict of interest charges.

The Chair of Varna's municipal council, Borislav Gutsanov, has been released on bail on charges of committing economic crimes involving Varna's transport and municipal budgets.

Just hours ago, former Defense Minister, Nikolay Tsonev, was acquitted on the third and last count of abuse of power; recently, the former CEO of the State Fund Agriculture, Asen Drumev, was declared not guilty on all counts of signing deals unfavorable for the Fund and the State budget, and of embezzling millions from the EU SAPARD program. Trials are pending for embezzlement against Emiliya Maslarova, former Socialist Minister of Labor and Social Policy in the previous Three-Way Coalition cabinet, and for concluding unfavorable deals for Bozhidar Nanev, the first Health Minister in the GERB cabinet.

In 2010, Bulgarian prosecutors claimed one single victory in a high-profile corruption case - Mario Nikolov was sentenced to 10 years in jail over document fraud and abuse of SAPARD funds and to 12 years on another count - draining of SAPARD funds

Bulgarian courts and magistrates usually take the blame for the failed efforts to bring criminals to justice. This has been the mantra of Interior Minister, Tsvetan Tsvetanov, while one of the most famous sayings of PM Borisov, dating from the times he was Chief Secretary of the Interior is: "I catch them; they let them go."

The truth of the matter is that the entire law enforcement system in the country needs serious revamping and replacements. There are corrupt people at any level in Bulgaria, so certainly there are a number of corrupt judges as well. However, hundreds of civil cases, business disputes and divorces are tried in Bulgaria daily without many complaints.

When politicians attack the Court, they must first and foremost take a serious look at the investigation and the prosecution because this is where the failures start in most cases – with them either being unable to send sound evidence to the judge or purposely concealing and/or offering useless one. Even in Bulgaria, magistrates cannot sentence on the presumption of guilt; they do in based on proof.

Meanwhile, during this same week when the US State Department published the report, a notorious lowlife, a known thug and alleged murderer, free on appeal, driving way above the speed limit, smashed his armored Mercedes SUV head-on into a Kia van, killing two and sending three to the hospital in critical condition.

Yosif Yosifov aka Yosko, who never held a decent job in his life, who was drunk at the time of the accident, murdered in an instant two men on their way to work, leaving a toddler and a teenager without fathers.

In addition to being involved in the murder plot of drug lord, Kosio Samokovetsa, in illegal drug trade and shady business deals, Yosko has three traffic tickets just in the capital Sofia with suspicions of many more traffic violations that never entered the traffic police registry.

Bulgaria's "war on wheels," claiming so many lives every year, is also a law enforcement failure – if traffic cops have not been so busy for years collecting bribes and closing their eyes for violations, belligerent "mutras" in armored SUVs would have long ago stopped harassing disciplined drivers and pedestrians by speeding, cutting-off and parking in travel lanes.

As if this could be any retribution, Yosko is one of the three listed in the hospital with serious injuries and when he recovers, he might finally spent some jail time for reckless homicide.

So, after all, it seems Bulgarian mafia's impunity, impudence and stupidity remain the strongest weapon against the country's organized crime – even though a handful still walk free, untouchable and unpunished, having long ago legalized their wealth, most of Bulgaria's crime bosses from the transition period are gone by now – not because they were arrested and sent to jail, but because they killed each other in the gangland street war.

The downside is that this would never be enough consolation for the kidnap, robbery and car theft victims, for the families of the drug addicts and for scores of other innocent people, who just happened to walk or drive on the country's streets and roads.

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Tags: Nikolay Tsonev, Emiliya Maslarova, SAPARD, Mario Nikolov, Geyzo, Yosko, The Beret, Ahmed Dogan, galevi, The Marguin brothers, Aleksei Petrov, DANS, prosecution, investigation, judge, magistrates, courts, court, organized crime, corruption, mafia, Tsvetan Tsvetanov, GERB, Boyko Borisov, International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, US Department of State, Asen Drumev


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