Tue, Jul 01, 2003 - Page 7 News List

Bulgarians fear organized gangs' bloody reign of terror

AFP , SOFIA

A recent series of spectacular killings in Bulgaria has people blaming the government for not coming to grips with organized crime.

Todor Tolev, who owned eight construction and transportation firms, was gunned down on June 16 as he left his office in Sofia.

In another incident three days later Kiril Kirov, a Bulgarian known as "the Jap" because his eyes are narrow, and who is believed to be the leader of six drug gangs, narrowly escaped death when a motorcylist shot at his Mercedes car near a school in Sofia.

"Bulgarians are concerned about wars among gangs carrying out illegal trade and about the increasing number of attacks and killings in public places," Nasko Rafailov, of the parliament's security committee, said.

President Georgi Parvanov told reporters Friday that a crackdown on criminal groups, "especially drug traffickers, is forcing" them into turf battles.

"This is the explanation for the killings in the underworld," he said.

Political analyst Emil Georgiev said however that "bloody, spectacular incidents are taking place one after the other... because the interior ministry is not working properly."

Georgiev said Sofia actually has more police per resident than London.

"In London there is one policeman for every 230 people while in Sofia there is one policeman for every 100 residents and they still can't maintain law and order," Georgiev said.

Political analyst Evgeni Dainov said Bulgaria's weak government was letting "the ferocious animals in Mercedes... get richer and kill in their fight to win respect."

The press said that contraband cigarette dealings and the upcoming privatization of the Bulgarian telecommunications sector were factors in the Tolev killing.

Tolev was a former agent of the communist secret service and had been marketing a telephone for transmitting data. He also had a factory for making illegal cigarettes.

Kirov meanwhile is believed to be close to Ivan Todorov, a former medical student known as "the doctor", who is involved in contraband cigarette dealings.

Todorov's Mercedes was blown up in a bomb attack on April 18 on one of Sofia's busiest streets but "the doctor," miraculously, survived.

Konstantin Dimitrov, who sells potatoes but is actually involved in smuggling Marlboro brand cigarettes according to police, survived a bomb attack on his armored jeep on June 1.

And in perhaps the most dramatic attack, Bulgaria's richest man Ilia Pavlov -- owner of the MG corporation which has interests in tourism, energy, and construction -- ?was killed on March 7.

Pavlov, a former wrestler with connections to the communist secret services, had made enemies due to his interests in tourism and energy privatization, the newspaper Trud has reported.

A recent poll found that 47 percent of the respondents felt organized crime flourished because of protection from politicians.

Rumen Milanov, the director of the government's crime-fighting unit, said that racketeers were adapting to the police crackdowns carried out in the 1990s by becoming legitimate businessmen. "Sometimes illegal activity is carried out under legal cover," he said.

But a US diplomat in Sofia said the problem was Bulgaria's legal system.

"We see a lot of criminal activity and corruption but no one gets punished," the diplomat said.

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