The Bulgaria 2012 Review: Crime and Courts

January 7, 2013, Monday // 08:10 ; Maria Guineva
Bulgaria: The Bulgaria 2012 Review: Crime and Courts
Sotir Tsatsarov will be Bulgaria's Chief Prosecutor for the next 7 years in spite of his controversial appoitnment. Photo by BGNES

In 2012, Bulgaria's own Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov, who has been claiming for two years that crime is under control and largely neutralized, suddenly described the country as an "oasis for organized crime".

True to his style, the Minister kept bashing the judicial system for not issuing the anticipated guilty verdicts in high-profile cases. At the very end of the year, he accused a mystery magistrate of leaking classified data for upcoming special police operations to suspects.

Chief Prosecutor, Boris Velchev, left his seat vacant slightly ahead of schedule to become a constitutional judge after President, Rosen Plevneliev nominated him. The election of his successor is forthcoming all while Bulgarian sank in a serious constitutional crisis after two nominations for constitutional magistrates from the parliamentary quota crashed in a scandal sending shockwaves all the way to Brussels. Controversial Plovdiv Judge, Sotir Tsatsarov, was elected by the Supreme Judicial Council, VSS, as Velchev's replacement, despite allegations of tax evasion and too much leaning for guilty verdicts.

Former Justice Minister and current Vice President-elect, Margarita Popova, renewed calls for abolishing the life-without-parole sentence, saying it is cruel and inhuman.

At the very end of the year, amendments to a bill authorizing the confiscation of illegal assets passed on second reading in the Bulgarian Parliament.

In October, the bill was vetoed by Bulgaria's Constitutional Court, as it granted authorities the right to launch probes and seize unexplained wealth, worth more than BGN 250 000 which has been acquired over the last fifteen years.

The Constitutional Court attacked that provision and suggested instead a period of ten years. Lawmakers accepted the Court's ruling and voted in favor of the ten-year period in favor. The law sets out a regime for non-conviction based asset forfeiture – the commission in charge will be entitled to launch proceedings if it can make reasonable assumption that the property is illegally acquired.

The procedure will be launched if the person is indicted of terrorism, participation in an organized criminal group, kidnapping, enticement to prostitution, human trafficking, theft, robbery, embezzlement, unprofitable deals with drugs, tax evasion, as well as hiding precious goods, which is usually punished with probation or just a fine.

In 2012, Bulgaria's government officially established the National Council for Crime Prevention, a unit intended to improve coordination and partnership between law enforcement bodies. It is chaired by Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov.

Bulgaria and the world were shaken by the first terror act on the country's soil when a yet identified bomber killed 5 Israeli tourists, their Bulgarian bus driver and himself at the Sarafovo airport of the Black Sea city of Burgas on July 18.

Nevertheless, Tsvetanov and Prime Minister, Boyko Borisov reiterated times and times again that Bulgarian cabinet and police received much praise from US and EU partners for the investigation in the Burgas attack, the will and the efforts to combat corruption and crime and to carry out the judicial reform.

The Interior Minister spent weeks at the end of the year, meeting top US senior security officials in Washington DC. Chief Secretary of the Interior, Kalin Georgiev, also traveled there. The American accolade reached new heights at the meeting between Borisov and US President, Barack Obama, less than a month after the latter's reelection for second term in office.

At the very end of the year, Boyko Naydenov, interim Chief Prosecutor and head of Bulgaria's National Investigative Service, criticized the lack of results in fighting corruption and thefts in 2012. Naydenov informed that 2012 records included only two trials against customs officers, two trials against tax officers, one in the healthcare sector, and nine against senior public officials such as Ministers, Deputy Ministers, Mayors, District Governors, etc. He went on to say that as much as 400 000 theft trials against unknown offenders had been stopped.

In the aftermath of the Arab spring and the Syrian conflict, Bulgaria's border police saw an unprecedented influx of illegal immigrants crossing the border with Turkey from countries such as the Ivory Coast, Algeria, Syria, Iraq, Palestine, Turkey, and Libya.

Customs officers and border police also busted large amounts of illegal drugs, contraband cigarettes, bootleg alcohol, and a number of other smuggled goods.

Bulgarian police intercepted and halted again several of illegal treasure hunting channels and criminal antiques deals.

The National Revenue Agency (NRA), reported that the number of people convicted of tax crimes in 2011 has tripled in two years, according to the annual report of Bulgaria's prosecuting authority, as cited by

The capital Sofia witnessed a number of brazen robberies of banks and safety vaults such as the break in in the vault of DSK Bank, the armed robbery at a currency exchange bureau and a bank in Studentski Grad (College Town), a raid on an office of insurance company Alianz, the armed robbery at a hotel on a major boulevard.

An armed robbery took place at the Central Dressing Factory in Bulgaria's western city of Pernik, owned by shady energy tycoon Hristo Kovachki, with three robbers stealing some BGN 162 000 (nearly EUR 83 000) in salary money.

Two attempts to steal ATMs from bank walls were registered in Pernik and two in Sofia. A bank branch was robbed in the Black Sea city of Burgas.

Following the 2011 wave of setting vehicles on fire, (which continued in 2012, but weakened with time), a new trend of bomb threats targeting court buildings, shopping malls, schools, colleges, the central post office, the airport, and the central mosque spread in the capital Sofia and several major cities. Police did not discover explosive devices. More than a dozen of high school students were arrested for making the fake bomb threat calls in November and December.

In November, Bulgaria's embassy in Serbia's capital Belgrade also received a bomb threat.

Burgas Bombing

Five Israeli tourists and a Bulgarian bus driver were killed in the July 18 terrorist attack in the Bulgarian Black Sea city of Burgas. 32 Israeli tourists were injured. Israeli and American intelligence and officials largely blame Hezbollah for the attack.

However, Bulgarian officials, including the President, the Prime Minister, and the Foreign Affairs Minister, have been very wary of directly involving Hezbollah, reiterating it all depended on the findings of the ongoing investigation.

European diplomats were quoted saying that he results of Bulgaria's probe in July's bombing of an Israeli tour bus, including a possible Hezbollah lead, will be "essential" for the EU process to list the Lebanese organization as a terrorist entity.

The US included Hezbollah in the list of terrorist organizations as early as 1995.

In the eve of the visit of Prime Minister, Boyko Borisov, to Washington DC, and his December 3 meeting with US President, Barack Obama, the new US Ambassador in Sofia, Marcie Ries, stressed Obama was expecting to hear from Borisov the latest developments in the probe in the Burgas terror act.

Also in December, US Senators Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), Bob Casey (D-PA), and James Risch (R-ID) coauthored and submitted a resolution, urging the EU to sanction Lebanese Hezbollah for terrorism, in the aftermath of the Burgas bombing.

Meanwhile, Interpol announced they were going to restart the search for the perpetrator(s) of the terror act. The search will involve sifting through Interpol's database, and the republishing of the attacker's picture.

Interpol experts are to arrive in Bulgaria to help local services to find false, stolen, or lost ID documents since it is known that terrorists and criminals often use them.

In December, interim Chief Prosecutor, Boyko Naydenov, informed that a reenactment is going to be used in the investigation.

The reenactment will involve blowing up a bus to find out how exactly the attack was carried out.

Naydenov further said that a team of investigators and prosecutors works on solving the case on daily basis, interrogating witnesses and talking to any international institution that could offer some information and leads.

At the same time, Interior Minister, Tsvetan Tsvetanov, announced that the perpetrators were three to four individuals, and all of them were foreigners, who never resided in the country.

Tsvetanov reiterated the probe was going in the right direction and results would be made available to the public very soon, explaining the investigators now knew not only the number of people involved in the bloody act, but also the identity of some of them. He insisted once again that for the time being details must remain classified.

The Minister stressed Bulgaria was leading the investigation and until Bulgarian authorities announce their conclusions, he would abstain from offering opinions on "what other countries were saying." He denied reports that the US have been pressured Bulgaria to admit Hezbollah's involvement.

The initial lead, purported by Tsvetanov, was that the blast has been executed by a suicide bomber, who arrived from abroad.

Observers and terror experts dismissed the lead saying the most sustainable hypothesis is that the perpetrator has been used as a mule and the young man with light complexion and blue eyes had been blown remotely, being unaware that he was going to die.

Remains of the man recovered from the scene of the fatal attack were used to create an image showing his possible appearance as part of an appeal for public assistance in identifying him.

The days immediately after the Burgas Bus Bombing saw initial media reports that Mehdi Ghezali, a Swedish citizen and former Guantanamo inmate, was a possible suspect, but this information was quickly repudiated by the police authorities of Bulgaria and Sweden, which, however, made no mention of Ghezali's current location and occupation, and provided no grounds to base their claims.

Officials in Trouble with the Law

Ex-Mayor Sentenced to Jail

In January, the Bulgarian Supreme Court of Cassations confirmed a3.5-year jail sentence of Fidel Beev, former Mayor of the town of Velingrad and ex MP from the ethnic Turkish party DPS.

Beev was sentenced for malfeasance and criminal breach of trust during his term as Mayor of Velingrad in making an illegal fuel supply contract which granted the public tender to one of his own companies. Beev was first sentenced by the Sofia City Court in 2009; he appealed the ruling after that.

Ex Deputy Foreign Minister Sentenced to Jail

In January, the Sofia Regional Court sentenced Feim Chaushev, former Deputy Foreign Minister, to three years and six months of imprisonment for being an intermediary in a car theft scheme. He was arrested in March 2011 for assisting the return of a stolen vehicle to its owner, a Turkish citizen, against ransom.

Chaushev, who is an ethnic Turk, had to resign as a Deputy Foreign Minister when it was revealed that he had been using in business deals a double identity that he "inherited" from the so called Revival Process – the campaign of the communist regime in the late 1980s to force Bulgarian Muslims to take up Slavic Christian names.

Bulgarian Finance Minister Cleared on Charges of Classified Leak

In February, Bulgaria's prosecutor's office suspended pre-trial proceedings against Finance Minister Simeon Djankov on accusations of leaking classified information on grounds of lack of evidence.

The proceedings were launched in July 2010 over an alleged leakage of classified information about the agreement between the central bank BNB and the previous Socialist-led government when Djankov disclosed publically a secret arrangement between his predecessor and the BNB governor to deposit part of the fiscal reserve in private banks.

Mayor Sentenced to Jail for Abuse of Power

In March, Rumen Rashev, former mayor of Bulgaria's medieval capital Veliko Tarnovo, was sentenced to three years in jail on charges of abuse of power.

In April, Rashev was found guilty in abusing his authority and causing monetary damage to the city in overstepping his powers by offering a municipality-owned land plot to a private construction company. He filed an appeal only to be handed down a tougher sentence. He vowed to file again an appeal and claims the trial is politically motivated.

Ex Health Insurance Fund Head Faces Corruption Charges

It was announced in May that Bulgaria's former Health Insurance Fund, NZOK, director, Neli Nesheva, who resigned earlier in the year over a bonus scandal, was to be prosecuted on corruption allegations.

The "Nesheva" scandal flared up after MPs from the right-wing Blue Coalition released for the media documents showing that all while NZOK is in shambles, its employees have received in 2011 over BGN 2 M in bonuses, of which BGN 30 000 went to its Head. She admitted getting the bonuses, deemed well-deserved by her, but resigned under public and PM Borisov's pressure.

Notorious Ethnic Turkish Leader Probed for Tax Evasion

In June, after 4 years of delays, Bulgaria's Prosecutors Office finally launched a probe in the notorious properties presumed to be owned by the leader of the ethnic Turkish party Movement for Rights and Freedoms, DPS, Ahmed Dogan, on allegations of tax evasion and other tax crimes.

The National Revenue Agency, NRA, after a delay and change of leadership, finally sent to the Parliament two letters disclosing curious facts such as the properties being purchased for very low prices and sustaining huge losses while in business, but still securing large credit loans from several banks. Most of the buildings are owned and maintained by a same "circle" of companies, connected to Minstroy Holding, managed by the former Vice President of the ex Multigroup business empire, Nikolay Valkanov.

The properties case was given for an audit to NRA, which, upon conclusion of the probe sent the findings to Prosecutor's Office.

The Holding is also linked to the so-called Tsankov Kamak scandal with Dogan allegedly pocketing BGN 1.5 M as a consultant of four large-scale hydroelectricity projects. In January, Bulgaria's parliamentary commission on corruption brought back on the agenda the graft allegations against the DPS leader, after he was acquitted in 2011 on charges he illegally received huge consulting fees for the projects while his party was in power. The ruling was final and is not subject to appeal. Dogan holds a philosophy degree and has no qualifications in civil engineering.

Dogan has lived for many years, and lives, in the Boyana "Saray" even though the property is not listed under his name. He is rumored to have created corruption networks of clients and nepotism connections, but these allegations, while circulating freely in the Bulgarian media and society, have not been proven legally, and have not been recognized as illegal and/or threatening activities by state institutions.

Former Chief Bulgarian "Spy" Probed for Embezzlement

In June, Sofia Military District Prosecutor's Office launched an investigation on embezzlement of funds by the former Head of Bulgaria's National Intelligence Service, General Kircho Kirov. Kirov was released from office after a mysterious report came forward, which denoted serious financial violations in the Service.

At the same time rumors surfaced that the then-member of Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov's Advisory Council and head of the Center for Prevention of Organized Crime and Corruption (BORKOR) – General Rumen Milanov pressured for the report to be concealed. Milanov firmly denied such claims, but was nevertheless removed from all offices. In turn the Sofia Military District Prosecutor's Office announced a top secret checkup, which results were not to be disclosed.

Ex National Revenue Head Exonerated

In June, the Sofia Appellate Court (SAC) exonerated Maria Murgina, former Head of the National Revenue Agency (NRA), of malfeasance in office.

In January 2011, the Sofia City Court declared Murgina guilty on two out of four counts.

The ex NRA Director was found guilty of ordering a chief inspector to enter false data into a company's audit report, thereby preventing the collection of BGN 1.32 M in corporate taxes from the firm. The court of first instance also found Murgina guilty of pressuring a former Director of the NRA unit in Silistra, into resigning.

The trial against the former NRA Director kicked off in 2009 at the initiative of the State Agency for National Security (DANS), which deiced to strip her of the right to access to classified information.

Bulgarian Ex-Agriculture Head Gets Away with Diploma Forgery

In June, Kalina Ilieva, the notorious former head of Bulgaria's Agriculture Fund, received a 3-year suspended sentence with a five-year period of probation for forging her own university diploma.

The Sofia District Court's controversial ruling followed a plea bargain on behalf of Ilieva after she admitted to forging her diploma, telling the court she only has high-school education. The prosecutor took into consideration the facts that she is the mother of a young child and has no criminal record.

Kalina Ilieva, former CEO of the Bulgarian Agriculture Fund, never took any classes and never went to any lectures at the University for Engineering and Economics in Berlin. According to the indictment, between September 30 and November 28 2007, Ilieva produced a false document – a master's degree diploma dated October 4, 2007, with her name and personally forged the signatures of two German professors.

Ilieva was dismissed from the post at the beginning of October 2010, after it became clear she tried to conceal her pregnancy from her superiors. Prime Minister Borisov, said at the time she lied to him she had a tumor in order to explain her gaining weight while Agriculture Minister, Miroslav Naydenov, announced she told him she was going to Germany to undergo surgery, only to learn days later she had given birth.

In the aftermath, it was also revealed that Ilieva's university diploma from Germany was forged and the German prosecutor began a probe against her. The German investigation was halted after it became clear the diploma had not been forged on German territory. Kalina Ilieva is the daughter of former Sofia fire brigade chief Iliya Iliev, who is a friend of Prime Minister Boyko Borisov.

Customs Chief Exonerated of Leaking Classified Information

In July, the Sofia City Court issued a not-guilty verdict for the Director of Bulgaria's Customs Agency, Vanyo Tanov, on charges of revealing classified State secrets.

Tanov was on own recognizance since February 2012, after he was charged with leaking classified information over recklessness. The charges stemmed from an interview where he, allegedly, revealed some classified data about the State Reserve.

Opposition Socialist MPs took the case to Court, insisting Tanov had disclosed where Bulgaria keeps its war reserves. The Prosecutor concluded that he has not done it deliberately but over recklessness. Tanov denied any wrongdoing and suspects everything was staged by the country's shady business.

Railways CEO Charged with Dereliction

In August, the Sofia City Prosecutor's Office charged Hristo Monov, an ex CEO of the highly indebted Bulgarian State Railways BDZ, with a dereliction of duty. The charges have been investigated and prepared by a specialized unit combating corruption and financial and tax fraud.

Monov, who was the CEO of BDZ between March 2008 and October 2009, is accused of deliberately failing to put enough effort into the management, governance, and protection of the property of BDZ, and of failing to execute a contract that resulted in a loss for BDZ amounting to BGN 170 000.

Monov is already facing charges over the purchase of 30 second-hand sleeping cars during his term in charge of BDZ, which is alleged to have resulted in the loss of BGN 24 M for the state company.

Before becoming the CEO of BDZ, Monov has had a long career at various senior positions at the Bulgarian State Railways. Some journalistic investigations have mentioned his name among the officials responsible for allowing Bulgaria's emerging organized crime groups to use the railways to sell entire freight trains of embargoed oil to the Milosevic regime in the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s. However, these alleged crimes were never formally investigated or prosecuted.

GERB MP Accused of Trading Influence

In September, the Sofia City Court released from custody Dimitar Avramov, a former MP of Bulgaria's ruling center-right GERB.

Avramov, 35, was detained in July during a special operation of GDBOP, DANS, and the Sofia City Prosecutor's Office. He was charged with trading influence in asking and receiving BGN 50 000 to exert pressure on an employee from the Regional Directorate "Agriculture" to grant subsidies for farming lands. The owner of the lands is the person who alerted the authorities.

Avramov gave up his MP immunity voluntarily. However, judges believe he was forced to do so by the ruling GERB. He was also expelled from party ranks.

The lawmaker was arrested just one day prior to the highly critical EC report under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism on the country's progress in justice and home affairs. In 2011, Avramov was sentenced to pay a fine for lobbyism in proposing amendments to the Farming Lands Act.

Gambling Commission Chief Guilty of Battery

In September, the head of Bulgaria's State Gambling Commission, Kaloyan Krastev, was found guilty by the Court in Sofia of beating one of his subordinates, but got away with only a fine. He denied the accusations but the court ruled based on witness testimonies and medical tests.

Krastev's trial began in 2011 after an employee of the State Gambling Commission, filed a suit claiming he was beaten by his boss after he refused to resign. According to the claimant, Krastev purged those employees of the institution who he deemed inconvenient and was boasting all the time that Finance Minister Simeon Djankov was his classmate in the Lovech Foreign Language High School.

Road Agency Officials Arrested for Corruption

A total of six Bulgarian officials, including Road Infrastructure Agency Department Head, Alexander Koserkov, were detained in October in a special police operation.

According to the police, the six men nabbed by GDBOP, were using their positions as civil servants to prevent inspections by mobile groups for collecting road fees, thus incurring losses to the State budget. All six detainees face charges of criminal breach of trust. Besides Koserkov's name, little is known about the other five persons who were arrested. Three of them were released on bail.

Varna Police Spokesperson Sacked for Insulting Citizen

In October, Interior Minister Tsvetanov fired Kalinka Pencheva, the police spokesperson who publicly insulted a man in the Black Sea city of Varna. The man, Boyan Maximov, took a picture of 3 police officers, apparently asleep in the patrol car, and spread it on social networks and later on TV, in what he says was a protest against the laziness and the incompetence of Bulgarian police.

As a result, Maximov was reportedly harassed by police authorities, with police constantly stopping him and fining him on petty grounds such as not carrying an ID card when taking the trash out or walking his dog without a leash. Varna police spokesperson Kalina Pencheva commented on the case, telling the bTV private channel that Maximov is "a fool; a redneck fool, who has nothing to do and is bored."

Interior Minister Cleared on Libel Charges

In October, the Plovdiv Regional Court acquitted Interior Minister Tsvetanov in the libel case initiated by Miroslava Todorova, Chair of the Bulgarian Judges Association (BJA).

Miroslava Todorova, a judge at the Sofia City Court (SCC), filed a libel lawsuit against the Minister with the Sofia Regional Court in February 6. The step was triggered by two consecutive interviews of the Interior Minister in which he accused her of incompetence and of patronizing organized crime.

Todorova was not seeking a monetary award and if the Interior Minister was found guilty, he would have been penalized with a public reprimand and a fine of BGN 5000-15000 which will go into the State coffers. The proceedings were ordered relocated to the Plovdiv-based court by the Supreme Court of Cassation (VKS) due to the fact that Todorova is a judge at the Sofia City Court. The well-known Bulgarian judge, who is a harsh government critic, is appealing the acquittal.

Ex Defense Minister Cleared on Bribery Charges

In October, the Sofia City Court cleared the former Defense Minister Nikolay Tsonev, former Chief Secretary of the Finance Ministry Tencho Popov, and Judge Petar Santirov, of bribery charges.

Tsonev, Santirov and Popov were charged with attempting to bribe investigator Petyo Petrov to get a positive outcome of another investigation against Tsonev.

Tsonev, member of the former Three-Way Coalition Cabinet (2009-2009), was arrested in April 2010. He has been cleared of malfeasance charges for alleged crimes committed in 1999. The former Defense Minister was also acquitted on a count of criminal breach of trust committed in 1999 in his capacity as an employee of the Defense Ministry.

In the aftermath, Interior Minister Tsvetanov argued that the bribery case must be inspected by the EC; refuted allegations of the defendants that the process had been an act of political repression, and rejected claims that the Interior Ministry abused its right to use special surveillance devices.

MPs Tried for Malfeasance

In October, Mithat Tabakov and Gyunay Sefer, from the ethnic Turkish party, gave up their immunity as MPs, thereby agreeing for criminal investigation procedures to be opened against them. Two pre-trial proceedings are underway against Tabakov and Sefer on suspicion of document fraud and malfeasance in office.

Also in October, the Sofia City Court sentenced Tabakov to four years in prison for accepting an exceptionally large bribe. Tabakov, in his capacity of mayor of the Dulovo municipality, was charged with accepting BGN 10 000 from the manager of Water Supply and Sewerage OOD in Silistra to grant him a public tender contract for water piping replacement in a nearby village. Tabakov claimed that the transferred money was a loan to repair his car.

This is the second trial against the DPS MP. In December 2011, the Sofia City Court sentenced Tabakov to five years of imprisonment over signing a damaging deal. He was found guilty of criminal breach of trust by signing an unfavorable contract in his capacity of Mayor of the Municipality of Dulovo in 2009. Tabakov is appealing the rule.

Sefer is a former District Governor of the northeastern city of Silistra.

Ex Registry Agency CEO Charged with Abuse of Power

In November, the Prosecutor's Office pressed legal charges against Violeta Nikolova, the former Executive Director of the Bulgarian Registry Agency.

According to the indictment, between July 2011 and December 2011, in her capacity of CEO, she had embezzled State budget money in the amount of BGN 53 000 from funds she was in charge of managing. In order to benefit herself, and three employees, she has abused her power in office.

Nikolova was dismissed in February 2012 over the poor results of an audit of the institution and awarding to herself a total of BGN 73 000 in bonus payments for 2011.

"Toploto" Close to Being Exonerated on All Counts

In November, the money laundering trial against Valentin Dimitrov, aka Valyo Toploto, former Director of heating utility Toplofikatsiya Sofia, which is underway at the Sofia City Court, was postponed once again for January 2013, because one of the judges had been admitted to hospital for surgery.

In a different case, in June 15, 2012 the Sofia Appellate Court, SAC, acquitted Dimitrov of large-scale embezzlement from the heating utility, revoked the confiscation of all of his entire property and restored his right to hold managerial posts. The SAC ruling revoked the verdict of the Sofia City Court, which had sentenced the former CEO of the heating utility to 14 years of imprisonment in June 2009.

In end of 2011, the Sofia City Court revoked a sentence of five years of imprisonment handed to Dimitrov by the Sofia Regional Court in 2008 for violations of the Currency Act. In 2008, the Sofia Regional Court declared Dimitrov guilty of failing to declare deals worth over BGN 10 M before the Bulgarian National Bank (BNB) as a manager of the Pro Mark EOOD company.

On December 22, 2011, the SCC revoked the decision of the first-instance court in its entirety and returned the case to the Sofia Regional Prosecutor's Office.

Ex Prosecutor Sentenced for Malfeasance

In December, Bulgaria's Supreme Court of Cassation (VKS) upheld the one-year suspended sentence with 3 months of probation of Slavcho Karzhev, former head of the Sofia Regional Prosecutor's Office.

Karzhev was charged with malfeasance in office and was declared guilty by the Courts of first and second instance. He was accused of pressuring a subordinate into returning a vehicle which had been the subject of an ownership dispute. Karzhev was acquitted on charges of exceeding his authority as regional prosecutor on two occasions, persuading the parties to civil actions to reach plea agreement. The decision of VKS is final and cannot be appealed.

Mayor Charged with Malfeasance

In December, Zlatko Zhivkov, Mayor of the northwestern Bulgarian town of Montana, was charged with malfeasance in office and with embezzling BGN 700 000 in receipts from municipal waste disposal fee. According to the prosecuting authority, Zhivkov signed a public procurement contract in disregard of conflict of interest.

Ex Health Minister Acquitted in Full

In December, the Sofia Appellate Court confirmed the not-guilty verdict of former Health Minister Bozhidar Nanev on charges of inflicting damages for the Health Ministry and State. Nanev was acquitted in March. However, prosecutors later appealed the verdict.

According to the prosecution, Nanev was guilty for inflicting damages of over BGN 2 M, which is the difference between the price offered by the British National Health Services through the British Embassy in Sofia and the price negotiated by the Ministry with "Roche Bulgaria" for the antiviral medicine Tamiflu.

In July 2009, Nanev was appointed as the first Health Minister of the newly elected GERB Cabinet. He resigned from the post at the end of March, 2010, after prosecutors indicted him. Two more Health Ministers have been sacked by GERB since March 2010.

Mayor Acquitted on Charges of Abuse of Power

In mid-December, a Bulgarian district court acquitted Yordan Lechkov, football legend and former Mayor of Sliven, who was charged with abuse of power.

This was the first trial in a series of other ones against the ex-Mayor to be handled by the Court in Sliven. Until now, the cases were tried in other courts because of the widespread practice of self-withdrawals of Sliven magistrates.

Lechkov was charged with abuse of power because while in office as Mayor he has ordered a school principal to stop a public tender for repairs of the school building and hire a particular company to execute them. There are currently five different cases against him at different stages and one not-guilty verdict.

Yordan Lechkov, currently also a Vice President of the Bulgarian Football Federation, was a key member of the historically best Bulgarian national football team, who went on to grab the fourth place at the 1994 FIFA World Cup in the USA. At the local elections in October, Lechkov, endorsed by the ruling GERB, ran for a second term in office, but was defeated by Socialist Kolio Milev.

New Allegations of Bulgaria's Prime Minister Borisov Past Ties with the Underworld

In December, a leaked report of German's special services once again implicated Borisov in illegal activities in the past. In the report, an illegal drug trafficker is cited calling Borisov, at the time when was Chief Secretary of the Interior, "Big Brother."

In 2006, a Court in Munich has sentenced 11 individuals to a total of 65 years for heroin trafficking. The ringleader of the organized crime group is identified as Alexander Alexandrov. Law enforcement from a total of 12 countries have taken part in the operation to bust the heroin channel. Alexandrov has been arrested in mid-December 2004 in Macedonia with an arrest warrant issued in Munich.

Two months before this arrest, in October 2004, the Bavarian Customs investigation has interrogated one of the suspects, Bulgarian national Slavcho Georgiev, AKA Paluch, who has been one of the couriers of the gang. He told the German investigation that Sasho (Alexandrov) had shared on several occasions that he had been meeting with "the Big Brother, meaning Bulgaria's Interior Minister, Borisov, Boyko." At the time, Borisov was not Interior Minister, but Chief Secretary of the Interior – two titles that are often confused in foreign reports.

German Publication Links Borisov to Past Criminal Deeds

A German investigative report of the Berlin-based Tageszeitung disclosed in May that the source SIMO in secret cables of the US Embassy in Sofia, exposing Bulgarian Prime Minister, Boyko Borisov, as participant in criminal activities, was a codename for the CIA.

The latter has been confirmed by a former CIA Department Chief, saying diplomats are banned from using the name of the intelligence agency in cables. Many cables, sent from other countries, also use information from the SIMO source.

In 2011, WikiLeaks and its official partner for Bulgaria, the site for investigative journalism Bivol.bg published a cable written by former US Ambassador in Sofia, John Beyrle, titled: BULGARIA'S MOST POPULAR POLITICIAN: GREAT HOPES, MURKY TIES. In it, the diplomat writes that the current Prime Minister of Bulgaria was linked in the past "to oil-siphoning scandals, illegal deals involving LUKoil and major traffic in methamphetamines," and that "information from SIMO tends to substantiate these allegations."

At the time, Borisov dismissed the cables as rumors, Chief Prosecutor, Boris Velchev, snubbed them, saying they do not include enough grounds to presume any criminal activity, while the US Embassy in Sofia stated the cables were often "incomplete analyses."

"Would Borisov have remained in office if the American secret service CIA had declared itself a key witness in the allegations against the Prime Minister?" Taz asked.

Former MP Asks for Probe against Borisov

In July, Bulgarian lawyer, Mincho Spasov, sent a letter to Chief Prosecutor, Boris Velchev, requesting an investigation of Borisov, and former President, Georgi Parvanov, over the notorious case dubbed "Misho the Beer."

Spasov, a former Chairman of the Parliamentary Legal Committee, cites article 23 of the Penal Code as grounds to start legal proceedings against the two, pointing at admissions of Borisov that the scandalous recording of his conversation with Customs Head, Vanyo Tanov, regarding the late businessman Mihail Mihov AKA Misho the Beer was authentic.

The PM made the admission during a conversation with prominent Bulgarian bloggers Komitata (Konstantin Pavlov) and Asen Genov, in telling them that Parvanov has called him to ask him to stop a tax and Customs probe at Mihov's brewery. The bloggers, who created the site Politikat.net, which tracks how promises made by the government and the PM are being fulfilled (or not fulfilled), were personally invited for the talk by Borisov.

In the letter to Velchev, Spasov stressed that the two senior politicians have exerted illegal pressure and committed abuse of power in breaching the law. He reminded the Chief Prosecutor that in a statement to the media in June 2011, he refused to investigate Borisov's alleged past ties with organized crime as reported in the US classified diplomatic cables.

In March 2011, Mihov's body was found in the RIU Pravets Resort Hotel, in the town of Pravets, northeast of Sofia, which, according to unofficial information is owned by tycoon Valentin Zlatev, the CEO of Lukoil Bulgaria. According to official autopsy results, Mihov has passed away from "fast heart failure over acute coronary deficiency."

At a press conference in 2010, the anti-government Galeria weekly released a tape of the conversation between Borisov and Tanov, alleging that Borisov provided a cover-up for Mihov. The authenticity of the compromising tape was never unconditionally proven. Borisov and Tanov admitted of having phone conversations about Mihov, but insisted the recordings were tempered with to implicate them in something they never committed. Only Tanov's former Deputy, Antoniy Strandzhev, who had also been taped, confirmed the authenticity of the recordings.

Bulgaria in the Human Rights Court in Strasbourg

There are 700 trials at the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights, opened after complaints of Bulgarian citizens about the excessive length and inefficiency of judicial proceedings, and Bulgaria is to pay a total of EUR 51 200 in compensations.

The latest batch of 17 trials lasted between five years and eight months and eighteen years and the delays were solely the fault of the judiciary. Bulgaria has already paid over BGN 11 M on cases lost at the ECtHR.

Ex PM Lukanov's Murder

In December, the ECtHR sentenced Bulgaria to pay Yuriy Lenev EUR 27 000 in damages for torture and lack of an effective investigation in the murder of former Prime Minister Andrey Lukanov.

Lenev was one of the five defendants in the case, but Bulgaria's Supreme Court cleared the five in 2007 and the verdict was final. A few months later – in August 2007 - a Bulgarian military court acquitted the three policemen, charged with torturing Lenev into confessions.

Lukanov was killed on 2 October 1996 in front of his Sofia home. He was a member of the Moscow-trained Bulgarian communist elite, served as government head from the Socialist Party from 1989 to 1990.

Lenev was arrested in June 1999 and taken to what was later described as "the house of the horrors" in the town of Koprivshtitsa. According to his submissions, he did not resist arrest, but was tortured during the trip and the questioning in the house when he confessed that he had taken part in a plot to assassinate Lukanov. On the following day, Lenev was taken back to Sofia and charged with accessory to premeditated murder. Two medical examinations noted injuries of the skull and to the fingers.

During the first months after his arrest, Lenev maintained his initial confession, as did his co-accused. Later they changed their position and stated that they had never been involved in the alleged assassination plot and that their confessions had been extracted under torture.

The Court in Strasbourg found that Lenev's injuries were inflicted intentionally for the purpose of obtaining a confession, and that the Bulgarian courts had failed to give a plausible explanation of the origin of those injuries.

Bulgaria Sentenced for Failing to Protect Right of Life

In November, ECtHR found Bulgaria guilty of failing to protect the right to life of a convict who was killed in a police operation led by PM Borisov in his capacity of police Chief Secretary.

The case relates to events back in 2003 when businessman Todor Todorov aka Chakara had to be detained to serve 6 months in prison for giving premises owned him to be used as а brothel.

Todorov, however, refused to surrender to the police, and instead barricaded himself in a cabin in southern Bulgaria. In the much-publicized police operation numerous heavily armed officers, under Borisov's command, besieged Todorov's house. They used a grenade launcher against the house and caused a fire, which eventually resulted in the convict's death.

In its decision, the Court in Strasbourg determined that the Bulgarian police had used inordinately excessive force against the convict, knowing he was alone inside, and did not respect his right to live. According to the rule, Bulgaria has to pay Todorov's widow and two sons EUR 50 000 in damages.

Earlier, a Bulgarian military court did not find any breaches in the actions of the police. The official police version was that Todorov blew himself up with a hand grenade. In interviews after the tragic incident Borisov has stated that he assumes all responsibility for the operation, which according to him was flawlessly executed.

Bulgaria Sentenced for Failing to Investigate Rape

In November, ECtHR ruled against the Bulgarian State for refusing to investigate the gang rape of a fourteen-year-old girl, who attempted suicide twice after the crime. At the time, she identified three out of the four assailants, who admitted quilt and named a fourth suspect. In 2006, the prosecution dropped the case against two of the assailants on account of a ten-year limitation period. Only one was found guilty and sentenced, the fourth was declared unidentifiable in the proceedings.

Bulgaria Sentenced for Violating Freedom of Expression

In October, ECtHR ruled against the Bulgarian State for violating freedom of expression. The applicants, Svetlana Yordanova and Tosho Toshev, are well-known Bulgarian journalists. At the time, Yordanova was employed as a journalist at the national daily newspaper Trud and Toshev was the paper's editor in chief.

They complained of being found liable for defamation and ordered to pay damages in respect of two articles published in Trud about a former employee of the Interior Ministry, who had been investigated for abuse of public office.

Organized Crime

Three Charged for Plotting Contract Murders

In January, Bulgarian police arrested and charged three Roma kingpins on suspicions of plotting the murder of Oleg Yanev, prosecutor at the Supreme Cassations Prosecutor's Office, Hristo Varnanov AKA The Pope, Chair of the Supreme Roma Court, and Tsvetelin Kanchev, leader of the Euro Roma party.

The probe and the detention stemmed from a confession of a citizen of the former Soviet Republic of Georgia that he had been contracted by one of the suspects to execute the murder of The Pope. Before the start of the Court session, a large group of Roma – the accused, their friends and relatives, started screaming and shouting that the whole story had been made up and the truth will eventually emerge. They insisted they were "regular people from the Roma minority."

Notorious Roma clan leader Kiril Rashkov, aka Tsar Kiro, was found to have been their accomplice in plotting the killings in the period June-September 2011.

Mobster Kela Extradited from Portugal

In January, Plamen Dishkov aka Kela, 34, a Bulgarian mobster sentenced for a gangland murder committed in 2002, was extradited from Portugal to Bulgaria. He was arrested in Portugal in August after 10 years in international hiding, based on an EAW.

Kela, 34, disappeared in November 22 2002, a day after the murder of a businessman was sentenced in absentia in 2007 to 20 years in jail. Before that he was acquitted by the lower instance on grounds there was not enough evidence linking him to the crime. Before the sentence was even announced, Kela fled by plane to Poland.

Top Criminal Released from Jail

In March, Bulgarian drug boss Dimitar Zhelyazkov, aka Mityo Ochite (the Eyes) served his sentence and walked free out of jail. In 2008, he was sentenced to 4 years and 10 months – below the minimum required by law - for heading an organized crime group specializing in drug distribution on the southern Bulgarian Black Sea coast. Zhelyazkov's jail time was marked by a number of scandals – such as a light regime, regular releases to visit his close-ones, and a fistfight with another drug lord and jail mate.

"Crocodiles" Declared Not-Guilty

In March, Bulgaria's Supreme Court of Cassations issued a not-guilty verdict for brothers Emil and Evgeni Milevi, known as the Crocodiles gang.

The two, along with an accomplice, were charged with highway robbery, and an attempted murder of a police officer, committed in 2004. They were found guilty by the Sofia District Court, but two higher instances overruled the verdict over lack of evidence. The Supreme Court rule is final and cannot be appealed.

Four "Impudent" Declared Guilty

In April, four of a total of nine defendants in Bulgaria's high-profile trial against the so-called Impudent group, accused of a dozen of high-profile abductions, received guilty verdicts by the Sofia City Court.

Three of them were sentenced to 18 years behind bars, and one – to 15.

Brothers Radoslav and Mitko Lebeshevski were declared not-guilty on abduction charges and sentenced to one year suspended sentence for illegal possession of weapons; two others were exonerated in full over the lack of evidence against them. Charges were dropped against Kiril Kirilov AKA Shkafa (The Commode) who was murdered at that time. Two other gang members were not been tried because they were protected witnesses and have testified against the other kidnappers.

The sentence is being appealed. The high-profile criminal case followed a special police operation entitled "The Impudent" when a total of 27 people were detained in December 2009.

Kidnap Victims to Get Money Back

In April, the Sofia City Court ruled that Bulgarian family, involved in a peculiar kidnapping saga back in 2008, should get back the money they were forced to donate to a foundation fighting breast cancer.

Angel Bonchev, former president of the Bulgarian Litex Football Club, and his wife, Kameliya, were both abducted for ransom in July 2008, allegedly by an organized crime group, later called "The Impudent". A day before Boncheva was released, her husband, who was let go earlier, announced he is donating the sum of EUR 157 000 to the "Tomorrow for Everyone" foundation. Bonchev claims he was forced to "donate" the money to the foundation, whose chairwoman denied speculations that the money is to be given to the kidnappers.

"Taki" Detained in Dubai

In May, Bulgarian alleged drug overlord Hristoforos Amanatidis, aka Taki, was detained in Dubai, following an Interpol arrest warrant, after he fled Bulgaria in 2008.

According to the Bulgarian Minister of Interior, Taki has been detained at a home address in the Gulf city, after which he was transferred to a Dubai detention facility, in awaiting extradition. Since fleeing Bulgaria in 2008, he was believed to have been in Greece, South Africa and Dubai.

"Amigossa" Goes to Jail

In May, the Sofia Prosecutor's Office confirmed that notorious criminal Petar Petrov AKA The Amigo (Amigossa) was in the Sofia jail to serve his 3-year sentence.

The Amigo was sentenced by the Sofia City Court for money laundering. He was a codefendant in the trial of the late organized crime leader Ivan Todorov AKA The Doctor. The Supreme Court of Cassations upheld the decision of the Court of Appeals to reduce the sentence to 3 years of jail time.

The sentence became effective in January and Petrov's whereabouts were unknown for a while. He was arrested and sent to the Sofia Central Prison on May 9.

"Marguin Brothers" Acquitted, "Little Marguin" Sought by Interpol

In May, Interpol issued a Red Notice for the arrest of alleged Bulgarian mafia boss Nikolay Marinov whose whereabouts have been unknown since 2010.

Marinov is wanted for crimes involving the use of weapons/explosives, crimes against life and health, as well as organized /transnational crime. Nikolay Marinov is better known as "The Little Marguin", one of the two so-called Marguin brothers.

The alleged gangster is also wanted by local authorities for the murder of controversial radio show host Bobi Tsankov back in 2010. Nikolay and his older brother, Krasimir Marinov, have been suspected of ordering Tsankov's assassionation.

In February, the Marguin Brothers were acquitted by Bulgaria's Supreme Court of Cassations on charges of organizing a criminal group and plotting two murders. The Marguin brothers are also publicly known as being among the leaders of the SIC Corporation - allegedly one of Bulgaria's two powerful mafia structures in the 1990s.

Galevi Brothers

Notorious Bulgarian mobsters Plamen Galev and Angel Hristov known as "the Galevi brothers" were sentenced by Bulgaria's Supreme Court to serve five years in jail at the beginning of May on racketeering charges.

A few days later, the two underground bosses vanished and were declared wanted by the local authorities and Interpol. Meanwhile they were charged with money laundering, worth BGN 35. 5. M. The whereabouts of the pair remain unknown amidst reports they were likely hiding in Bulgaria; have entered Greece with fake passports, riding one of their luxurious cars, and flew to South Africa and the Seychelles.

Even before the court trial it was a public secret that the Galevi brothers are mafia bosses who hold the citizens of Dupnitsa on a leash as their jobs and prosperity depend on the two burly former policemen with shady background and businesses.

"The Hamster" Arrest

End of June, alleged Bulgarian mobster Anton Petrov aka "The Hamster" was arrested on accusations for organizing the prostitution network.

In July, Bulgarian Minister of Interior Tsvetan Tsvetanov, stated that the recently busted prostitution ring was also used to gather materials for blackmailing politicians. In an interview, Tsvetanov said he had operational information that influential Bulgarian politicians had used the services of the prostitutes, but did not name names.

Top Bulgarian Ringleader Sentenced to Jail

In July, the Sofia City Court sentenced alleged Bulgarian top crime boss, Zlatomir Ivanov aka Baretata (The Beret, The Barret) to 17 years behind bars.

Ivanov and 20 other people were charged with participating in an organized crime group, illegal drugs trade, and with plotting the murder of Rumen Stefanov AKA Alf. The magistrates ruled him not guilty on the latter charge.

In February 2009, Ivanov turned himself in, after authorities issued a nation-wide search warrant for him.

The trial against Baretata began in May 2010 only to start from scratch at the end of the year, after one of the jurors was charged with child pornography in November. Petar Georgiev was detained October 22 during a special police operation codenamed "Pedophiles." All 107 witnesses and 52 exerts were questioned all over again.

Zlatomir Ivanov, a heavily tattooed man in his late 30s, is believed to be one of the top, still living, Bulgarian underworld figures. He is considered to be a ruthless mafia boss who controlled a vast empire based on drug-dealing, prostitution and money-laundering, who has an effective jail sentence in Bulgaria. In October, 2011 the Sofia Court of Appeals released him under house arrest after he complained about stress and a urinary infection following surgery.

Top Criminal Found Not-Guilty

In July, the Sofia City Court declared alleged Bulgarian mafia boss Yosif Yosifov aka Yosko not guilty of unlawful drugs and weapons possession. During a search of Yosifov's home in Sofia police found a metal briefcase with nine millimeter bullets, two guns, marijuana and 16 pellets of heroin.

Meanwhile, Yosifov was found guilty of causing the deaths of two people in a hellish head-on collision between his armored Mercedes SUV and a Kia van with Blagoevgrad tags. Three people sustained serious injuries.

Yosifov, 42, has a long rap sheet for a variety of crimes. He was one of the defendants in the high-profile kidnap case of a Croatian citizen where he was released on appeal. Yosko's group has been linked to some of Bulgaria's top high-profile contract murders, including the one of notorious mafia boss Konstantin Dimitrov, aka Kosyo Samokovetsa, who was shot in Amsterdam back in 2003.

"The Butcher" Awaits Extradition to Bulgaria

It was reported in September that a Bulgarian mobster nabbed in London at the beginning of the year, will be booted back to his home country despite his fierce opposition to extradition.

Tihomir Georgiev, 43, notorious for slicing off victims' fingers and ears, was ordered back to his homeland to serve 18 years' jail for murder. The man, known as "Tisho the Boxer" and "Butcher of Bulgaria" because of his brutality, had pleaded to stay in the UK under the Human Rights Act, saying he will be tortured in his home country. A District Judge ruled in London that he could be extradited.

The 44-year-old gangster was arrested in January after The Sun traced him to a boxing gym in South London. He fled to the UK last summer after being sentenced to 15 years in Bulgaria for stabbing to death a gang rival. He was also probed over the sickening torture killings of 3 other people, one of them said to be journalist Boris Tsankov, who was later shot dead in Sofia.

Georgiev is believed to be a former associate of "Zlatomir Ivanov (aka Zlatko Baretata ).

"The Octopus"

In mid-December, notorious Bulgarian businessman Alexey Petrov, who is tried on numerous counts for organized crime, was released from detention - first to house arrest, and several days later on bail.

The Sofia City Court took that decision based on Petrov's health condition, which was found to radically deteriorate during the time he was arrested. The court also decided that the prosecution's claim that if released from arrest, he would influence witnesses, lacks substantiation.

Petrov AKA The Tractor was first arrested in February 2010 and was not released on own recognizance until October, having spent what he claims to have been 8 months of abuse in the prison, during which his health allegedly deteriorated.

Bulgarian PM Borisov and Interior Minister Tsvetanov did much to portray Petrov as the mastermind of an extensive organized crime network. The trial, however, dragged for months with little progress, and with the prosecution forced to drop part of the charges against him.

Petrov was rearrested at the beginning of May 2012 after two witnesses said he pressured them to change their testimonials.

"The Tractor" continues to insist that the case against him is political retribution. In his words the Cabinet and personally Borisov, are racketeering him. He also denies pressuring any witnesses. At the end of January, Ex-England Attorney General Lord Peter Goldsmith officially joined Petrov's defense team, hinting for journalists that he believes his client is innocent.

In the early 1990s, Petrov was a business partner of Borisov. He has also served time as an employee of in Bulgaria's special services, including newly founded State Agency for National Security, DANS.

"The Killers"

At the very end of the year, a Bulgarian court delivered the toughest sentence to the president of the country´s Sumo Federation, founding him guilty of leading a gang, involved in murders, beatings, arsons and explosions.

Shumen Regional Court judges in the high-profile criminal case codenamed "The Killers" sentenced to life without parole Petar Stoyanov the "Chieftain" and two more defendants in the case - Georgi Valev and Vasil Kostov aka Vasko Ketsa (The Sneaker) - received the same sentence.

The three stood trial together with three other members of the gang - Yanko Popov, Petar Atmadzhov, and Raycho Stoynev.

They were among a number of people arrested in the summer of 2010 in what has been dubbed special operation "Killers" by the Interior Minister, and were later charged with three contract murders, two beatings, two arsons and one explosion.

The operation was carried out in connection with the murder of the controversial Samokov football club president Yuriy Galev. The "Chieftain" was among the detained.

Petar Stoyanov is a leading figure in the Bulgarian sumo world. He has one silver and two bronze world medals in amateur sumo. The "Chieftain" is also a close friend to Bulgaria's best sumo wrestler Kotooshu.

After the arrest, the administration of now-former President, Georgi Parvanov, came out with an official statement refuting media allegations that Stoyanov is or has ever been an adviser to the President, but the chair of the Parliamentary Committee on Education, Science, Children, Youth and Sports, confirmed that Stoyanov was an adjunct advisor for them.

The "Chieftain" has denied any connection to organized crime.

Interior Minister Tsvetanov has claimed that security camera footage showed the "Killers" may be behind the slaying of Bulgaria's top banker Emil Kyulev. Emil Kyulev, one of the richest men in Bulgaria, was shot and killed in 2005. His murder was particularly shocking because he did not fit the profile of an underworld boss.

In December, illegally owned guns and munitions were seized by the Bulgarian police from the home of the father of one of the defendants, Raycho Stoynev.

Gangland Murders

Varna Businessman Murder

Businessman Yordan Harasimov, was blown up in his car in Bulgaria's Black Sea city of Varna on February 24.

According to the District Prosecutor, there were three main leads in the murder - EU funding in the amount of BGN 4 M, obtained by Harasimov, for the construction of the fishery port in Varna, which had hurt seriously some business interests, a long-time conflict with a former business partner, and personal motive.

Yordan Harasimov, 52, was the major trader of fish products on the Northern Bulgarian Black Sea coast, and one of the largest in Bulgaria. Harasimov's company, Sever Export owns its own fishing vessels, and exports frozen fish and veined rapa whelk products to Japan, the USA, South Korea, Vietnam, and Turkey.

The explosion that killed Harasimov occurred at a major downtown Varna crossroads near the Varna University of Economics shortly after 8 am. The bomb was placed under his car seat. He died shortly after the blast in the Saint Anna hospital in the city. The perpetrators remain unknown.

"Impudent" Murdered in Sofia

A defendant in Bulgaria's high-profile Impudent criminal case, Kiril Kirilov AKA Shkafa (The Commode) was murdered in Sofia in March.

Shkafa, 38, who had a long rap sheet for assault, battery, theft and escape from jail, was shot in front of his apartment building in the Mladost-3 district. Kirilov was one of the first people to be arrested in the special police operation The Impudent 2 hitting upon an organized crime group specialized in abductions.

His live-in girlfriend said in a radio interview that Shkafa had been followed days before the murder by a black SUV and had expected to be attacked.

The woman says she heard the shots and ran screaming on the balcony. Meanwhile, the victim managed to call her and tell her that he had been shot, asked her to call the police and told her that he loved her. It was reported earlier that the girlfriend was walking home with Kirilov at the time of the attack.

Car Insurer Gunned in Sofia

In April, Vasil Lazov, 53, a car insurer, was shot dead in Bulgaria's capital Sofia. He had a criminal record for bribery and forgery, dating from as early as Communist regime times.

Lazov had a business which dealt with consultancy and mediation services, manufacturing, trade, construction, transport, restaurant and hotel management. He was known to have made contracts with dozens of people for mortgage loans.

Bookmaker Killed in Sofia

Yordan Dinov, a 39-year-old alleged illegal bookmaker was shot dead in the very downtown of Sofia in April 4, 2012. Police discovered a large amount of cash in his possession.

He was in Sofia in connection with a legal case against his business, filed by the National Revenue Agency, NRA, and the Gambling Commission. Dinov was the manager of Sky Sport 365 – Bulgaria, a partner of Austrian sport betting company Planet Win 365. His business was concentrated mainly in his hometown of Blagoevgrad and southwestern Bulgaria.

The Director of GDBOP, Stanimir Florov, said at the time one of the motives was "serious money that was owed to Dinov." Two men were arrested in Sofia in June for the murder.

Pawnbroker Murdered in Sofia

In mid-April, pawnbroker Dragomir Bitsov, 40, was found dead in his home in the Gorublyane Quarter in Sofia in what seemed to be the fourth gangland murder in the Bulgarian capital in less than a month.

The police arrested a suspect with a criminal record. They said they have reasons to believe the murder was committed over "personal motives" and that the pawnbroker was the mastermind of a criminal group dealing with loan sharking and blackmailing clients.

Bitsov did not have a criminal record and there were no signs of violence at the crime scene.

High Profile Cases and Trials

Police Brutality

In January, a couple complained of police brutality and reported they have been severely beaten and, with no sound motivation, detained by police, who after that went on to violently break in and search their home, taking out on the street their younger daughter in underwear.

The operation had been conducted on information that the couple, who owns a small shop, have been storing and distributing goods without excise labels. During the search of their home, however, the policemen only found five packs of cigarettes with no excise tax band on them. After the search, the husband and wife were placed under arrest.

Police initially denied exerting violence, but later Interior Minister Tsvetanov signed orders for sanctions against three senior police officers from the Sofia Directorate of the Interior, SDVR. No one was fired, despite public promises of PM Borisov.

It also turned out that the couple was the parents of Ralitsa Nachkova, their older daughter and creator of Facebook group "I Shall Not Vote for Bulgarian PM Boyko Borisov and the GERB Party." Borisov and the SDVR Chief fully dismissed any connection between the arrest and the Facebook group, saying the bust was completely arbitrary.

Pernik Teen Murder

Miroslava Nikolova, 17, from the western city of Pernik, near Sofia, was kidnapped in November and her body was discovered by the police 65 days later. Two men were arrested as suspects. One of them – Chocho, according to the police, had made confessions and implicated his accomplice, Mario Lyubenov, as the physical perpetrator of the murder.

Chocho, however, committed suicide before the eyes of highly-trained policemen when he got hold on a gun during the search of his apartment. The other suspect was listed in a Sofia psychiatry ward to be tested for schizophrenia.

Lyubenov was reportedly a classmate of Borislav – boyfriend of Miroslava's sister, Eleonora. The girl was kidnapped because Borislav recently inherited a large amount of money and the perpetrators planned to ask him for ransom. They told police they killed Miroslava because they had no means to take care of her.

In January, Lyubenov AKA The Rabbit was charged as a murder accomplice in the case of a slain Bulgarian teen girl.

Teen Declared Guilty for Family Double Murder

In January, the Regional Court in Bulgaria's southern city of Kardzhali issued a guilty verdict for Dzhuneyt Shevket, 18, over the double murder of his mother and younger brother, who was 6 at the time. The sentence calls for 7 years and 4 months behind bars. The trail concluded very quickly because the defendant made full confessions before the magistrates.

"Killer Bus" Driver Receives Jail Sentence

In March, the driver of the bus which, after a break failure, careered down a mountainside near Yambol in May 2009 and killed 18 pedestrians was sentenced to 10 years in prison by the Supreme Court of Cassations (VKS). The owner of the bus will also spend 10 years behind bars. The verdicts are final and cannot be appealed.

St John the Baptist Bone Vanishes in Sliven

In April, the silver and gold reliquary, a personal gift from Prime Minister Borisov, containing the relics of St John the Baptist was returned to the town of Sozopol with one missing bone. The theft occurred while the relics were displayed at the Sliven church "St Dimitar."

Remains, believed to be John the Baptist were uncovered on July 28, 2010, during excavations of the floor of the medieval monastery on Saint Ivan island, near Bulgaria's historical coastal town. The thief and his or her motives remain unknown.

Bulgarian MMA Champ Recovers after Stabbing

In May, Bulgarian MMA fighter Blagoi Ivanov, who was stabbed nearly fatally in February, declared that he was determined to return to the fighting ring and score more victories.

On February 7, Ivanov and two of his friends had just occupied their places in a bar in downtown Sofia, when a group of 8 persons armed with bats and knives allegedly came in and attacked them. The police came in to find the attackers escaped and Ivanov with a deep stab wound under his armpit. The main suspect in the stabbing - 23-year-old D.S. known as Dampela, is kept under permanent detention.

Sandanski Blast

In July, Bulgarian police arrested four suspects allegedly responsible for the bomb explosion that nearly killed a man in the southwestern Bulgarian town of Sandanski. Interior Minister Tsvetanov insisted that, even though the bomb went off in front of the office of the Euroroma political party, there were no political or ethnic motives behind the criminal act. The powerful blast critically injured a 59-year-old Roma man.

German-linked Murder Shakes Burgas

In September, the head of the detention unit of the Bulgarian Black Sea city of Burgas was dismissed over the suicide of a German murder suspect. 34-year-old Rolf Gremmel, who was charged with murdering his comrade in Burgas, was found hanged on a TV cable in police arrest. Gremmel was arrested on accusations of murdering fellow German Henry Stenberg, who had been founded dead with 15 stab wounds on the Burgas beach.

Train Fire Verdicts

In September, the Appellate Court in the Bulgarian city of Veliko Tarnovo ruled on the tragic train fire case with reducing the sentences of two of the three defendants, charged with reckless imprudence.

The sentence of the ticket collector was reduced to 3 years behind bars (from 12) while the head of the train, was sentenced to 2.6 years, instead of the previous 8 years. The imprisonment for both was postponed by 4 years, meaning the sentence is suspended.

Georgi Ivanov, former Deputy Head of the Passengers' Travels Department at the Bulgarian State Railways, BDZ, who faced 6 years in prison for ordering a double lock of all doors of sleep cars, which prevented the passengers from leaving the train, was sentenced to 1.6 years behind bars, which is postponed for 3 years. Until now, however, Georgiev was exonerated twice.

The case can be appealed by the prosecution with the Supreme Court of Cassations (VKS).

On February 29 2008, in the deadliest train accident since 1992, nine people were charred to death and nine more injured after two cars of the night train going from Sofia to the northeastern town of Kardam burst into flames minutes after midnight. One of the victims was the Director of the National Archaeology Museum at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, BAS, Prof. Rasho Rashev.

Radical Islam

The trial against the 13 members of the Al Waqf-Al Islami organization's local branch was launched on September 18.

The suspects have been charged with preaching an undemocratic ideology and seeking to impose Sharia law, with leading and participating in an unregistered religious entity preaching an undemocratic ideology and with preaching religious intolerance.

According to the indictment, the defendants built their belief systems in line with elements of Salafism, which they presented in Bulgaria in a radical version in the period March 2008 – October 6, 2010. All suspects have pleaded not guilty.

The proceedings were accompanied by protest rallies, scheduled by the nationalist parties Ataka and VMRO-BND, and held near the Court building, heavily guarded by the police.

The Pazardzhik-based Court is hearing testimony from a number of witnesses and protected witnesses. In the last session for 2012, both lawyers and the judges argued against and did not accept the translation from Turkish to Bulgarian of documents in the case on grounds the translator was no expert in Islam.

Scotsman Murder of Bulgarian Boy

In September, a 71-year-old Scotsman, who is suspected of the murder of an 11-old-boy in Northwestern Bulgaria, unexpectedly pleaded innocent, after failing to reach an out-of-court compensation settlement.

Prosecutors are expected to demand that David Bell Bryson is sentenced to life without parole, saying the murder was committed in a particularly cruel manner. Bryson, allegedly, strangled to death the 11-year-old Stanislav Mirchev in the Bulgarian village, where both lived. There were suspicions that he might have abused the boy sexually but little conclusive evidence has been reported to this end as of yet.

After failing a lie-detector test, Brysom initially claimed that he killed the boy because he was torturing his dog. It was expected that he will plead guilty in exchange for a lighter sentence to be served in Great Britain. He denied raping the child, but shared details only the murderer would have known.

At the end of January 2012, the Vidin District Court rejected bail and ruled that the Scotsman has to be kept in the arrest for the duration of the investigation on grounds he might flee.

Belneyski

In October, Bulgaria's Supreme Court of Cassation (VKS) returned to the Plovdiv District Court the high-profile "Belneyski" double murder case for retrial by a new judge panel.

In November 2011, the Plovdiv Appellate Court upheld the life without parole sentence of Lazar Kolev, the only defendant in the case. Kolev was also sentenced to pay BGN 400 000 to the parents of the victims, sisters Hristina and Rositsa Belneyski.

At the hearing at VKS in April, however, the parents of the murdered girls demanded a retrial on grounds that they wanted Kolev to name his accomplice. Fani and Stoimen Belneyski further decided to sack their lawyer, Ivo Naydenov.

Sisters Rositsa (18) and Kristina (15) Belneyski went missing in January 2006, after leaving a night club in the town of Pazardzhik. The sisters were found dead at the beginning of February 2006 near the town of Peshtera.

Nadezhda Georgieva

In October, all three defendants in the case for the 2000 murder of Bulgarian lawyer Nadezhda Georgieva were acquitted by the Sofia City Court on grounds of lack of sufficient evidence.

The case has gained notoriety after one of the witnesses implicated Bulgaria's former Prosecutor General, Nikola Filchev, in masterminding the cruel killing of Georgieva, but this alleged link was never confirmed.

The prosecution demanded 25 years in prison for each of the defendants. The prosecution claimed that one of the defendants, businessman Orlin Avramov, was indebted to the lawyer, and the formerly married couple Plamen Kalaydzhiev and Dimitrinka Kalaydzhieva also had poor relations with Georgieva.

During the trial, Kalaydzhievi openly admitted that they were present in Georgieva's home at the day she was murdered, but resolutely denied perpetrating the killing. On his part, Avramov claimed that prosecutors had framed the three in order to cover-up Nikola Filchev's possible involvement in the case.

Lawyer Nadezhda Georgieva was killed in her home in Sofia, having sustained nine blows with a kitchen cleaver on February 28, 2000.

Asen Berbatov

In October, Asen Berbatov, the younger brother of star Bulgarian football player Dimitar Berbatov, was detained after police chased the car he was riding in, with another man behind the wheel. The police found a total of 22 grams of cocaine hidden inside a child seat in the car.

It was presumed that Berbatov has hired the other person to drive over the pending pre-trial proceedings against him for driving without a license. The driver tested positive for illegal drugs, but Asen's results were negative. They were released on bail.

Berbatov's brother has gained infamous reputation over the last few years. In mid-2010, the Regional Prosecutor's Office in the southern Bulgarian city of Blagoevgrad probed him for credit card draining. In April 22, local police searched Berbatov's house and found the cash register, used as POS terminal, and evidence of some suspicious credit card payments.

Tsar Kiro

Kiril Rashkov, aka Tsar Kiro, and his clan triggered massive tensions across Bulgaria in September 2011, after the murder of a teenager in the village of Katunitsa, when a van driven by alleged associates of Kiril Rashkov ran down and killed 19-year-old ethnic Bulgarian Angel Petrov.

The Asenovgrad Regional Court sentenced Kiril Rashkov to three and a half years of imprisonment for issuing a death threat against two Katunitsa residents. The clan is threatening to sue Bulgaria at the European Court of Human Rights. In August, the Plovdiv Court of Appeals sentenced the driver of the van to 18 years of imprisonment.

SAPARD

In November, Bulgaria's Prosecutor's Office approached the Supreme Court of Cassations, VKS, with a request to restart the emblematic SAPARD money laundering case against murky businessman Mario Nikolov from scratch.

In the new process, all charges must be united in one single case as it was done in Germany where the defendants already serve their sentences. The division of the charges was the main motive of the presiding judge to issue the not-guilty verdicts for Nikolov and his co-defendants.

The request came less than a week after prosecutors stepped back from their protest of the acquittal. The defendants were charged with participating in an organized crime group engaged in laundering EUR 7.5 M drained from the EU agriculture program SAPARD. The prosecutor's move fully cleared them of all charges, bringing to an end a strongly politicized trial, which was closely monitored by the European Commission.

It emerged later that Stoycho Nenkov, Prosecutor from the Sofia Appellate Prosecutor's Office, has decided on his own to not file an appeal and will be probed. Nenkov, on his part, was firm he made the decision based on his own conviction, without any outside pressure. His decision triggered strong criticism on the part of interim Chief Prosecutor, Boyko Naydenov, and the wrath of Prime Minister, Boyko Borisov.

Borisova Gradina Murder

In November, Nikolay Rusinov was officially charged with the brutal murder of 28-year-old Yana Krasteva, whose body was discovered in the central park in Bulgaria's capital Sofia last summer.

According to the prosecutors, the suspect had accomplices, who are yet to be identified, and the murder involved exceptional cruelty.

Krasteva's body was found in Borisova Gradina park in downtown Sofia in July 2011, approximately two days after she had been raped, bludgeoned and strangled to death.

Immediately after the murder Nikolay Rusinov reportedly left the country and hid in Turkey. He was detained upon return as potential suspect. He claimed at the time that he had met Yana one day before, the two had danced, enjoyed themselves, drank plenty of alcohol, and "had sex" near the place where she was found dead. Authorities have established that the suspect has left unique DNA material on the body of the victim.

Ohrid Drowning Tragedy

In November, the families of the 15 Bulgarians, who drowned in the Macedonian Lake Ohrid back in 2009, filed a claim against two insurance companies, Allianz Versicherung and Germanischer Lloyd, seeking BGN 10.5 M in compensation. The relatives are also seeking BGN 70 000 for material damages.

In August 2012, the Appellate Court in Bitola, Macedonia, upheld the verdicts of ship captain Macedonian Sotir Filevski and Croatian Branco Baic in the case of the sunken tout boat Ilinden, which killed 15 Bulgarians in September 2009.

In July 2011, the court in Ohrid sentenced Filevski and Baic, representative of the German company Lloyd, which issued the necessary certificate ensuring Ilinden can be used to transport tourists, to one year behind bars. According to a bilateral agreement signed in 2002, Bulgaria recognizes the Macedonian courts' civil law verdicts.

The accident with the Ilinden boat was caused by a torn steel rope, engineering experts concluded. The steel rope in the left side of the outdated ship Ilinden ripped shortly after the more than 50 Bulgarian tourists boarded it, which led the vessel to overturn. The ensuing panic led 12 tourists to go to the right part of the overcrowded ship, which accelerated its sinking, the engineering experts say. The ship was allowed to take up to 43 passengers on board.

Court Exonerates "Krasio the Black"

The day after Christmas, Bulgaria's Supreme Court of Cassations (VKS) conclusively upheld the acquittal of notorious businessman and alleged court lobbyist Krasimir Georgiev, aka Krasio the Black, on perjury charges.

The trial at VKS was opened on the demand of the Sofia City Prosecutor's Office. In May, the Sofia City Court (SCC) revoked Georgiev's two-year suspended sentence.

The name of Krasio the Black surfaced in the summer of 2009, when Ivan Kolev, then member of the Supreme Judicial Council (VSS), announced that "some guy called Krasio from Pleven"  was "selling" senior posts in the judiciary for EUR 200 000. A number of magistrates, including ones from supreme judicial bodies, were dismissed or resigned after the scandal broke out.

In end-February, the Sofia Regional Court declared Georgiev guilty of perjury over testifying that he did not know any magistrates despite evidence to the contrary. Georgiev was also cleared earlier of tax evasion. He was also investigated for trading in influence but the case did not reach court.

Businessmen in Trouble with the Law

Charges Pressed against Media Moguls

In July, Bulgaria's prosecuting authority pressed tax evasion and money laundering charges against media mogul, Lyubomir Pavlov. The Sofia City Prosecutor, Nikolay Kokinov, informed that Pavlov's bail on the new charges is set at BGN 100 000.

A week earlier, Pavlov's partner, Ognyan Donev, also received tax fraud charges. Donev has been imposed a record bail of BGN 500 000.

Before that, Pavlov was charged on three other counts. His lawyer stressed the number of charges is a demonstration of lack of consistency and shows that the prosecution has no idea where the case is going.

In early June, media moguls Donev and Pavlov were charged with participating in a money laundering scheme, thanks to which they purchased by WAZ Mediengruppe assets in Bulgaria and staged an illegal corporate take-over of the newspapers.

The two businessmen publish mass circulation dailies Trud (Labor) and 24 Chassa (24 Hours) and Pavlov is Chair of the Union of Publishers in Bulgaria.

Grisha Ganchev Probed for Tax Fraud

In May, Grisha Ganchev, well-known Bulgarian businessman and partner of Great Wall, was detained together with his son during the special police operation codenamed "Sugar" on charges of large-scale tax fraud. The businessman was subsequently released on a bail of BGN 500 000.

The son, Danail Ganchev, and 5 other individuals were charged with large-scale tax evasion and participation in organized crime. In September, the Court lifted the ban on Ganchev to travel abroad.

Grisha Ganchev is the owner of the Litex FC and the Litex company, based in the northern Bulgarian city of Lovech. As of the end of 2011, Ganchev's joint venture with the Chinese company Great Wall Motors, Litex Motors, started the production of Chinese cars for the EU market in the Litex Motors factory near Bulgaria's Lovech, in the village of Bahovitsa.

Hristo Kovachki Tried for Tax Evasion

In October, the prosecutors in the tax evasion case against Bulgarian energy tycoon Hristo Kovachki asked for it to be returned for retrial.

At the end of May 2102, the Sofia Appellate Court (SAC) acquitted Kovachki of tax evasion to the tune of BGN 16.7 M. This decision of the SAC revoked the 3-year suspended sentence with five years of probation imposed by the Sofia City Court on April 14, 2011 for crimes against the tax system. Kovachki was sentenced to a fine of BGN 20 000 plus court costs amounting to BGN 42 586. SAC's verdict was not final thus the prosecutors are protesting it before the Supreme Court of Cassation (VKS).

In the beginning of 2012, it emerged that Bulgaria's Ministry of Energy, Economy and Tourism had filed a total of six lawsuits against companies in which Kovachki is involved.

Brazen Armored Car Robberies

In June, armored car driver, Georgi Enev, 33, allegedly pulled off an audacious theft of BGN 1.5 M from the armored bank car he was driving, and surrendered to the police two weeks later. On June 22, police in Plovdiv were alerted about an abandoned cash transporter, and upon arriving they also found that the vehicle was empty.

However, during the questioning, the man refused to tell the authorities where the money was and where and how he spent the last two weeks. The Prosecutor informed the investigation lacked proof about possible accomplices. Enev was charged with embezzlement, and the fact he surrendered will be taken into account as a mitigating circumstance, but the money is still missing.

In April, a brazen robbery took place on the road between the town of Sevlievo and the city of Gabrovo in central Bulgaria when five masked men, dressed in police uniforms, robbed an armored truck stealing at least BGN 2 M. They were never found, and police suspected that they have entered neighboring Greece the very same night.

Special Police Operations

Ever since the taking over of Minister of Interior Tsvetan Tsvetanov the Bulgarian police have become notorious with inventing spectacular codenames for its many special ops.

Operation Fire

In January, Bulgaria's police authorities participated in an international Europol police operation – Operation "Fire" - against the production and trafficking of synthetic drugs. In Bulgaria, it led to the shattering of three synthetic drug labs and the confiscation of 100 kg of amphetamines as well as of arms and explosives. Three men were arrested.

Operation "Scrap"

In February, Bulgarian police were able to neutralize an organized crime group dealing with money laundering and tax evasion. The special police operation, codenamed "Scrap," revealed that in the course of the year the gang inflicted damages to the State budget in the amount of BGN 30 M.

The members of the group had established a chain of fake businesses declaring purchases of large quantities of ferrous and non-ferrous metals from abroad. The goal had been to provide invoices to real scrap merchants who had bought metals without documents thus helping them avoid paying the 10% tax on the value of the purchase.

Operation "Hammer"

In February, Bulgaria's police arrested a dozen of drug dealers in a special operation codenamed "Hammer", including drug boss suspect, Stefan Bonev, aka Sako. Bonev is under investigation on several counts, and is believed to be linked to crime boss Krasimir Marinov, aka the Big Margin.

"The Invoice Writers"

In March, Bulgarian police conducted a special operation codenamed "The Invoice Writers," leading to 31 arrests in the cities of Sofia, Plovdiv, Shumen, and in the town of Samokov. The detainees were members of an organized crime group which, since 2008, had deprived the State Treasury of over BGN 2.2 M in VAT through trade of cables, construction materials and imports of produce.

Operation "Customs"

At the beginning of May, the day shift of 32 customs officers at the Kapitan Andreevo checkpoint at the Bulgarian-Turkish border was detained within a special operation codenamed "Customs." A senior Customs officer and a Customs expert were found to have a total of BGN 14 000 in different currencies.

The two officials said that the money had been found in the restrooms at the border crossing point. Apart from this sum, ten customs officers were found to have smaller sums of EUR 150-180 and 21 stacks of cigarettes without excise labels.

Interior Minister, Tsvetan Tsvetanov explained that very few people have known about it prior to its execution, and they included the PM, and Finance Minister, Simeon Djankov, while the Customs Head had been kept in the dark. Tsvetanov further reported that there were videotapes where one could see how the Customs officers were distributing the bribes they had been taking from individuals and businesses traveling through the border.

"The Money Launderers"

In May, GDBOP, and the US' DEA jointly carried out a special police operation codenamed "The Launderers." The Bulgarian special anti-mafia Prosecutor's Office led the operation. The neutralized crime group dealt with the laundering of money from narcotics trafficking from South America to Europe, transiting through Bulgaria.

The money, coming from countries such as Venezuela, has been deposited in the personal bank accounts in Bulgaria of the members of the group, and then was immediately wired to China, Hong Kong, Spain and the US. The total amount, according to estimates, exceeds BGN 5 M.

Ruse Cocaine Bust

In May, a Dutch Citizen, 54, and a resident of Bulgaria's second largest city of Plovdiv, 37, were arrested in connection with the huge load of cocaine busted on May 5 in the Danube city of Ruse in a special operation has been conducted by GDBOP. Another man from Plovdiv, 31, was the first one to be detained.

67 kilograms of cocaine, valued at EUR 50 M, were discovered hidden in a combine harvester traveling from Argentina to the Netherlands. The combine harvester was found in a ship traveling from the Black Sea city of Varna to the "Iztok" (East) port of Ruse.

"Hashish" Busts

In July, Bulgarian police busted a huge amount of illegal drugs destined for distribution across the EU. Twelve metric tons of hashish, valued at EUR 260 M, were discovered in a tool warehouse in the village of Mirovyane, near the capital Sofia. The drugs are said to have reached Bulgaria by sea from Morocco. The authorities informed then that this is the largest amount seized in Bulgaria in the last 15 years. Europol was notified.

The investigators saw a link with another shipment of illegal drugs caught 3 days earlier in the Danube city of Vidin, which weighted over 4 metric tons, worth about EUR 20 M. The drugs were found by customs officers in a truck with Bulgarian license plates headed to Belgium.

Prime Minister Borisov, Interior Minister Tsvetanov, and the Director of GDBOP, Staminir Florov, boasted the operation as a huge success and proof Bulgaria is fit to join Schengen. The announcement came on the exact same day when Borisov's ruling party GERB marked the third anniversary of taking office and the Interior Ministry celebrates their professional day.

Cocaine Kings

In August, the last of the Bulgarian "Cocaine Kings" was extradited to Italy. The international special police operation, codenamed Cocaine Kings, was carried out in mid-May and led to the arrest of alleged Bulgarian drug lord Evelin Banev AKA Brando along with 14 other Bulgarians, 12 Italians, one Slovenian, one Romanian, and one Georgian.

The last Bulgarian of those arrested, I.Y., 33, left for Italy on August 10, under a European arrest warrant issued by the Court in Milan. The others were extradited gradually in July. Brando was sent to Italy at the end of July. The group is suspected in large-scale cocaine trafficking from South America to Europe.

Operation "Shock 2"

In December, Bulgarian and Italian police and Europol launched a special operation codenamed "Shock 2" to detain persons under European Arrest Warrants (EAW). It took place in several cities, the capital Sofia and in Italy. 35 people were detained, and the Court left behind bars 24 of them.

The first special police operation under the code name of "Shock" was carried out in 2011 against a large international ring of credit card fraudsters.

The wife of one of the alleged fraudsters complained of police brutality after his arrest in a shopping mall in downtown Sofia, but the CCTV footage indicated no use of excessive force.

College Town Crime

Sofia's College Town is infamous for and frequently makes the news over binge drinking, fights, fatal incidents and prostitution rings.

The nightlife-related violence there has claimed a massive death toll. 24-year-old Boris Kiryakov recently passed away after being severely beaten in front of a night club. The incident happened early on June 29, 2012. Kiryakov was transferred to Sofia's Pirogov hospital in critical condition and could not recover. He died on July 5th.

At the end of February 2012, Mario Danchev, 19, a student from the Economy University in Sofia, was stabbed and killed in the dormitory where he lived.  20-year-old pharmacy student Stoyan Baltov died on December 5, 2008 after sustaining severe head trauma and skull fracture from a beating in front of the "Amnesia" disco club.

In October, three Bulgarian university students were severely beaten in their dorm overnight by four men. All three students were hospitalized.

September, the Bulgarian Parliament voted to "close" nightlife venues in College Town, banning all gambling facilities along with restaurants and night clubs, which are open after 10 pm, from being located less than 100 meters from a dorm.

Bulgaria in International Crime News

In 2012, Bulgarian hackers kept the number one in the world ranking in making ATM skimming devices and Bulgarians have been arrested, sentenced, or tried for credit card fraud in European countries, in the US, and across the world – from Sofia to Uganda, Tanzania, Thailand, Bangkok, Chicago, Birmingham Alabama, Maryland, Florida, New York, Montpellier, Lyon, and Metz, France, Spain, Ireland, Chile, and New Zealand.

Meanwhile, a Bulgarian econometrist from Belgium announced he has come up with a simple solution to render impossible ATM fraud leading to credit and debit card draining. His proposal consists of an electronic table with double digit numbers on four rows that is supposed to appear on the screen of the ATMs. Thus, instead of punching in the four digits of the bank card PIN, the client would select the row of their PIN. Stoyan Balabanov, who has been living in Belgium for 30 years, is reported to be in talks with one of the largest global software companies for the utilization of his anti-ATM skimming idea.

Bulgarian nationals also made international news for drug trafficking, prostitution, smuggling and producing of illegal liquor, and weapons trade among others. Police in Istanbul detained a group of 9 persons, 4 of them Bulgarian citizens, engaged in producing illegal liquor. Bulgarian citizens were charged with human trafficking of women who have been forced into prostitution in the Belgian city of Liege and in Greece. Around the same time, three Bulgarian citizens were arrested in Virginia Beach in the US for theft of merchandise valued at over USD 100 000.

Police in the Czech Republic announced they have broken up an international gang, including several Bulgarians, suspected of producing forged passports, identity cards and driving licenses used by illegal immigrants and criminals.  Also in Prague, a trial was launched on terrorism charges against two Bulgarians, four Russians and one Moldovan. The suspects were arrested in May 2011 by a special task force of the Czech police. They are said to be part of an organized extremist group with ties with the Northern Caucasus region.

Identity Theft Convict Released from Federal Prison

In January, Doitchin Krastev, 38, the Bulgarian man who stole the identity of a slain Ohio boy and became an Oregon liquor enforcement agent, was released from federal prison was handed over to the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency to deport him back to his native Bulgaria.

Doitchin Krastev pleaded guilty in November 2010 to passport fraud and aggravated identity theft and apologized to the family of Jason Robert Evers, who was killed at age 3 in a 1982 kidnapping attempt.

Bulgarian Football Legend Tangled in Money Laundering Scandal in Italy

In February, Italian press reported that Bulgaria's most internationally renowned football player, Hristo Stoichkov, and 10 other teammates have been involved in money laundering and could face jail sentences – up to 18 months behind bars, per Italian legislation.

The scandal relates to the stay of Bulgaria's football legend in Parma, Italy when he illegally pocketed over USD 0.5 M, Italian press alleged.

Stoichkov, a former Barcelona striker, nicknamed The Dagger over his fiery temperament, played for Parma in the 1995-1996 season. He was recently appointed coach of the Bulgarian Lovech-based Litex football team.

Russian Woman Confesses Murdering Late Bulgarian Tycoon's Sister in US

In March, Russian woman Natalia Wilson, who killed Bulgarian Slavka Naydenova in Dale City, Virginia, has confessed she committed the murder out of jealousy because her husband, and Naydenova's ex-husband was visiting the victim too often.

Wilson claims that she was in an emotionally affected condition when she killed 41-year-old Naydenova, the sister of Bulgarian tycoon Iliya Pavlov who was shot dead in 2003, and her 8-year-old son. In court documents, police and prosecutors say that Wilson killed Naydenova out of jealousy and killed Paul because he ran into the room. FBI ruled out a connection with Pavlov's murder.

Bulgarians Sentenced for Millionaire's Murder

In March, the Edinburgh High Court sentenced to jail for life two Bulgarians, who acted as a hitman and a fixer in the murder of a millionaire businessman in 2010. Hitman Tencho Andonov and fixer Deyan Nikolov were given life sentences and were ordered to serve at least 29 and 18 years respectively. They were hired by the brother of the victim, who willserve a minimum of 25 years before he can be considered for parole.

Businessman Toby Siddique, 38, was shot dead in Glenrothes on 24 October 2010, after the brothers fell out in an argument over the family business. Andonov was also convicted of attempting to murder another man, who was injured in the attack, in what brought the end the largest and most complex investigation in Fife Constabulary's 62-year history.

Spied On Bulgarian Beauties Help Strengthen US Voyeurism Law

In was reported in April, that the two young Bulgarian women, who made headlines on both sides of the Atlantic last year after finding hidden surveillance cameras in their Hillsborough County apartment, have helped US strengthen its video voyeurism laws.

In September 2011, the two girls filed a lawsuit against their former landlord, claiming he has videotaped them. He was never charged because deputies couldn't find evidence that the cameras were recording or transmitting video, but the case did catch the attention of state legislators and they passed a bill strengthening video voyeurism laws with penalty changed from a first-degree misdemeanor to a third-degree felony for anyone older than 18.

Video voyeurism is already illegal in locations where people have a reasonable expectation of privacy, such as in dressing rooms or tanning booths. The new law adds "residential dwelling" to that list.

Death Sentences in Malaysia

In May 2011, Bulgarian nationals Georgi Georgiev, Ivan Kostov, and Georgi Bakalov were arrested at the Sultan Ismail International Airport in Johor Bahru, Malaysia, on drug trafficking charges.

Due to lack of evidence Georgiev was released and deported to Bulgaria. Kostov and Bakalov were sentenced to death. They insist they were unaware they were transporting illegal drugs, and were told the package included Viagra and other pills. In November, Malaysian PM Najib Razak assured Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev that death sentences have not been carried out recently.

Bulgarian Fraudster Gets Jail in US

In June, the leader of a Bulgarian crime cell that defrauded Las Vegas Valley car dealers out of hundreds of thousands of dollars was sentenced to 82 months in federal prison.

Dragomir Taskov, 51, also was ordered to serve three years of supervised release after he gets out of prison and share in the payment of USD 77 529 in restitution with two other convicted defendants in the case. Taskov, a citizen of both Bulgaria and Canada, also faces deportation.

Federal prosecutors had charged Taskov and his crew with unlawfully acquiring luxury vehicles from more than a dozen car dealers and shipping them coast to coast. The ring used straw buyers claiming to be employed by phony companies at lucrative salaries to obtain financing for the vehicles, and sought to take possession of the cars before the dealers and their loan companies had fully verified the financial information.

Suspect in Savage Beating of Bulgarian Student in Brussels Acquitted

In July, A Belgian court for juvenile offenders acquitted the only suspect for the savage beating of a Bulgarian student in the Brussels metro. The shocking crime against the 22-year-old Bulgarian student, Lyuben Tyulekov, was committed on New Year's, 2010. The victim, who was in Belgium's capital for an internship, was attacked inside a metro station by a group of young people.

After severely beating the Bulgarian, the perpetrators threw him over the railing to the train tracks and left. The young man survived due to alert passengers, who were able to pull him out moments before a train arrived at the station. The Bulgarian student will suffer from his severe injuries for the rest of his life. He is now partially deaf and partially blind as a result of the assault.

A 17-year-old Belgian citizen, who bears partial resemblance to one of the attackers as caught on CCTV footage, was acquitted on grounds the footage could not be used over its poor quality.

Sailors in Spain

On August 13, the Saint Nikolay ship was intercepted off Spain's southern coast with 3 tons of cocaine onboard. A total of 31 sailors, including 21 Bulgarians, were arrested. They were remanded into custody by the Spanish court until the investigation of the matter is wrapped up. The sailors are dispersed in four different jails, and their families are yet to receive permission to visit them.

The August operation, codenamed Cartel, was carried out jointly by Bulgaria's GDBOP, the French police, the US DEA and the UK COCA. The cocaine was of very high grade and its value is estimated at around EUR 150 M. The ship is owned by the Burgas-based company Seaborne Trade. Its manager, Doychin Doychev, was arrested in Bulgaria along with two other individuals, but all were released later.

In November, the Bulgaria attorney of the sailors informed that charges have been pressed.  According to the indictment, the ship captain had held two meetings in Madrid where the transport of the illegal load was negotiated while the crew was supposed to be paid EUR 180 000. The investigation further reports the ship had turned off its identification system and one of the sailors had resisted arrest.

Relatives said the detainees missed the 3-day deadline to appeal the charges because they received the text in Spanish and the lack of translator prevented them from communicating with their lawyers. The Spanish State-appointed attorneys decided to not appeal the charges at the moment. A Bulgarian prosecutor, investigators and employees of GDBOP traveled to Spain and attended the interrogations of the sailors as observers only.

Bulgarian Sentenced for Harassing Princess Diana's Butler

In August, a Bulgarian man accused of harassing Princess Diana's former butler Paul Burrell, was sentenced to a two-year supervision order.

Slav Mitev, 51, who lives in London, made a series of threatening calls to Burrell, including one he made last June claiming to have kidnapped his wife Maria and threatening to set fire to his shop. The mentally ill stalker was deemed not fit to enter a plea by the judge, but he also ruled Mitev did not need to be detained in a hospital.

Dissident Writer Murdered on Communist Dictator's Order

In September, the former resident of the Soviet KGB in Ottawa, Vladimir Mednis, confirmed that Georgi Markov, a Bulgarian emigrant broadcaster and dissident writer, has been murdered on the order of Communist dictator, Todor Zhivkov.

The exclusive report was published by the site for investigative journalism Bivol.bg on the day which marked the 34th anniversary since the gruesome act.

High-ranking KGB officers, Oleg Kalugin and Oleg Gordievski confirmed after the fall of the Berlin Wall that the murder was assisted by KGB, but until today no one has been charged in the case.

Speaking for Bivol, Mednis, who in 1978 worked as a subordinate of Kalugin in Moscow, has stated that Kalugin had a direct involvement in the murder.

On September 7, 1978, Georgi Markov, had been walking on foot to a bus stop to go to work at BBC. Once he reached the Waterloo Bridge over the Times River, he felt a sudden pain, similar to an insect bite, at the back of his left leg. He looked back and saw a man, picking an umbrella from the ground, crossing the street in a hurry, and catching a cab.

When he arrived at his office in BBC, Markov noticed a small red bump right where he felt the stinking earlier. He told one of his colleagues about the incident. The same evening, he was admitted in the hospital with high fever and died on September 11.

The case became known world-wide as "The Bulgarian Umbrella." Markov was actually murdered with a ricin-coated pellet, fired from an adapted pen; the umbrella was dropped nearby to distract him.

There are reports that the day – September 7, was picked on purpose because this is also Zhivkov's birthday and the murder was supposed to serve as some sort of a gift to Zhivkov. Vladimir Mednis has never until now been questioned by the British or the Bulgarian investigators.

Former Olympic Champ Sentenced for Drug Trafficking in Brazil

In October, the Regional Federal Court of Sao Paulo, Brazil rejected the appeal lodged by Bulgaria's former Olympic weightlifting champion Galabin Boevski, who was convicted earlier of international drug trafficking and sentenced to nine years and four months in jail.

The former champ was detained at the end of October 2011 at the Sao Paulo airport in Brazil and accused of carrying 7.2 kilos of cocaine in his luggage. Ever since, he has fervently claimed innocence in his rare media appearances. Boevski is hoping to be released under house arrest in awaiting his final sentence.

Triple Child Murder in Germany

A Bulgarian woman, Milka Docheva, was arrested and charged with arson and murder for the shocking deaths of three minor children in Dortmund, Germany, after the bodies of Mustafa, 4, and his 12-year-old sister were found in a burned down apartment, while Mehmet, 10, died in the hospital.

The police discovered that the children did not die from the fire, but all three had 49 stab wounds on their bodies. The father, a Turkish national, has not been charged. Neighbors said they often heart the couple arguing loudly. Social Services have visited the home several times over alerts the children were left unattended. The authorities reopened an earlier case on suspicions of arson since there has been another fire at the apartment in February 2012.

Bulgarian Exposes Facebook for Security Breach

In October, Facebook announced it was looking into the apparent breach of its users' data after a Bulgarian blogger and digital rights activist discovered that information and data about a huge number of Facebook users can be purchased online for pocket change.

The blogger, Bogomil Shopov, discovered the site Gigbucks and managed to purchase 1 million Facebook data entries for USD 5. He found the names and the emails of users from the US, Canada, Great Britain and Europe, along with those of a number of his Facebook friends.

Facebook's investigation has included contacting Shopov and asking him to send them the data, delete it, and remove the post from his blog mentioning his purchase. Shopov hopes the incident will call attention to Facebook's breaches of security.

Football Legend Stoichkov Probed for Battery in Chicago

In October, police in the US city of Chicago, probed for battery Bulgarian football legend Hristo Stoichkov because the editor-in-chief and publisher of the Chicago-based "Bulgaria Today," filed a complaint against him. The journalist claimed he had been attacked while trying to score an interview when the ex-football player, who hit him on the jaw and threatened him with "cutting his head off."

The incident happened during a gala for the 15th anniversary of the football club Chicago Fire. The charges were dropped over lack of evidence and witnesses not corroborating the journalist's account.

Bulgarian Football among Most Corrupt in the World

In November, SportRadar, a supplier of sports-related data, ranked Bulgaria's football league was the 8th most corrupt in Europe, with at least 37 games allegedly fixed since June 2009.

SportRadar concluded that the Albania's championship is the most corrupt, with suspicious 97 matches over the period. Italy is second with 70, followed by Moldova (66). At the end of August, a BBC investigation revealed that Bulgaria's football is deeply involved in mafia businesses, with match-fixing and money laundering being just the tip of a criminal iceberg that lurks beneath the surface of the game.

Poisoning Ruled Out in Turkish President Ozal's Death

It was announced in December that the late Turkish President Turgut Ozal has not died from poisoning, but the exact cause of death cannot be determined. This was the final conclusion of the Turkish Prosecutor's Office. DDT, DDE, cadmium and the radioactive elements Americium and Polonium, detected in Ozal's remains, were in very small dozes to cause death.

In addition, it is deemed normal to find traces of DDT since at the time this was a widely used pesticide, which was later banned, the Sabah daily wrote then, citing the report of Turkey's Council of Forensic Medicine (ATK). The other toxins could have penetrated the body from the soil where Ozal was buried, the report has further informed.

Turgut Ozal's remains were exhumed on October 2, 2012, on the order of the Prosecutor's Office in Ankara, on grounds his death remains suspicious. The blood samples taken to determine his cause of death were lost or disposed of.

Ozal was Prime Minister of Turkey (1983–1989) and President of Turkey (1989–1993). As Prime Minister, he transformed the economy of Turkey by paving the way for the privatization of many state enterprises. He died on April 17, 1993, of a suspicious heart attack while still in office, leading some to believe in an assassination plot. His wife Semra Ozal has claimed for years he was poisoned by lemonade and she questioned the lack of an autopsy.

Curiously enough, the Turkish President died after a reception at the Bulgarian Embassy in Ankara, held on April 16, one day before him passing away. He, allegedly, drank the lemonade precisely at that reception. The reception was held in honor of the current Bulgarian Culture Minister, Vezhdi Rashidov. Rashidov, who is an ethnic Bulgarian Turk, is a prominent sculptor.

During the Communist regime, Ozal was known as a strong defender of Bulgarian ethnic Turks, who were hunted by the government for refusing to change their Muslim names with Christian ones during the so-called "Revival Process." He adopted Bulgarian ethnic Turkish weightlifting champion Naim Suleimanoglou after the latter defected to Turkey.

Ozal sought to create a Turkic union, and had obtained the commitment of several presidents. His wife Semra alleged that the perpetrator might have wanted to foil the plan.

On June 18, 1988, he survived an assassination attempt during the party congress. One bullet wounded his finger while another bullet missed his head. The assassin, Kartal Demirag, was captured and sentenced to life imprisonment but pardoned by Ozal in 1992. In late 2008, Demirag was retried by the Ankara 11th Heavy Penal Court and sentenced to twenty years in prison.


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