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Cablegate: Bulgaria's Most Wanted: The Skull, the Beret, The

Published: Fri 11 Sep 2009 10:56 AM
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RR RUEHDBU RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHNP RUEHROV RUEHSL
DE RUEHSF #0508/01 2541056
ZNY SSSSS ZZH
R 111056Z SEP 09
FM AMEMBASSY SOFIA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 6312
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC
RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHINGTON DC
RHMCSUU/FBI WASHINGTON DC 0269
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC
RUEAWJA/DEPT OF JUSTICE WASHINGTON DC
RUEABND/DEA HQS WASHINGTON DC
S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 03 SOFIA 000508
NOFORN
SIPDIS
E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/28/2019
TAGS: PGOV KCRM KCOR BU
SUBJECT: BULGARIA'S MOST WANTED: THE SKULL, THE BERET, THE
CHICKEN, AND THE BILLY GOAT
REF: A. REF A: 09 SOFIA 154
B. REF B: 05 SOFIA 1207
C. REF C: 05 SOFIA 1882
D. REF D: 08 SOFIA 192
Classified By: CDA John Ordway for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).
1. (C) Summary: The number and scale of deeply entrenched
organized crime (OC) groups operating in Bulgaria present a
tremendous challenge to the new government as it strains to
enforce the rule of law. The Bulgarian mafia bosses, better
known by nicknames such as the Skull, Big Margin, and the
Beret have under previous governments been considered
untouchable. Bringing these ring leaders to justice would be
a major victory for the new government and demonstrate to a
skeptical European Commission (and Bulgarian public) that the
days of impunity are over. The following list of organized
crime figures is by no means exhaustive, but represents some
of the most well-known figures whose prosecution and
sentencing would signify a major step forward for the
Bulgarian government and bring us closer to the day when
mobsters like the "Chicken" are no longer free-range. End
Summary.
BACKGROUND
----------
2. (C) According to a common Bulgarian saying, "all countries
have a mafia, but in Bulgaria the mafia has a country." Crime
bosses or "Mutri," who often are popularly known by their
colorful nicknames, are frequently seen speeding around Sofia
in their black BMWs or Mercedes SUVs followed by a group of
thickly built bodyguards. Bulgarian OC is particularly
active in international money laundering, drug and human
trafficking, counterfeiting, and contract killing. Of the
134 contract killings Embassy Sofia has followed since 1993,
73 percent have not made it past the police investigation
stage; there have only been a handful of arrests, and even
fewer convictions (Ref A).
THE SKULL
---------
3. (C) Bulgaria's most infamous gangster is Vasil Krumov
Bozhkov, aka "the Skull." Bozhkov founded his first company
in 1990 before creating his current business empire, NOVE
HOLDING, comprising over 30 companies and numerous subsidies.
Bozhkov, whose wealth is valued at USD 1.5 billion, is one
of the richest men in Bulgaria and almost made the top 50
richest Eastern Europeans list in 2008. He is now slowly
moving out of the organized crime business and primarily owns
casinos, hotels, and media outlets. However, he is still
reportedly active in money laundering, privatization fraud,
intimidation, extortion, racketeering, and illegal antique
dealing. He maintains close relationships with many former
government officials (Ref B).
THE MARGIN BROTHERS
-------------------
4. (C) Despite being arrested in a 2005 for planning three
assassinations and participating in organized crime (Ref C),
Krasimir "Big Margin" Marinov and his younger brother,
Nikolay "Small Margin" Marinov, remain free on bail. The
brothers lead a well-known organized crime organization known
as Intergroup (formerly SIC), whose illegal activities
include drug trafficking (especially heroin), financial
fraud, car thefts, smuggling, extortion, racketeering, and
prostitution. The Marinov case, which has been postponed on
at least four separate occasions, has become symbolic of the
inability of the Bulgarian courts to bring about swift
justice. And thanks to a legal loop hole in Bulgarian law,
requiring the physical presence of all codefendants and
lawyers - who always happen to be too ill to make court dates
- the brothers were released on bail in December 2007 and
remain at large.
THE GALEV BROTHERS
------------------
5. (C) Plamen Galev and Angel Hristov, aka "the Galev
Brothers," jumped into the spotlight in 2008 following the
revelation that then-current Interior Minister Rumen Petkov
SOFIA 00000508 002 OF 003
met with them while they were under investigation for
organized crime activities (Ref D). The pair was later
arrested and charged with torture, prostitution, blackmail,
extortion, and drug running - before being freed and granted
temporary immunity in order to run for Parliamentary seats
during the July 5 national election. Despite losing the
election and immunity, the Sofia City Prosecutor, Nikolay
Kokinov, quietly announced that they had been released on
bail. Bulgaria's Supreme Court of appeals also ruled in
mid-July that the Galev case must be tried in Kyustendil
District Court rather then Sofia - thus allowing them to be
tried in an area where they have significantly more support
and have practically ruled for the last decade.
THE BERET
---------
6. (C) On February 6, the Bulgarian police apprehended the
infamous gangster Zlatomir Ivanov, aka "the Beret," for his
alleged link to three contract killings and two attempted
murders. Many believe that Ivanov was one of the most
important Bulgarian drug kingpins as well as the mastermind
behind several of the country's emblematic execution-style
underworld killings. The Beret has been charged with three
murders, including the murder of one of Bulgaria's notorious
drug lords, Nikola Ivanov, aka "the Beaver," who was shot
nine times in the chest and head on October 8, 2006 in an
upscale Sofia nightclub. He was also charged with the murder
of Radoslav Velokov, aka "the Unfriendly," who was shot in
the head upon leaving the Sixth Police Precinct in Sofia
where he had been interrogated about the attempted murder of
another mafia leader. Like the Marinov brothers, Ivanov
tried to receive immunity by running for a Parliamentary
seat, but his request was denied since charges were filed
against him before his Parliamentary bid. According to local
press reports, the star witness in his trial has refused to
testify against Ivanov citing threats to his life. Although
Ivanov remains in prison, it is not clear whether he will be
convicted.
THE RUSSIAN CONNECTION
----------------------
7. (S/NF) Todor Batkov, aka "Borat," a Bulgarian lawyer and
businessman, serves as a proxy and front-man for businesses
and interests of the infamous Russian-Israeli businessman,
Michael Cherney, aka "Mikhail Chorny." The Bulgarian
government labeled Chorny a national security threat, banning
him from entering Bulgaria in 2000. Chorny maintains
influence over his companies - including Levski football
team, Standart Newspaper, and Bankya Palace Hotel - by
transferring ownership to Batkov. Batkov has solid political
connections - in 2008 Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov
awarded him the Stara Planina Order, the government's highest
honor, for his activities in promoting Bulgarian culture,
arts, and sports. Batkov donates heavily to charitable
organizations for seriously ill children, orphans, the
Pirogov Emergency room, and local universities. He also
contributed one million leva to the "You Are Not Alone"
campaign in 2007 to help free the Bulgarian medics once held
in Libyan prison and gave 11 cars to the Ministry of
Interior. Batkov is still on the board of the Bulgarian
mobile phone company, MTel, and is managing director of
Batkov, Stoev, Botev, and Associates law firm. He was a
close associate of the late controversial Bulgarian banker
and former Parvanov advisor, Emil Kuliev, who was gunned down
in Sofia in 2006.
THE CHICKEN AND THE BILLY GOAT
------------------------------
8. (SBU) Nikolay Metodiev, aka "the Chicken" is considered
one of the major smugglers in Bulgaria and has been
prosecuted several times for the contraband of goods. His
nickname dates back to 1998 when he was arrested (and later
acquitted) for smuggling 11 tons of illegal chicken meat.
Metodiev was arrested again in 2003 for attempting to coerce
customs officials to allow the importation of illegal Chinese
cargo valued at USD 3.5 million. Instead of the prosecutor's
recommended 7 year prison sentence, he was fined 700 BGN (USD
525) for "threatening" government officials. There is a
third case pending against him for smuggling contraband,
scheduled for October 5, in which the court will have to
SOFIA 00000508 003 OF 003
interview 128 witnesses. On February 18, a powerful bomb
destroyed a popular mafia bar in downtown Sofia owned by the
Chicken, a bar within walking distance from embassy housing.
9. (SBU) Yordan Tonov, aka "the Billy Goat" was arrested in
October 2008 along with 13 others on charges of organized
crime, drug trafficking, human trafficking, and extortion.
Tonov, a close associate of the recently convicted
Burgas-based drug lord Dimiter Zhelazkov aka "Mitko the
Eyes," allegedly is the leader of a criminal group
controlling drug trafficking and prostitution in Southwestern
Bulgaria. Ten of Tonov's accomplices, including the Eyes,
have pleaded guilty and received reduced sentences of less
than five years, while Tonov has elected to take his chances
in the Bulgarian courts.
10. (C) Comment: The ruling center-right GERB party - touting
its leader Boyko Borissov's tough-guy/former cop credentials
- swept into power this past July on promises to tackle
corruption and fight organized crime. The GERB government
must now show the political will to take on the challenge.
The August 25 convictions of the Eyes and two Varna
"businessmen" on money-laundering, pimping, and criminal
association charges were a start, but the European Commission
has stressed that prison terms are too short and not enough
"big fish" are caught. Bulgaria's organized crime problem
cannot be solved overnight, but the successful prosecution
and sentencing of even one of these cases would be a huge
victory for the new government, and would send a very clear
and welcome signal to the Bulgarian public. End Comment.
ORDWAY
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