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The Ubiquitous threat of MAFIA Gangs in Europe Prospers under Laxed Judiciaries.

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Author Topic: The Ubiquitous threat of MAFIA Gangs in Europe Prospers under Laxed Judiciaries.  (Read 834 times)
Jonnie Goodboy
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« on: June 02, 2012, 08:26:54 am »

Sofia Journal:

Law and Order, Bulgarian Style

Published: July 20, 2011

SOFIA, Bulgaria — Arms pinned behind his back, Alexei “The Tractor” Petrov lay with his face pushed to the floor after heavily armed masked police commandos raided his home early last year. The police then hauled him off in one of Bulgaria’s most pronounced efforts to take on the godfathers of racketeering, kidnapping and prostitution who have eroded trust in the country’s institutions and day-to-day life.

Valentina Petrova for the International Herald Tribune

(— Prime Minister Boiko Borisov of Bulgaria, center, the self-styled "Batman" of Sofia, has targeted purported crime lords in a campaign called "Operation Octopus."
Released from jail in October 2010, then from house arrest this February, Mr. Petrov still faces serious charges like racketeering and threatening to murder a business partner. But that has done little to quash his bravado.)

The administration of Bulgaria’s prime minister, Boyko Borisov, a former business partner of Mr. Petrov, has singled out suspected crime lords in a campaign called “Operation Octopus.” In an interview, Mr. Petrov denied the charges against him while twirling a stick with a plastic octopus stuck to its top. He also said he was contemplating running for president.

If convicted, Mr. Petrov, a former karate champion and intelligence agent, would be the first big name to be imprisoned as an organized crime boss here. This fractious ex-Communist nation has faced strong doubts about whether it was ready to join the European Union when it was admitted in 2007. Frustrated with what it saw as rampant corruption, the union withheld hundreds of millions of euros in aid to the country’s previous government.

Now Bulgaria’s battle with organized crime is being seen as a test of whether, even after meeting the bloc’s entry requirements, Western standards of law and order can truly be reached not only here, but in neighboring Romania and perhaps in other states, like Serbia, which has applied for admission.

“We are watching all the cases closely,” said Mark Gray, spokesman for the European Commission, the European Union’s executive body. “The essential problem on organized crime remains the lack of convictions in important, high-level cases.”

In a report released Wednesday, the commission said that the number of acquittals in cases involving high-level corruption, fraud and organized crime “have exposed serious deficiencies in judicial practice in Bulgaria.”

Though it praised police efforts to tackle criminal gangs, it said the results needed to improve significantly. The battle against high-level corruption has not yet yielded convincing results, it added.

Since he came to power in 2009, Mr. Borisov, the self-styled “Batman” of Sofia, says he has ended a rash of contract killings and kidnappings, rounding up a variety of gangs with nicknames like “The Killers,” accused of murder for hire; “The Impudent,” investigated for 20 kidnappings; and ‘The “Crocodiles” arrested over an epidemic of robberies on highways.

The prime minister claims that, thanks to him, “corruption becomes almost impossible in the government.” He is, he says, confident that Bulgaria will soon be given a date to join Europe’s Schengen zone, where travelers can move between countries without showing passports.

Yet Mr. Borisov’s own rise, from fireman, judo coach and bodyguard to the pinnacle of political power, underscores how Bulgaria’s transition from Communism blurred lines between politics, state security and an aggressive, no holds-barred form of money-making that sometimes seemed indistinguishable from organized crime.

After the fall of the Iron Curtain, security agents, wrestlers and other elite sportsmen formed businesses that offered security and sold insurance but often operated protection rackets.

Though Mr. Petrov says he first crossed paths with Mr. Borisov as a karate enthusiast in 1982, the two men were linked in these early post-communist days, when they operated a company to promote sports. “One way or another this company did nothing,” said Mr. Petrov, “We did not succeed and we did nothing and we all withdrew later.”

At this time, mafia gangs — or mutri — mushroomed throughout Bulgaria, protected by leather-jacketed heavies.

Mr. Borisov, who would not discuss his relationship with Mr. Petrov, went into politics, becoming the mayor of Sofia and leading the center-right opposition party, GERB, before being elected prime minister.

Mr. Petrov worked first as a secret agent in the counterintelligence service for seven years until 2007, then as an intelligence agency boss for the government led by Mr. Borisov’s political rival. Critics contend he was simultaneously running a business empire linked to organized crime.

When he solemnly declared war on the godfathers of crime last year, Mr. Borisov coined the name “Operation Octopus” for a crackdown intended to decapitate an organized crime network so vast that its tentacles spread throughout Bulgarian society. In a report last year, the Interior Ministry said it had identified 223 leaders of crime groups — around 50 of whom had been arrested — and estimated there were more than 1,200 people in their gangs.

One research institute, the Center for Study of Democracy, estimates that Bulgaria’s drug market is worth about $124 million a year and its internal sex trade about $168 million a year, while the profit from cigarette smuggling is about $436 million per year, it said.

Stocky and powerfully built, Mr. Petrov ridiculed the charge that he leads a crime gang engaged in rackets like protection and prostitution.

“I don’t need this anymore,” he said, waving the brightly colored toy octopus on the end of a stick, “There is no octopus.”

He wants to run for president to revitalize the economy and provide better services, he says. It is not for nothing that he is nicknamed “The Tractor,” a name he earned, he said, because of his relentless determination to plow his way to whatever plot he chooses.

“I am clean, I have been cleared and I want to become president,” he added, referring to the fact that broader charges against him are not being pursued. Then he reeled off a series of accusations against the prime minister, including claims that Mr. Borisov misled the public over his achievements in the karate world and hints that he was responsible for an attempt on Mr. Petrov’s life in 2002.

Mr. Borisov, a tall, imposing, figure with close-cropped hair, bristled at the mention of Mr. Petrov’s name, dismissing the allegations as “cheap personal attacks.”

“For 12 years I have been hearing stupid things like that,” he said.

Yonko Grozev, a lawyer and researcher at the Center for Liberal Strategies, a research institute in Sofia created in 1994 after the fall of communism, argues that while cases against suspected mobsters have stumbled, Mr. Borisov’s government created the feeling of a fresh start by going after people once thought untouchable.

“There is an air about Alexei Petrov: you don’t mess with him,” Mr. Grozev added, “if there was a surprise after this government came to power, it was that it decided to mess with him.”

Mr. Grozev believes that, though the two men ran similar enterprises in the 1990s, Mr. Borisov’s was more benign and that, now in government, the prime minister is sincere in wanting to crack down on crime even if he has failed to reform law enforcement institutions.

The central problem, he says, is that business, crime and politics are intertwined in Bulgaria. “This is a mild version of Russia,” said Mr. Grozev. “Every government official is an entrepreneur and they use their public powers as a personal asset. Favors are being done.”

“The chances of a politician making it into government in Bulgaria without knowing how to deal with those people, all those business interests,’ he added, “well, there is just no chance.”

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"When the righteous become many, the people rejoice; but when anyone wicked bears rule, the people sigh".
— Prov 29:2

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