WikiLeaks: US Ambassador Warlick's Report on Operation 'Octopus' of Bulgaria's Police

Views on BG | July 18, 2011, Monday // 15:36

A diplomatic cable of the US Embassy in Sofia, dated February 10, 2010, has been released on WikiLeaks and provided to the project for investigative journalism www.bivol.bg and its affiliate BalkanLeaks.eu, bringing out current US Ambassador to Bulgaria James Warlick’s report to Washington on the so called special police operation “Octopus” of the Bulgarian police under the Borisov Cabinet in which former secret agent Aleksei Petrov was arrested.

date: 2/10/2010 17:05
refid: 10SOFIA103
origin: Embassy Sofia
classification: CONFIDENTIAL
destination: 09SOFIA508|09SOFIA548|09SOFIA642
header:
VZCZCXRO0687
RR RUEHDBU RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHNP RUEHROV RUEHSL RUEHSR
DE RUEHSF #0103/01 0411705
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 101705Z FEB 10
FM AMEMBASSY SOFIA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 6700
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHINGTON DC
RUEAWJA/DEPT OF JUSTICE WASHINGTON DC
RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHINGTON DC
RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC


C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 SOFIA 000103 
 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/03/2019 
TAGS: PGOV, KCRM, KCOR, BU 
SUBJECT: COMBATING ORGANIZED CRIME: ROUND ONE GOES TO THE 
NEW GOVERNMENT 
 
REF: A. 09 SOFIA 508 
     B. 09 SOFIA 548 
     C. 09 SOFIA 642 
 
Classified By: AMB JAMES WARLICK FOR REASONS 1.4 (B) AND (D). 
 
1.  (C) Summary: Elected on an anti-corruption and organized 
crime platform, the GERB government has made good on its 
campaign promises and taken some positive steps.  Important 
reforms, bolstered by political will from the top, have 
ratcheted up the pressure against previously untouchable 
organized crime figures and enabled marquee busts of a few 
large well-equipped organized crime groups.  At the same 
time, these arrests have highlighted weaknesses in the 
judicial system as judges allow members of these groups to 
make bail and delay proceedings despite prosecutors' 
assurances of airtight evidence against them.  In private 
meetings with the Ambassador, the government has confirmed 
its commitment to fight organized crime, but this may be a 
losing battle if it is unable to convince the judiciary to 
make the reforms necessary to allow prosecutors to do their 
jobs and keep dangerous criminals in prison.  End Summary. 
 
PROGRESS ON ORGANIZED CRIME AND CORRUPTION 
----------------------------------------- 
 
2.  (C) In its short time in office, the government has 
completed difficult reforms and personnel changes necessary 
to make law enforcement more effective.   It has revamped law 
enforcement by removing 26 of the 28  regional police chiefs, 
many of whom were corrupt or incompetent, established 
embassy-recommended interagency counter organized crime task 
forces, and passed new laws to resolve jurisdictional 
conflicts between the State Agency for National Security 
(DANS) and the Ministry of Interior (MOI).  As a result, 
coordination between law enforcement and the prosecutor's 
office has dramatically improved.  Chief Prosecutor Boris 
Velchev, a Socialist appointee, confided to the Ambassador 
during a February 1 meeting that he has the complete support 
of the PM and the government to "declare war" on the 200 to 
300 most dangerous organized crime figures, including the 20 
to 50 bosses who are household names (ref A). 
 
3.  (C) Structural reforms and clear political will have 
brought some quick and convincing results, including 
impressive operations in December against two notorious 
organized crime gangs known as "the Impudents" and "the 
Crocodiles."  The government arrested 30 members of the 
Impudent gang believed to have carried out 19 high profile 
ransom kidnappings over the past several years.  Breaking up 
this group was a priority from day one for the new government 
due to this group's use of sophisticated technology and 
techniques along with the psychological effect the 
kidnappings had on the population.  Similarly, the Crocodile 
gang, composed mainly of car thieves and highway robbers, 
terrorized mostly Turkish citizens driving through Bulgaria 
to Germany. 
 
4.  (C) Most recently, the police launched operation 
"Octopus" in which they arrested 12 people on February 10 
believed to be involved in a powerful organized crime group 
that has operated for the last 10 years.  These busts were a 
public relations coup for the government in that they 
targeted well-known groups that previous governments had been 
powerless to stop.  The government has had even more success 
arresting former government officials for corruption.  To 
date, two former ministers have been indicted and five other 
ministers from the previous two governments will likely face 
corruption-related charges.  This is on top of at least 10 
high-level arrests of mayors, judges, agency heads, and MPs 
for corruption since last summer. 
 
JUDICIAL REFORM LAGS BEHIND 
--------------------------- 
 
5.  (C) Despite successes on the organized crime and 
corruption front, the powerful "big fish" mostly remain at 
large due to the serious flaws in the overly formalistic 
judicial system (ref B).  No case illustrates this better 
than the Marinov brothers and the January 5 assassination of 
Boris "Bobby" Tsankov.  Tsankov, a self-styled journalist and 
entertainment figure with extensive underworld ties, was 
gunned down in typical gangland fashion in downtown Sofia. 
This unsolved murder is reminiscent of the approximately 140 
other Mafia hits that have taken place in Bulgaria from 1993 
to 2010.  It is widely believed that Krassimir "Big Margin" 
 
SOFIA 00000103  002 OF 002 
 
 
Marinov and his brother Nikolay "Small Margin" Marinov 
ordered the hit to prevent Tsankov from providing evidence to 
the chief prosecutor's office.  The Marinovs have been 
embroiled in serious organized crime and murder cases dating 
back to 2005 (ref A), but were free on bail at the time of 
the shooting thanks to legal loopholes that allow the 
perpetual postponement of serious cases.  After the Tsankov 
killing, Little Margin's whereabouts are unknown and Big 
Margin was briefly detained for the killing before being 
released due to a lack of evidence (he was later arrested 
again on drug-related charges). 
 
6.  (C) Even the successful operation against the Impudent 
gang has not been brought to a satisfactory conclusion.  Of 
the 30 members initially arrested, 21 have been released from 
jail, including one of the ringleaders, Anton "the Hamster" 
Petrov.  Petrov was released on BGN 20,000 (USD 15,000) bail 
after the Appeals Court determined that the MOI and 
prosecutors had failed to provide new and convincing evidence 
against him.  Since Petrov's release, two witnesses who were 
cooperating with the police have reneged on promises to 
testify against the kidnapping group. This is a familiar 
pattern that has repeated itself in many other important 
organized crime cases. 
 
REFORM EFFORTS FACE DIFFICULT HURDLES 
------------------------------------- 
 
7.  (C) Chief Prosecutor Velchev and Minister of Justice 
Popova told the Ambassador in separate meetings that reform 
of the criminal procedure code had run into fierce opposition 
from the "old guard" (politicians and judges) allied with 
defense lawyers and NGOs using the language of human rights 
to sink necessary reform.  Changes to the criminal procedure 
code would close legal loopholes and likely speed up 
organized crime and corruption cases, which drag on for years 
in the current system (ref A).  Reforming the code is widely 
viewed as essential to shift the balance from a system overly 
favorable to defendants to a more just and effective system. 
Among other things, the proposed changes to the criminal 
procedure code would allow police to testify in court, 
provide a back-up defense lawyer and increase fines if the 
defendant's attorney fails to show up at court (a common 
tactic for postponements), and simplify evidence collection 
procedures.  Without radical reform, Minister Popova told the 
Ambassador that Bulgaria's judiciary could not cope with its 
entrenched organized crime problem.  Radical reforms such as 
significantly changing how judges and prosecutors are 
appointed, disciplined, and promoted (ref C) would require 
constitutional amendments that need 161 of the 240 votes in 
parliament to pass.  GERB is a minority government with 114 
MPs, making constitutional reform difficult. 
 
8.  (C) Comment: The GERB government has set ambitious goals 
in combating organized crime and has shown it has the 
political will to fight established criminal enterprises and 
entrenched interests.  Still, this will not be an easy fight, 
and it will be difficult to achieve convictions and 
reasonable sentencing of "big fish" if the judicial system is 
not recalibrated to confront Bulgaria's organized crime 
problem.  Radical judicial reform advocated by the Minister 
of Justice will not happen overnight given the highly 
independent and conservative judicial system and the daunting 
constitutional barriers preventing rapid reform.  Despite 
these challenges, incremental reform is possible with the 
government's strong support.  In the end, the government will 
be judged not on high profile arrests, but on its ability to 
speed up corruption cases, close legal loop holes, and 
successfully lock up previously untouchable organized crime 
figures.  End Comment. 

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Tags: Octopus, James Warlick, US Ambassador, US Embassy, diplomatic cables, diplomatic cable, organized crime, interior ministry, Tsvetan Tsvetanov, Aleksei Petrov
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