WikiLeaks: US CDA Report on Top Bulgarian Criminals

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Bulgaria: WikiLeaks: US CDA Report on Top Bulgarian Criminals Famous Bulgarian businessman Vasil Bozhkov, aka the Skull, for some years the richest person in Bulgaria, has been listed by American CDA, John Ordway as Bulgaria's most infamous gangster. Photo by BGNES

A diplomatic cable of the US Embassy in Sofia, dated September 11, 2009, has been released on WikiLeaks and provided to the project for investigative journalism www.bivol.bg and its affiliate BalkanLeaks.eu, bringing out CDA John Ordway's report to Washington on Bulgaria's most wanted criminals.

date: 9/11/2009 10:56

refid: 09SOFIA508

origin: Embassy Sofia

classification: SECRET//NOFORN

destination: 05SOFIA1207|05SOFIA1882|08SOFIA192|09SOFIA154

header:

VZCZCXRO3251

RR RUEHDBU RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHNP RUEHROV RUEHSL

DE RUEHSF #0508/01 2541056

ZNY SSSSS ZZH

R 111056Z SEP 09

FM AMEMBASSY SOFIA

TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 6312

INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE

RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC

RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC

RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHINGTON DC

RHMCSUU/FBI WASHINGTON DC 0269

RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC

RUEAWJA/DEPT OF JUSTICE WASHINGTON DC

RUEABND/DEA HQS WASHINGTON DC

S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 03 SOFIA 000508

NOFORN

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/28/2019

TAGS: PGOV, KCRM, KCOR, BU

SUBJECT: BULGARIA'S MOST WANTED: THE SKULL, THE BERET, THE

CHICKEN, AND THE BILLY GOAT

REF: A. REF A: 09 SOFIA 154

B. REF B: 05 SOFIA 1207

C. REF C: 05 SOFIA 1882

D. REF D: 08 SOFIA 192

Classified By: CDA John Ordway for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

1. (C) Summary:  The number and scale of deeply entrenched

organized crime (OC) groups operating in Bulgaria present a

tremendous challenge to the new government as it strains to

enforce the rule of law.  The Bulgarian mafia bosses, better

known by nicknames such as the Skull, Big Margin, and the

Beret have under previous governments been considered

untouchable.  Bringing these ring leaders to justice would be

a major victory for the new government and demonstrate to a

skeptical European Commission (and Bulgarian public) that the

days of impunity are over.  The following list of organized

crime figures is by no means exhaustive, but represents some

of the most well-known figures whose prosecution and

sentencing would signify a major step forward for the

Bulgarian government and bring us closer to the day when

mobsters like the "Chicken" are no longer free-range.  End

Summary.

BACKGROUND

----------

2. (C) According to a common Bulgarian saying, "all countries

have a mafia, but in Bulgaria the mafia has a country." Crime

bosses or "Mutri," who often are popularly known by their

colorful nicknames, are frequently seen speeding around Sofia

in their black BMWs or Mercedes SUVs followed by a group of

thickly built bodyguards.  Bulgarian OC is particularly

active in international money laundering, drug and human

trafficking, counterfeiting, and contract killing.  Of the

134 contract killings Embassy Sofia has followed since 1993,

73 percent have not made it past the police investigation

stage; there have only been a handful of arrests, and even

fewer convictions (Ref A).

THE SKULL

---------

3. (C) Bulgaria's most infamous gangster is Vasil Krumov

Bozhkov, aka "the Skull."  Bozhkov founded his first company

in 1990 before creating his current business empire, NOVE

HOLDING, comprising over 30 companies and numerous subsidies.

Bozhkov, whose wealth is valued at USD 1.5 billion, is one

of the richest men in Bulgaria and almost made the top 50

richest Eastern Europeans list in 2008.  He is now slowly

moving out of the organized crime business and primarily owns

casinos, hotels, and media outlets.  However, he is still

reportedly active in money laundering, privatization fraud,

intimidation, extortion, racketeering, and illegal antique

dealing.  He maintains close relationships with many former

government officials (Ref B).

THE MARGIN BROTHERS

-------------------

4. (C) Despite being arrested in a 2005 for planning three

assassinations and participating in organized crime (Ref C),

Krasimir "Big Margin" Marinov and his younger brother,

Nikolay "Small Margin" Marinov, remain free on bail.  The

brothers lead a well-known organized crime organization known

as Intergroup (formerly SIC), whose illegal activities

include drug trafficking (especially heroin), financial

fraud, car thefts, smuggling, extortion, racketeering, and

prostitution.  The Marinov case, which has been postponed on

at least four separate occasions, has become symbolic of the

inability of the Bulgarian courts to bring about swift

justice.  And thanks to a legal loop hole in Bulgarian law,

requiring the physical presence of all codefendants and

lawyers - who always happen to be too ill to make court dates

-  the brothers were released on bail in December 2007 and

remain at large.

THE GALEV BROTHERS

------------------

5. (C) Plamen Galev and Angel Hristov, aka "the Galev

Brothers," jumped into the spotlight in 2008 following the

revelation that then-current Interior Minister Rumen Petkov

SOFIA 00000508  002 OF 003

met with them while they were under investigation for

organized crime activities (Ref D).  The pair was later

arrested and charged with torture, prostitution, blackmail,

extortion, and drug running - before being freed and granted

temporary immunity in order to run for Parliamentary seats

during the July 5 national election.  Despite losing the

election and immunity, the Sofia City Prosecutor, Nikolay

Kokinov, quietly announced that they had been released on

bail.  Bulgaria's Supreme Court of appeals also ruled in

mid-July that the Galev case must be tried in Kyustendil

District Court rather then Sofia - thus allowing them to be

tried in an area where they have significantly more support

and have practically ruled for the last decade.

THE BERET

---------

6. (C) On February 6, the Bulgarian police apprehended the

infamous gangster Zlatomir Ivanov, aka "the Beret," for his

alleged link to three contract killings and two attempted

murders.  Many believe that Ivanov was one of the most

important Bulgarian drug kingpins as well as the mastermind

behind several of the country's emblematic execution-style

underworld killings.  The Beret has been charged with three

murders, including the murder of one of Bulgaria's notorious

drug lords, Nikola Ivanov, aka "the Beaver," who was shot

nine times in the chest and head on October 8, 2006 in an

upscale Sofia nightclub.  He was also charged with the murder

of Radoslav Velokov, aka "the Unfriendly," who was shot in

the head upon leaving the Sixth Police Precinct in Sofia

where he had been interrogated about the attempted murder of

another mafia leader.  Like the Marinov brothers, Ivanov

tried to receive immunity by running for a Parliamentary

seat, but his request was denied since charges were filed

against him before his Parliamentary bid.  According to local

press reports, the star witness in his trial has refused to

testify against Ivanov citing threats to his life.  Although

Ivanov remains in prison, it is not clear whether he will be

convicted.

THE RUSSIAN CONNECTION

----------------------

7. (S/NF)  Todor Batkov, aka "Borat," a Bulgarian lawyer and

businessman, serves as a proxy and front-man for businesses

and interests of the infamous Russian-Israeli businessman,

Michael Cherney, aka "Mikhail Chorny." The Bulgarian

government labeled Chorny a national security threat, banning

him from entering Bulgaria in 2000.  Chorny maintains

influence over his companies - including Levski football

team, Standart Newspaper, and Bankya Palace Hotel - by

transferring ownership to Batkov.  Batkov has solid political

connections - in 2008 Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov

awarded him the Stara Planina Order, the government's highest

honor, for his activities in promoting Bulgarian culture,

arts, and sports.  Batkov donates heavily to charitable

organizations for seriously ill children, orphans, the

Pirogov Emergency room, and local universities.  He also

contributed one million leva to the "You Are Not Alone"

campaign in 2007 to help free the Bulgarian medics once held

in Libyan prison and gave 11 cars to the Ministry of

Interior.  Batkov is still on the board of the Bulgarian

mobile phone company, MTel, and is managing director of

Batkov, Stoev, Botev, and Associates law firm.  He was a

close associate of the late controversial Bulgarian banker

and former Parvanov advisor, Emil Kuliev, who was gunned down

in Sofia in 2006.

THE CHICKEN AND THE BILLY GOAT

------------------------------

8. (SBU) Nikolay Metodiev, aka "the Chicken" is considered

one of the major smugglers in Bulgaria and has been

prosecuted several times for the contraband of goods.  His

nickname dates back to 1998 when he was arrested (and later

acquitted) for smuggling 11 tons of illegal chicken meat.

Metodiev was arrested again in 2003 for attempting to coerce

customs officials to allow the importation of illegal Chinese

cargo valued at USD 3.5 million.  Instead of the prosecutor's

recommended 7 year prison sentence, he was fined 700 BGN (USD

525) for "threatening" government officials.  There is a

third case pending against him for smuggling contraband,

scheduled for October 5, in which the court will have to

SOFIA 00000508  003 OF 003

interview 128 witnesses.  On February 18, a powerful bomb

destroyed a popular mafia bar in downtown Sofia owned by the

Chicken, a bar within walking distance from embassy housing.

9. (SBU) Yordan Tonov, aka "the Billy Goat" was arrested in

October 2008 along with 13 others on charges of organized

crime, drug trafficking, human trafficking, and extortion.

Tonov, a close associate of the recently convicted

Burgas-based drug lord Dimiter Zhelazkov aka "Mitko the

Eyes," allegedly is the leader of a criminal group

controlling drug trafficking and prostitution in Southwestern

Bulgaria. Ten of Tonov's accomplices, including the Eyes,

have pleaded guilty and received reduced sentences of less

than five years, while Tonov has elected to take his chances

in the Bulgarian courts.

10. (C) Comment: The ruling center-right GERB party - touting

its leader Boyko Borissov's tough-guy/former cop credentials

- swept into power this past July on promises to tackle

corruption and fight organized crime.  The GERB government

must now show the political will to take on the challenge.

The August 25 convictions of the Eyes and two Varna

"businessmen" on money-laundering, pimping, and criminal

association charges were a start, but the European Commission

has stressed that prison terms are too short and not enough

"big fish" are caught.  Bulgaria's organized crime problem

cannot be solved overnight, but the successful prosecution

and sentencing of even one of these cases would be a huge

victory for the new government, and would send a very clear

and welcome signal to the Bulgarian public.  End Comment.

ORDWAY

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