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Vote for your local Mafia boss

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« on: August 31, 2010, 04:51:26 am »

Vote for your local mafia boss

By Fiachra Gibbons/RFI

Bulgarian gangsters are running as candidates in the European elections in an attempt to gain immunity from prosecution, senior officials in Brussels fear. Several notorious "businessmen" have formed their own political parties, or have had themselves added to mainstream party lists for next weekend's elections.

Under Bulgarian law a person who is registered as a candidate can halt all legal proceedings against them until the campaign ends. This right was further reinforced by a recent amendment to the country's electoral law, which in effect means even those who fail to get elected can have their trials postponed for several months. The trend is further alarming proof to the EU that Bulgaria is failing to crack down on its powerful mafia, which has grown rich and well-connected amid a climate of almost total immunity.

Brussels has twice warned Bulgaria to clean up its act having extracted pledges from the government in Sofia when it acceded to full membership two years' ago that it would be tougher on its criminal networks. However, Bulgaria has been frequently accused of going back on those promises, and its failing and often corrupt judiciary is now being tightly scrutinised by the European Commission. Evidence frequently "disappears"during lengthy trials, or witnesses "forget" what they saw, one report by the Commission claims.

Two major trails have been halted in the last few days when their prominent defendants decided to run as MEPs. One notorious gangster locked up on racketeering charges in January is likely even to win a seat. Controversial businessman Plamen Galev and his business partner Angel Hristov, who are collectively known as the Galevi Brothers (pictured), control the tourist town of Dupnitsa near the capital.

Hristov and Galev, who is also charged with intimidating a local journalist, are now being freed to campaign. His lawyer said that the businessman had decided to answer the call of many of his fellow citizens of Dupnitsa and had raised the necessary 10,000 signatures in his support and paid an election deposit of 15,000 leva.

The two men are notorious as "the owners of the first private city in Bulgaria" and lived openly there while officially being on the run.

Earlier this week a court in Sofia interrupted the prosecution of Alexander Tomov for embezzling 18 million euros after he registered himself as the head of his own Bulgarian Social Democracy party. Tomov, a former politician turned businessman, brought both the CSKA football club and a giant metallurgical plant to bankruptcy.

Another controversial football boss, Ivaylo Drajev, who owns Burgas club Chernomorets, had also availed of the loophole. He had been on trial for a huge fraud that led to the closure of another plant and of killing two people by drunk driving. But now he has also been freed to join the Bulgarian Social Democracy list.

Two businessmen from Varna - father and son Vesselin and Hristo Danov -  who were arrested for money laundering and indicted for pimping and criminal association, have already registered as candidates for the national legislative elections, which take place in July. They lead the list of the Union of Bulgarian Patriots, another ghost party, experts say. They are expected to be released from police custody within the next few days.
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