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Feature Articles


June 2007
Bulgaria:
Mafia Hotspot

By Mike La Sorte, Professor Emeritus


Mike La Sorte is a professor emeritus (SUNY) and writes extensively on a variety of subjects.

* * *

     With a population of eight million, the Republic of Bulgaria is located in southeast Europe, on the eastern Balkan Peninsula. It is bounded by the Black Sea on the east, by Romania on the north, the former Yugoslavia on the west, and Greece and European Turkey on the south. Sofia is the capital. The national economy, once largely agricultural, is increasingly being industrialized. Bulgaria can be said to be the linchpin of Balkan mafia activity.

     Where corruptible public officials are found, there will be collusion for mutual benefit between such persons and organized crime. Bulgaria is no exception—nor for that matter are any of the other Balkan countries.

     In Sofia, on 23 April 2003, politicians and magistrates were accused of ties to the mafia. The Minister of Internal Affairs, Boiko Borissov, reported that, "We are in possession of photographs that demonstrate unequivocally that former and current politicians and magistrates have done business with the Bulgarian criminal world." What had triggered the announcement was the attempt on 18 April to assassinate the shadowy figure and man of affairs Ivan Todorov, known as Doctora. His armored Mercedes exploded while coursing down one of the principle avenues of the capital. Todorov was injured and his driver killed. An explosive device had been placed in the motor compartment and the charge was activated by cellular phone.

     Todorov was a "man of interest" by the police. He was suspected of co-involvement in the trafficking of very large shipments of cigarettes into Bulgaria, Serbia and Montenegro. Todorov’s reputation as an entrepreneur of nefarious dealings had proceeded him when he applied for citizenship in the Principality of Monaco. His request was denied because he was suspected of being a mafia Don in an international criminal trafficking consortium.

     Following the failed assassination, Minister Borissov stood before the Bulgarian parliament and detailed the contraband routes in Bulgaria. The trafficking network, the Minister proclaimed, is moving illegal merchandize worth billions of dollars through the country in an unimpeded flow. The contrabanding business was being administered by as many as 114 criminal clans, with seven of them headquartered in the Bulgar capital. "I expect a notable increase of interclan clashes and homicides following this attack against Todorov," Borissov concluded, predicting a housecleaning in the criminal world.

     The Sofia newspapers highlighted the event as evidence of a further weakening of the government’s precarious position in confronting organized crime: "The boss of contrabanding had knocked the forces of law and order to their knees." It was becoming apparent that interclan rivalries, which can be said to be rarely resolved for very long, were redefining the criminal landscape, and this had produced numerous attacks on persons who earlier were comrades-in-arms in illicit affairs.

     The photographs in question showed, in addition to the above mentioned public servants, members of the majority political party breaking bread with the cream of the Bulgar underworld. These men included Milen Velchev, the finance minister, and the Minister of Transport and Communications, Plamen Petrov. Along side, in full relief, is Miroslav Sevlievski, the parliamentarian of the majority party. The photographs of the latter two were snapped on Todorov’s yacht as it lay at anchor in Monaco harbor. The photos were found by the Bulgar police in Todorov’s totaled Mercedes. The identified officials lost no time in denying the accusations of mafia association, declaring themselves to be victims of a blatant frame-up and the manufacturing of evidence.

     A chorus of voices opined that the meeting aboard the yacht was about the naming of directors of the customs inspection authority. The government spokesman noted that since the mere appearance of criminal collusion was "equivocal and not accurate’" the Prime Minister could not "act or take a position" on such shaky probabilities. Rumors reported in Sofia news releases speculated that the true motive of the Interior Minister in the Todorov affair was to discredit the ruling party and its allies, including the Bulgarian Turkish minority. Perhaps, conspiracy theorists suggested, the shadowy man of affairs, Doctora, had triggered this event for some sinister purpose, yet to be revealed.

     A few days before the Ivan Todorov incident the mafia capos that controlled contrabanding and narco-trafficking in the Balkan states had an executive "sit-down" at a Greek tourist center to realign the power structure. The Balkan clan in ascendance is the Zemun mob, which is alleged to be the perpetrator of the interclan clashes in Bulgaria. Zemun is a neighborhood in Belgrade, a large Serbo-Croatian city in the Republic of Serbia. Zemun, a notable mafia broker in the Balkans, probably masterminded the assassination of Premier Zoran Djindjic.

     Todorov was not at the Greek confab. As the Zemun star rose, Doctora’s appeared to be setting. His absence demonstrated to investigators that he had already lost his exalted status. Doctora’s position, according to some journalists, was hijacked by Konstantin Dimitrov, alias Samokovetsa. And it was Konstantin who sanctioned the botched "hit" on Todorov.

     In the Balkans and the adjoining nations, the Albanian mafiosi are the most numerous and assume a critical role in shipping drugs to Italian traffickers. From Albania, marijuana, heroin and cocaine arrive in Italy. From the Balkans, heroin moves into North Europe. The Albanians regulate the so-called "Southern Balkan Route." This route passes through Bulgaria to Albania, then crossing the Adriatic Sea at the Otranto Strait to southern Italian ports. The Albanians receive the cocaine from the Colombian cartels via Mediterranean and North Atlantic ports, especially the Dutch ports. Not to be ignored in this trade is the homegrown "red cocaine" manufactured in Albania.

     In the 1990s the very same mafiosi who had been partners began to be at each other’s throats. Ivan Todorov came from the ranks. Once he achieved prominence and wealth, he sought to buy his way into respectable high society and to transition into legitimate enterprises. Among Todorov’s friends and associates were a number of international gangsters such as Sreten Jovic. It was Ivan’s compatriot, Poli Pantev, who sponsored his introduction into the mafioso inner circle. Jovic was cheated by Pantev and Todorov on two occasions. In the first, 600 kilograms of cocaine were sold without Jovic getting his share of the profits. Pantev paid with his life, gunned down in the Caribbean. The surge in homicides has been pay back, a vendetta, by the Zemun clan for the dishonesty of its former Bulgar colleagues, which demonstrates once again that old adage, "There is no honor among thieves."

     Police reports document the former ties between the Zemun clan, Tororov and his allied Bulgar mafiosi. The shift in power placed others in control of the passage of heroin from Turkey to Belgrade, transiting through Bulgaria. The mafiosi contrabanding operatives in Serbia and Bulgaria enjoyed a strong rapport. "There is," documentation revealed, "a tacit protection agreement among the criminal groups that keep open the trafficking routes and this is guaranteed directly by state functionaries. This political protection costs an estimated 40 percent of the illicit traffic profits."

     There exists a Bulgarian organized crime group composed of some 4000 toughs who are in the business of protection and strong-arm persuasion. They go by the name of "Wrestlers’ Mafia" or the "Muscle Mafia." These dedicated picciotti are ready for any action that will yield immediate profit as well as developing businesses that will produce a steady income stream and long term gain. They run drugs and recycle dirty money, seeking to bring into their game government functionaries and policemen who are looking to get in on the easy money to augment their modest salaries. These enforcers have extended their reach by accumulating through force and stealth substantial interests in the nation’s nightclubs and gambling casinos.

     In Dupnitza, a small city in southwestern Bulgaria, the citizenry are in an uproar over the local mafia menace. Corruption has become so rampant that in June 2006 a three-day silent protest was staged, under the slogan "Say ‘No’ to Fear." City Hall detailed the systematic threats that certain persons have suffered from the likes of Plamen Galev and Angel Hristov, two former cops who transformed themselves into "businessmen." They were griping the city by its collective throat.

     There appears little doubt that Galev and Hristov are the padroni of the city. According to the mayor and the city council the two bosses operate an extortion racket that is causing consternation and apprehension within the commercial class. The tensions in Dupnitza reached a peak when council members for the first time discussed openly the infiltration of the mutri into the building trades. (The Bulgar word mutri is equivalent to the Italian term mafiosi. The Italian word for mutri is musi; the two words are of ancient origin, with both referring back to the Mediterranean pirates of yore.) The council asked the attorney general to finally take up determinate action against the organized criminality that has plagued the city for many years.

     The two crime moguls were quick to respond. They called a press conference to deny all allegations against them. The police indicated that no legal actions were pending against the two ex-cops. The two bosses have their supporters who contend that they are pillars of the community, "respectable benefactors," who are concerned about the welfare of the community and demonstrate their goodness by giving liberal donations of money to aid orphans, the sick and the disabled.

     The mayor would have none of it. "We have been reduced to slavery," he proclaimed, after listing the businesses in the city that pay their monthly extortion pizzo to the mutra (mob). "Since we lost the two previous bosses who were assassinated a few years back," the mayor added, "we are now stuck with these two new heroes." The mutra in Dupnitza has about fifty members composed of former policemen, entrepreneurs and others who have high standing in the community.

     Dipnitza is not an isolated case. According to a recent survey fifty percent of the Bulgar population is fearful of the mafia bosses that control their communities. In response to the survey question, "In your city are there groups or persons that impose their influence through illegal means?" 52.8 percent of those interviewed said "Yes." Only 14 percent responded in the negative.

     The same survey ranked "groups and persons" that in the estimation of the interviewees affected daily life in their communities through criminality. In first place were the brothers Margini (top capos, who were incarcerated awaiting trial). The notorious brothers were followed by the SIK company, Stefan Sofianski (the ex-mayor of Sofia), the Ataka leader Volen Siderov, and in fifth place the padrino of Dupnitza, Plamen Galev.

     A majority of those interviewed agreed that their cities were being turned into "mafia feudal states." Corruption of public officials, police and magistrates was rife, as was fear of violence and racketeering. The channels of communication were not to be trusted as they were being compromised by untrustworthy elements.

     "The mafia is inside the community," read one banner during a large demonstration in the public square of Dupnitza. That was the sentiment of many. The Minister of the Interior thought otherwise. When Rumen Petkov visited Dupnitza the newspapers noted with a resigned sigh of disapproval: "Minister Petkov saw no mafia in Dupnitza."


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