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Cablegate: Combating Organized Crime: Round One Goes to The

VZCZCXRO0687
RR RUEHDBU RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHNP RUEHROV RUEHSL RUEHSR
DE RUEHSF #0103/01 0411705
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 101705Z FEB 10
FM AMEMBASSY SOFIA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 6700
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHINGTON DC
RUEAWJA/DEPT OF JUSTICE WASHINGTON DC
RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHINGTON DC
RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 SOFIA 000103

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/03/2019
TAGS: PGOV KCRM KCOR BU
SUBJECT: COMBATING ORGANIZED CRIME: ROUND ONE GOES TO THE
NEW GOVERNMENT

REF: A. 09 SOFIA 508
B. 09 SOFIA 548
C. 09 SOFIA 642

Classified By: AMB JAMES WARLICK FOR REASONS 1.4 (B) AND (D).

1. (C) Summary: Elected on an anti-corruption and organized
crime platform, the GERB government has made good on its
campaign promises and taken some positive steps. Important
reforms, bolstered by political will from the top, have
ratcheted up the pressure against previously untouchable
organized crime figures and enabled marquee busts of a few
large well-equipped organized crime groups. At the same
time, these arrests have highlighted weaknesses in the
judicial system as judges allow members of these groups to
make bail and delay proceedings despite prosecutors'
assurances of airtight evidence against them. In private
meetings with the Ambassador, the government has confirmed
its commitment to fight organized crime, but this may be a
losing battle if it is unable to convince the judiciary to
make the reforms necessary to allow prosecutors to do their
jobs and keep dangerous criminals in prison. End Summary.

PROGRESS ON ORGANIZED CRIME AND CORRUPTION
-----------------------------------------

2. (C) In its short time in office, the government has
completed difficult reforms and personnel changes necessary
to make law enforcement more effective. It has revamped law
enforcement by removing 26 of the 28 regional police chiefs,
many of whom were corrupt or incompetent, established
embassy-recommended interagency counter organized crime task
forces, and passed new laws to resolve jurisdictional
conflicts between the State Agency for National Security
(DANS) and the Ministry of Interior (MOI). As a result,
coordination between law enforcement and the prosecutor's
office has dramatically improved. Chief Prosecutor Boris
Velchev, a Socialist appointee, confided to the Ambassador
during a February 1 meeting that he has the complete support
of the PM and the government to "declare war" on the 200 to
300 most dangerous organized crime figures, including the 20
to 50 bosses who are household names (ref A).

3. (C) Structural reforms and clear political will have
brought some quick and convincing results, including
impressive operations in December against two notorious
organized crime gangs known as "the Impudents" and "the
Crocodiles." The government arrested 30 members of the
Impudent gang believed to have carried out 19 high profile
ransom kidnappings over the past several years. Breaking up
this group was a priority from day one for the new government
due to this group's use of sophisticated technology and
techniques along with the psychological effect the
kidnappings had on the population. Similarly, the Crocodile
gang, composed mainly of car thieves and highway robbers,
terrorized mostly Turkish citizens driving through Bulgaria
to Germany.

4. (C) Most recently, the police launched operation
"Octopus" in which they arrested 12 people on February 10
believed to be involved in a powerful organized crime group
that has operated for the last 10 years. These busts were a
public relations coup for the government in that they
targeted well-known groups that previous governments had been
powerless to stop. The government has had even more success
arresting former government officials for corruption. To
date, two former ministers have been indicted and five other
ministers from the previous two governments will likely face
corruption-related charges. This is on top of at least 10
high-level arrests of mayors, judges, agency heads, and MPs
for corruption since last summer.

JUDICIAL REFORM LAGS BEHIND
---------------------------

5. (C) Despite successes on the organized crime and
corruption front, the powerful "big fish" mostly remain at
large due to the serious flaws in the overly formalistic
judicial system (ref B). No case illustrates this better
than the Marinov brothers and the January 5 assassination of
Boris "Bobby" Tsankov. Tsankov, a self-styled journalist and
entertainment figure with extensive underworld ties, was
gunned down in typical gangland fashion in downtown Sofia.
This unsolved murder is reminiscent of the approximately 140
other Mafia hits that have taken place in Bulgaria from 1993
to 2010. It is widely believed that Krassimir "Big Margin"
Marinov and his brother Nikolay "Small Margin" Marinov
ordered the hit to prevent Tsankov from providing evidence to
the chief prosecutor's office. The Marinovs have been
embroiled in serious organized crime and murder cases dating
back to 2005 (ref A), but were free on bail at the time of
the shooting thanks to legal loopholes that allow the
perpetual postponement of serious cases. After the Tsankov
killing, Little Margin's whereabouts are unknown and Big
Margin was briefly detained for the killing before being
released due to a lack of evidence (he was later arrested
again on drug-related charges).

6. (C) Even the successful operation against the Impudent
gang has not been brought to a satisfactory conclusion. Of
the 30 members initially arrested, 21 have been released from
jail, including one of the ringleaders, Anton "the Hamster"
Petrov. Petrov was released on BGN 20,000 (USD 15,000) bail
after the Appeals Court determined that the MOI and
prosecutors had failed to provide new and convincing evidence
against him. Since Petrov's release, two witnesses who were
cooperating with the police have reneged on promises to
testify against the kidnapping group. This is a familiar
pattern that has repeated itself in many other important
organized crime cases.

REFORM EFFORTS FACE DIFFICULT HURDLES
-------------------------------------

7. (C) Chief Prosecutor Velchev and Minister of Justice
Popova told the Ambassador in separate meetings that reform
of the criminal procedure code had run into fierce opposition
from the "old guard" (politicians and judges) allied with
defense lawyers and NGOs using the language of human rights
to sink necessary reform. Changes to the criminal procedure
code would close legal loopholes and likely speed up
organized crime and corruption cases, which drag on for years
in the current system (ref A). Reforming the code is widely
viewed as essential to shift the balance from a system overly
favorable to defendants to a more just and effective system.
Among other things, the proposed changes to the criminal
procedure code would allow police to testify in court,
provide a back-up defense lawyer and increase fines if the
defendant's attorney fails to show up at court (a common
tactic for postponements), and simplify evidence collection
procedures. Without radical reform, Minister Popova told the
Ambassador that Bulgaria's judiciary could not cope with its
entrenched organized crime problem. Radical reforms such as
significantly changing how judges and prosecutors are
appointed, disciplined, and promoted (ref C) would require
constitutional amendments that need 161 of the 240 votes in
parliament to pass. GERB is a minority government with 114
MPs, making constitutional reform difficult.

8. (C) Comment: The GERB government has set ambitious goals
in combating organized crime and has shown it has the
political will to fight established criminal enterprises and
entrenched interests. Still, this will not be an easy fight,
and it will be difficult to achieve convictions and
reasonable sentencing of "big fish" if the judicial system is
not recalibrated to confront Bulgaria's organized crime
problem. Radical judicial reform advocated by the Minister
of Justice will not happen overnight given the highly
independent and conservative judicial system and the daunting
constitutional barriers preventing rapid reform. Despite
these challenges, incremental reform is possible with the
government's strong support. In the end, the government will
be judged not on high profile arrests, but on its ability to
speed up corruption cases, close legal loop holes, and
successfully lock up previously untouchable organized crime
figures. End Comment.

WARLICK

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