Thursday

29th Sep 2016

Bulgaria loses case against suspected mafia bosses

The Bulgarian government has lost another high-profile case against suspected mafia bosses despite a pledge to stamp out organised crime.

A provincial court near Sofia has acquitted two controversial businessmen charged with running an extortion racket and has issued lenient sentences to a handful of their associates.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • Plamen Galev (r) and Angel Hristov in court (Photo: Trud)

Following judge Miroslav Nachev's verdict in the western town of Kyustendil, key witnesses against the defendants Plamen Galev and Angel Hristov said they were afraid for their own safety and that of their families.

Five months earlier, a Sofia court had acquitted Mr Krasimir and Nikolai Marinovi of similar charges. The two men are suspected to be among the godfathers of the country's underworld.

Several weeks ago, another Sofia court considerably downgraded organised crime charges against another controversial businessman, Alexei Petrov, whom the government had branded the "head of the Octopus" – local jargon for organised crime. Mr Petrov was put under house arrest and is now regularly speaking to the media. He recently divulged plans to run for president next autumn.

The new verdicts are clear defeats for prime minister Boiko Borisov and his interior minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov who, since taking office in late July 2009, repeatedly pledged to send top-level criminals to jail.

A widely touted muscle-flexing police exercise to hunt the local mafia has yielded few results in court, and several suspects are already suing Bulgaria in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg for violation of their rights.

"Don't hurry to write off this case for this was just the first instance ruling," chief prosecutor Boris Velchev said of Mr Galev and Mr Hristov's acquittal, indicating that the verdict could be appealed in the higher courts.

While Mr Tsvetanov has often blamed the acquittals on judicial corruption, judges argue that the police failed to collect convincing evidence and that indictments were built on a flimsy basis.

Mr Galev, 42, and Mr Hristov, 41, both former elite police unit members turned businessmen, were the virtual landlords of the town of Dupnitsa, in the Kyustendil constituency, 55 km south of Sofia. Their power was so extensive that the 30,000-strong town was renamed 'Galevgrad' (Galevville) or the "first private town" in popular parlance.

The two, who are also referred to as the 'Galevi brothers,' sat in the municipal council and essentially controlled all the decisions made by the local authorities, including the kind of music played on the town square's loudspeakers. Atanas Yanev, mayor of Dupnitsa, is widely considered to be their puppet.

Many locals support the Galevi brothers because they have established an order of their own that has rid the economically depressed town of petty crime, which police had been either unwilling or unable to tackle. They have also engaged in image-polishing charity.

Prosecutor Biser Kirilov's witnesses told the court that Mr Galev and Mr Hristov had taken control of the town thanks to a small squad of hitmen, who terrified anyone who dared to disobey.

Two of those men, Apostol Chakalv and Vladimir Angelov, were convicted of battery and illegal possession of firearm ammunition. They were each sentenced to a year and four months in prison, but will not serve the term as it is a month shorter than the duration of their preliminary arrest.

Georgi Gradevski, another associate of the Galevi brothers, was sentenced to six months of probation for beating up the son of local investigative reporter Lidya Pavlova. Ms Pavolva won the WAZ/IFJ courage prize in 2009 for being the only journalist who dared dig into the Galevi brothers' affairs and publish a series of articles about them.

The court also rejected claims filed by Ms Pavolva and Plamen Milanov, a local small taxi firm owner, against the defendants for 1.2 million Bulgarian lev (BGN), roughly equal to €600,000, and BGN300,000 (€150,000). Instead, the court fined four of them – except Mr Galev and Mr Hirstov – BGN500 (€250) each for physical assault.

"Now I am afraid for myself and my family," said Mr Milanov, who had told the court that the Galevi brothers were racketeering him.

"That's it! There is no justice for the mafia! There is no court! They buy them with whole briefcases of money!" said Dimitrina Gosheva, another witness for the prosecution, who currently lives in the US and had traveled to Bulgaria for the trial.

The defendants refused to make any comment.

EU commission presents 'realistic' lobbying rules

The EU executive called for more stringent regulation of interest representatives trying to influence EU decision making. Critics say the 'transparency revolution' is being blocked by the European Parliament and EU member states.

New EU rules on financial products in limbo

A feud between MEPs and the EU commission is threatening to derail financial services regulation that would protect consumers from misleading investment products.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceWhy the Investment Plan for Europe Does not Drive the Sustainable Energy Transition
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region Seeks to Make Its Voice Heard in the World
  3. Taipei EU OfficeCountries Voice Support for Taiwan's Participation in ICAO
  4. World VisionNew Tool Measuring Government Efforts to Protect Children Released
  5. GoogleDid You Know Europe's Largest Dinosaur Gallery Is in Brussels? Check It Out Now
  6. IPHRHuman Rights in Uzbekistan After Karimov - Joint Statement
  7. CISPECloud Infrastructure Providers Unveil Data Protection Code of Conduct
  8. EFAMessages of Hope From the Basque Country and Galicia
  9. Access NowDigital Rights Heroes and Villains. See Who Protects Your Rights, Who Wants to Take Them Away
  10. EJCAppalled by Recommendation to Remove Hamas From EU Terrorism Watch List
  11. GoogleBringing Education to Refugees in Lebanon With the Clooney Foundation for Justice
  12. Belgrade Security ForumCan Democracy Survive Global Disorder?