Murders prompt EU warning for Bulgaria over organised crime

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The Independent Online

The European Union has warned Bulgaria that it must take urgent action to halt the gangland violence plaguing the country's capital, after two prominent Bulgarians were shot dead on the streets of Sofia in as many days.

The bestselling crime writer Georgi Stoev – whose books detail the murky lives of Bulgaria's underworld bosses – was gunned down outside a hotel in central Sofia by two assailants on Monday. A day earlier, Borislav Georgiev, the executive director of a multimillion-pound energy company in charge of maintaining a controversial nuclear power plant, was shot outside his apartment block.

"Urgent action is required in the area of fighting organised crime in Bulgaria," a European Commission spokesman, Mark Gra, said. "Unfortunately, these shootings have continued on regular basis over the past couple of years and without successful prosecution." There have been more than 150 gangland killings in Bulgaria during the past seven years, shootings, stabbings and bombings often dismissed as "revenge killings", and which rarely make it to trial.

The former Soviet-bloc country's membership of the EU was delayed for three years partly due to its failure to clamp down on organised crime, money laundering, and high-level corruption. A monitoring report by the EU in 2006 highlighted these problems, pointing to the lack of action by officials and noting that contract killings rarely resulted in successful investigations and prosecutions.

When Bulgaria did join the EU, along with Romania, in January 2007, the EC again expressed concerns about corruption and organised crime, and imposed monitoring restrictions on the country. Last month, the Commission president, Jose Manuel Barroso, spoke openly about the problem during a visit to Bulgaria."We cannot constantly repeat that more needs to be done," he said. "Endless investigations and delayed court cases do not amount to justice."

The EC looks set to conduct its next monitoring report this summer, which could lead to sanctions including cutting funds to the country, if it finds the government is not doing enough to tackle the problem.

The Bulgarian Prime Minister, Sergei Stanishev, who vowed to intensify the campaign against corruption and organised crime when he took office in 2005, issued a statement yesterday promising to use "tough and focused actions" to tackle these problems.

The Socialist-led coalition government is planning a meeting of all law enforcement bodies to try to establish whether there is a link between the recent killings and known crime rings. Mr Stoev, who said he once belonged to the crime rings he sought to expose, may have been the victim of a revenge attack. "Georgi was murdered by his characters," his publisher, Nedyalko Nedyalkov, said.

The chief prosecutor, Nikolay Kokinov, said the author had contacted him 18 months ago, saying that he was ready to testify against the prominent underworld figure, Mladen Mihalev, also known as "Mad-zho". Mr Kokinov said that Mr Stoev, who wrote a book entitled BG Godfather (The True Story of Madhzo), refused police protection.