Over a month after Bivol exposed a dangerous organized crime group (OCG), acting in the northwestern Bulgarian city of Vratsa, involved in property and financial fraud, drug trafficking and thrashings (see here, here and here), the government had taken no measures to dismantle it.

The latest evidence, involving the group, was sent ten days ago by a key witness to the Main Directorate for Combatting Organized Crime (GDBOP) and the Prosecutor’s Office and refers to a criminal scheme for seizing expensive construction and transport equipment, corrupting officials, setting a policeman’s car on fire and plotting the murder of Dr. Ezekiev, publisher of the local site Zov News (Call News). The evidence is, most likely, simmering in someone’s file cabinet.

The reason for the threats against Dr. Ezekiev is probably the fact that Bivol asked its Zov News colleagues to help with the investigation by filming the victims of the criminal group. There is no other connection to our investigation.

Dr. Ezekiev, editor of Zov News

Zov News is one of the media that was fined by the Financial Supervision Commission (FSC) to set an example because it published in June 2014 information on long lines forming in front of First Investment Bank (FIB or Fibank) branches. Subsequently, the court annulled the fine, but the case remains in the annals of human rights organizations as an example of State repression against freedom of speech. Against the backdrop of the crushed and submissive regional journalism, Zov News is an exception with its courageous investigations into public procurement abuses.

Our colleague Maria Dimitrova from Zov News interviewed the grandson of 67-year-old Tsvetanka Evstatieva at our request. Currently, the elderly woman is in prison in Switzerland. In July, she was sent by the gangsters to transport cocaine from Brazil. Tsvetanka was detained when she landed in Zurich from Sao Paulo. Her grandson, Iliyan, described before the camera the scheme used by brothers Anri and Mancho Kovachevi to take hold of Tsvetanka’s apartment and to force her to become a mule to get it back.

After our publication, Iliyan was brutally beaten, and journalist Maria Dimitrova started to receive text and Facebook messages bearing the signs of a Sicilian greeting. Her complaints to the police and the prosecution have so far been a voice in the wilderness. According to our colleague, investigators in the Vratsa police precinct, where she was questioned about the threats, acted cynically and with disparagement.

Insolent and powerful cover-up

This inactivity by the authorities towards the Vratsa OCG and the ignoring of real threats against publishers and journalists is in line with the information that there has been a years-long cover-up for the members of the group.

There is no other explanation as to why Anri and Mancho Kovachevi have not been yet questioned and indicted in the case with the seized cocaine in Switzerland, despite the fact that in her testimony, Tsvetanka Evstatieva has explicitly named them as organizers of the drug channel.

Tsvetan Blagoev in the company of Mancho Kovachev and Nikolay “The Gypsy” Georgiev.

Bivol already published photos of the brothers with the dismissed policeman Tsvetan Blagoev that show undoubtedly close relations. 

The same key witness, mentioned above and whose name is Milko Stoyanov, confirms:

“He (Tsvetan Blagoev – editor’s note) worked with Mancho and people of the sort, with thieves and others. He just shielded them when he was a policeman.”

In addition, the gangsters had obtained insider information from the Ministry of Interior through a policewoman from Vratsa who had been intimate with Mancho Kovachev. She had been paid BGN 50 per tipoff.

Nevertheless, Tsvetan Blagoev and the enamored policewoman are not the only guardians of the group, which has much more protection, Angelov argues. He quotes the words of Galin Zahariev, one of the group’s ringleaders, a registered criminal, convicted of hooliganism:

“These people work for us, there is absolutely no problem. We were together last night.”

Together means they all attended a birthday party at a local restaurant, and “these people”, according to Angelov, are the following:

“The mayor of Vratsa, the police chief, other police officers and officers from the special unit for combatting organized crime.”

Against the backdrop of this representative sample of a local government “working” for an OCG, the conclusions on organized crime in the last report of the European Commission on the Co-operation and Verification Mechanism are sounding way too dull.

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