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Bulgaria's 300: law enforcement bodies set themselves a deadline to reduce crime.

Bulgaria's principal law enforcement players occupied centrestage on January 18 when its four big hitters--Prime Minister Boiko Borissov, Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov, Prosecutor General Boris Velchev and Tsvetlin Yovchev, head of the State Agency for National Security (SANS)--convened to discuss how to nail the country's top criminals.


The quartet's show of strength and solidarity was much needed following an inauspicious start to 2010. The investigation into the murder of former radio host Bobbie Tsankov (shot dead in Sofia's city centre on January 5) had failed to produce results, likewise prosecutors' efforts to keep Krassimir "The Big Margin" Marinov behind bars. Marinov was freed on bail on January 17 despite the ongoing trial against him and his brother for plotting three murders as well as separate charges of plotting Tsankov's murder, distributing drugs and heading an organised crime group.

Since one of the public's foremost reasons for electing Borissov in July 2009 was that he would tackle crime and corruption, any slackening on these two fronts had to be addressed. And what better way to do it than with the help of prosecutors and SANS?

Action plan

Tsvetanov said that between 250 and 300 organised criminals had been "tormenting Bulgarian society" with their activities. These individuals would now be law enforcement's main target. Velchev said that 2010 would be a decisive year for law enforcement bodies in fighting crime. "In 2010, the Prosecutor-General's Office has no excuse because it will have had full co-operation from the Interior Ministry and SANS. And we have the will to terminate organised crime activity," he said. Borissov said that prosecutors had all the political backing and funding they needed from the state. The public pronouncements were really euphemisms for "Here is the support, now go get them!" As if to make his point, Borissov emphasised the strength of his crime-busting team. "we have an army of 70 000 police, prosecutors and SANS agents and the Asset Forfeiture Commission- all confronting 250-300 people," he said.

On January 19, the Interior Ministry's public relations campaign continued. For the first time the Ministry revealed the number of its employees. Of the Ministry's 55 052 employees, 26 861 were police officers. In other words, there were 352 police officers for every 100 000 Bulgarians. So, according to Tsvetanov's revelations the previous day, 300 crime bosses faced a force of almost 27 000 police officers.

Later on January 18, Borissov met Velchev to "discuss steps for improved cooperation in the fight against organised crime". Given prosecutors' problems convincing the courts to keep Marinov behind bars, Borissov's show of public trust in the country's prosecutors was much needed. His comments after the meeting went even further. He reassured Velchev of his support (Velchev was the first public official Borissov met after taking office in July 2009) but he said that, henceforth, prosecutors should be the driving force behind changes to the penal code, not lawyers and MPs. With this Borissov appeared to be hinting that outdated provisions (some adopted in communist-era Bulgaria) were responsible for prosecutors' woes.

The deadline

Promises from top public officials to combat organised crime are nothing new for Bulgaria. All former interior ministers have given similar pledges and Tsvetanov is no exception. Law enforcement's self-appointed deadline, however, was unprecedented. And it was a very short deadline at that, less than 12 months. Setting such deadlines looks good on camera and is essential in achieving results but it also requires steadfast professionalism so that evidence gathered by police and presented by prosecutors can stand up in court. Otherwise this deadline could turn out to be another hostage to fortune for Borissov himself.
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Author:Kostadinov, Petar
Publication:The Sofia Echo (Sofia, Bulgaria)
Date:Jan 22, 2010
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