Chicago-style turf wars are a hurdle to Bulgaria’s EU hopes France_Presse - 2005/11/29
A rich banker assassinated in broad daylight on a central boulevard. Witnesses refusing to testify. Hotels used as laundering machines for dirty money. It's business as usual in Bulgaria. But a slap in the face of the European Union the eastern European country wants to join in 2007.
The European Commission warned in a report in October that "a considerably more pro-active approach towards tackling organised crime networks is urgently required" if Bulgaria is to join the bloc on time in 2007.
However as the clock ticks towards Bulgaria's EU target entry date, crime and corruption are still widespread, experts say.
"A number of hotels and many wholesale businesses are just ways to legalize dirty money," said Angel Tihonov, a 50-year-old former colonel, who owns a chain of supermarkets in Veliko Tarnovo, in central Bulgaria.
At Arbanasi, a charming mountain village nearby, he points out a bulky white "Palace" -- an ugly monument once built to accommodate the friends of communist dictator Todor Zhivkov and later sold and transformed into a hotel by the post-communist newly rich.
The tourist business on the Black Sea coast is riddled with the mafia, observers say, and famous resorts have become scenes of spectacular killings.
Some 155 contract killings linked to organised crime have been recorded by police since 2000.
"Bulgaria is a sick country," said new Interior Minister Rumen Petkov after the mysterious murder of banker Emil Kyulev on October 26, an assassination that broke the patience of the police and shook the country.
Kyulev, a 49-year-old former police officer, had gained riches and was struggling for respect as the owner of the biggest banking and insurance group in Bulgaria, DZI Group, and was a financial counsellor of President Georgy Parvanov.
"The ever increasing contract killings are a Bulgarian phenomenon, whose only model can be found in Russia," Tihomir Bezlov, at the Sofia-based Center for the Study of Democracy, told AFP.
The general crime rate in Bulgaria has stayed relatively low due to the "export" of young criminals such as identity card counterfeiters, drug dealers and pimps.
The mafia-linked assassinations are for Bezlov "a cheap way to get rid of the competition" in certain sectors.
After the fall of communism in Eastern Europe in 1989, there was an "accumulation of red capital" by former high-ranking officials and secret service agents, political analyst Boriana Dimitrova said.
These acquired formerly state-owned enterprises and banks that were artificially driven bankrupt with the falling apart of communism, she added.
Gangs boomed when 17,000 police were sacked after the fall of the regime, as many former officers threw away their badges and took up crime.
Trafficking blossomed during the period of UN sanctions on neighbouring Serbia from 1992-1994, injecting billions of dollars into the black market.
Sofia Mayor and former police lieutenant general Boiko Borissov defended the police, saying they had scored significant successes especially against the drug trafficking route between Turkey and the EU.
During his five years as general secretary of the interior, Borissov gained popularity for his denunciations of corruption in the judiciary which has often failed to condemn notorious criminals.
Surrounded by pictures with CIA and Scotland Yard chiefs or his "friend Nikolas Sarkozy", France's interior minister, Borissov praised the successes of his former colleagues and the help they have received from the West.
The increasing number of killings was a result of a ferocious battle for "a shrinking market", he said.
Under increasing pressure from Brussels, the Bulgarian parliament urgently adopted in October a new penal procedure code to remedy a judiciary system that has been criticised for failing to jail well-known criminals.
"Urgent efforts are needed here as nobody should be above the law," EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said recently in Sofia.
Borissov does not believe that the new legislature will change things as "there never was a political will on the part of different governments to act and punish", he said.
"It is good, though, that Bulgaria will join the EU so that it presses on us its discipline and rule of law," Borissov added.
US ambassador to Bulgaria John Beyrle has recently said that though "the EU and the US are willing to help you root out the cancer of crime and corruption, they cannot supply the political will to do that".