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