The Drug Market in Bulgaria
Unlike the typical lawyer in penal proceedings who has diverse customers, the
lawyer serving criminal structures (the so-called ”black lawyer”
) is specialized
primarily in serving his contingent. He is called ”black” mainly because of the
means he uses. The typical black drug lawyer attacks the criminal justice system
at all levels (police officers at local precincts where the arrest has taken lace, po-
lice investigators, investigating magistrates, public prosecutors and judges), aiming
at a ”breakthrough” at every step of the pre-trial phase and the proceedings. The
intention is not so much to have errors and omissions in the penal proceedings
but to use clientelist privileges or corrupt practices. Black lawyers are usually
former law enforcement officers or investigating magistrates (the most common
case), more rarely former public prosecutors and most rarely former judges. The
role of this group is to be a specific go-between, often offering deals – coopera-
tion on part of the accused, cash payments, arrangements with the police to ”sac-
leakage of information to the media, etc. It is quite indicative
of this role that the fees are typically calculated as a percentage of the money
which should have been used to salvage the respective member of the structure.
An important feature of the work of these lawyers is their networking. Cases are
taken over, depending on the ”influence” of the lawyer in the various districts or
parts of the judiciary. For instance, there will be a lawyer working with people
accused at Police Precinct No. 3 in Sofia because he used to be an investigator
there; another one will focus on Police Precinct No. 1 in Varna because he is
a former police officer there, and so on. If the customer is arrested in a district
where the lawyer has no contacts, another lawyer will take over the case and
swap it for other cases where the first lawyer holds good positions. The number
of black lawyers varies from one city to another. In Sofia, for instance, there
are some twenty lawyers involved in drug proceedings. It should be pointed out
that the regional specialization is accompanied by a rather clear-cut hierarchy,
i.e. juggler cases are assigned to junior members of the group. Unlike ordinary
lawyers for whom a case lost means income lost, black lawyers are exposed to
the risk of physical punishment in the case of failure.
Black lawyers continue to
be obscure figures in many respects. They differ from the well-known prestigious
who defend notorious criminal leaders and who typically do not partici-
pate or tend to participate in black operations (collusion with magistrates) only
66 Black lawyers are members of the legal profession linked to gray or black structures, includ-
ing drug dealing structures, with good experience in penal proceedings which involve serious
67 In order to dispel the suspicion that ”access” has been gained to a police precinct, arrangements
are made with senior officers that one of the better known dealers with a criminal record is
sacrificed. Sufficient quantities of drugs should be available at the time of the arrest to show to
the media. Afterwards, it may turn out that this was not heroin but powdered sugar or that the
search warrant has not been signed, etc.
68 A crucial folklore element in the interviews of police officers and public prosecutors are the
stories of bruised and beaten lawyers.
69 The role of many well-known Bulgarian lawyers since the beginning of the transition has been
quite controversial, undergoing various stages and intertwining with politics. For this reason alone
it deserves special research. Here it is examined only in the context of the penal proceedings
related to drugs and organized crime. Members of Parliament claim in their interviews that many
well-known lawyers have been involved as consultants in the legislative drafting process because
of their professional expertise. MPs say that some consultants suggested amendments to the pe-
nal law (supported by Members of Parliament some of whom were also well established lawyers
continuing their practice during their term of office), evoking suspicion that the intention was
to directly or indirectly evade justice. Thus even a mediocre lawyer could win a case, although
the police officers, the investigators and the public prosecutors might have done a good job.
Organized Crime in Bulgaria: Markets and Trends
from time to time. The ”top-level” cases are entrusted to popular lawyers, while
black lawyers perform mainly auxiliary functions such as pressurizing witnesses,
making arrangements for the loss of important evidence, etc.
Alongside with police structures and lawyers’ networks, punitive brigades play
a special role in the functioning of the hierarchy and the zoning principle. The
violence committed by these structures is indispensable to the formation of closed
territories, the control over the distribution of shipments, and the punishment for
breaking the rules. The available information suggests that punitive brigades of
the type which existed back in 1994 – 1997 become unsustainable. Instead, each
head of an area has three or four persons at his disposal (”a carload”) to maintain
good discipline. One or two might be the personal bodyguards of the boss. The
survey conducted in 2002 – 2003 reveals that the costs for the maintenance of a
participant in a small brigade amounted to some 300 levs a week plus the extra
costs like cell phones, drinks and food at the restaurants of the boss, prostitutes
from the contingent of the boss, etc. The fines imposed on the jugglers and the
property seized remain for the punitive brigade. The head of the brigade gets
about 1,500 levs a week. He has a special status and might be a co-owner in
the business. A member of the punitive brigade may receive less than a juggler
since the market for violent services has shrunk and the level of pay should be
geared to that in normal security companies where the employees gat two or
three times less than members of punitive brigades.
Generally, punitive brigades
are used also in other spheres of organized crime such as collection of penalty
interest, punishment of pimps and restaurant owners, etc. In fact, for the last
three or four years, these structures of the drugs market provide violent services
to almost all other black markets in all big cities of the country.
Since 2004 – 2005 the maintenance of independent punitive brigades has be-
come increasingly difficult. Semi-professional structures have occurred with the
participation of street dealers involved in the network: young, healthy guys usu-
ally selling weed and amphetamines who get together, if necessary, with free lanc-
ers and indebted heroin dealers. They get extra pay and special bonuses for each
punitive action but their main source of income is dealing. This flexible approach
relieves the ”head” from additional costs and also makes it possible to use the
services of different people who are less vulnerable to the police. Punishments
can be conditionally divided into three levels: (i) a fine – depending on the sever-
ity of the breach, the person pays a certain amount ranging from several hundred
and several thousand leva; (ii) beating – there are degrees of injury but gener-
ally the breaking of bones or severe injuries are avoided; and (iii) maiming –
cutting of ears, stabbing of the bottom parts of the body, breaking of bones which
are difficult or impossible to heal, such as elbows, knees, etc.
Both in the late 1990’s (the emergence of zoning) and now (the beginning of its
disintegration) punitive actions were used and continue to be used to threaten
jugglers deviating from the rules. Two or three persons take part in the action.
”More serious measures” require the involvement of people from thee or four
70 See: Bezlov, T., The Drug Market in Bulgaria, Center for the Study of Democracy, Sofia, 2003.
The Drug Market in Bulgaria
The fifth level consists of the so-called big bosses. The names and nicknames at
this level are a favorite topic of the mass media, police officers and politicians.
All interviews with police officers, dealers and criminal leaders (conducted since
2002) have shown that the heads, i.e. the fourth (fifth) level report ”up”. It is
mainly personal stories that we have to illustrate the functioning of the system
at the higher levels. The only exception so far is the investigation of the Bourgas
boss Mityo Ochite, which took about a year and ended up with his arrest in
April 2007. One can draw the conclusion that the bosses at the top level are
persons whose biography is linked to former extortionist groups (including former
police officers). They have already developed a sustainable legal business which
can prove substantial incomes. At the same time, their legal operations cannot
exist without gray or black economic practices providing considerable financial,
organizational and human resources. Big bosses are never involved in black
market operations – they do not know and are not interested to know who is
who in the dealers’ networks, where the stuff goes, who carries it, who will be
rewarded or punished at the lower levels. Their main criterion for assessment is
the availability of ”normal” revenues. Loyalty and the lack of problems in the
organization are the other criteria. It is not clear to what extent big bosses are
involved in the negotiations on the allocation of territories, to what extent they
”license” dealers, to what extent they control the supply of drugs, the quality and
prices. The interference of a big boss in the day-to-day affairs, even when serious
problems occur in his territory, is quite an exception. As a result, especially over
the recent years, the heads and big dealers start relying on the passive attitudes
of big bosses and working on their own. However, a traceable principle is to have
a proxy on each big market. The police reports and dealers’ stories related to the
last five or six years mention various names of proxies such as Anton Miltenov
Klyuna, Pesho Shtangata, Shileto, Ivo Gela, Rasho, etc. They control the areas
in cities like Sofia, Plovdiv and Varna.
Two proxies in a big city (Sofia, Plovdiv,
Varna and Bourgas) mean conflicts and frequently leads to wars. The division of
people into those of VIS and those of SIC on the drugs market is reported to
have disappeared since the beginning of 2002 but certain perimeters are retained.
It is claimed, for instance, that in cities like Sofia and Varna amphetamine and
marijuana belong to SIC, while cocaine belongs to VIS. The history of the drugs
market for the last six or seven years is full of stories how some heads have
managed to become strong enough in the control of violence and have sought
the protection of a big boss against their old leader.
These descriptions of the big bosses raise the issue of the factors which determine
their influence. The systematic review of confirmed fragments from known events
related to them and their biographies leads to the assumption that alongside with
their authority built through violence during the golden age of extortionist groups
and their substantial financial resources, what matters ьие also their capabilities
of influencing law enforcement and judiciary authorities at the national level and
their access to politicians at the local and national level. The development of the
country since the beginning of this decade, the public killings in 2001 – 2005
and some of the most notorious persons quitting the country lead to the ques-
71 The situation is somewhat different in Bourgas. Law enforcement officers and dealers claim in
their interviews that the proxy is Yanko Pomoriiski who is reported by the police to be ”comple-
menting” to Mityo Ochite.
Organized Crime in Bulgaria: Markets and Trends
tion whether underground celebrities untouchable for justice continue to have the
same importance for the functioning of the market in drugs.
The Zoning Principle
The zoning of the drugs market is an extremely interesting phenomenon typical
of Bulgaria. The in-depth interviews with police officers and dealers lead to the
hypothesis that the late 1990’s saw the emergence of territories the control over
which was subject to negotiations. Members of former local extortionist structures
were ceded the control over the drugs market in their area. Sofia is the most tell-
ing example to this effect. Until 2001, it was divided into ”points” or ”posts” in
the heroin distribution. The typical organization consists of a boss with four or five
street dealers and one or two suppliers. There was a clear connection with either
of the former groupings VIS and SIC.
The zoning of Sofia is an illustration of how
organized criminal structures effectively agree on zones of influence. Historical re-
constructs show that, in the wake of a series of incidents (the killing of Polly Pantev
and Lyonyata Djudjeto
in 2001), tension mounted and made representatives of
the two groupings at medium- and high level to meet and negotiate the consensus
solution to divide the territory of Sofia. The paradox was that the boundaries of
the drug territories followed the boundaries of operation of local/district police
Thus Sofia was divided into nine areas, corresponding to the nine po-
lice precincts in the city. The principle of having a boss or a head of each are was
The head is assigned with the management of the whole organization
of delivery and distribution, punishments, prices, etc. He ”owns” the street dealers
and controls their territory of operation. The dealing in another area, be it on the
other sidewalk of the street, the sale of drugs from external sources or the work
for another area boss are subject to punishment.
Drug dealers and members of the underground world who have impressions of
the way in which drugs are distributed say that it is only natural to have this
coincidence between the drug dealing areas and the territories of operation of
police precincts because of past experience and the key role of the police in
the redistribution of territories.
It is impossible to protect the territory without
contacts with the respective police precinct. The experience of posts (street deal-
ers selling in more than one area) showed that if police officers from more than
one police precinct are to be involved and paid, the coordination became very
complicated, costs increased and the risk of rivalry among corrupt police officers
(in the presence of non-corrupt officers) was very high.
72 See: Bezlov, T., The Drug Market in Bulgaria, Center for the Study of Democracy, Sofia, 2003.
73 Polly Pantev was shot dead on the island of Aruba on 9 March 2001. He was believed to be the
most influential person on the drugs market who controlled the supply of heroin and cocaine.
Leonid Fotev (Lyonyata Djudjeto) and his girlfriend were slaughtered in his apartment in Sofia
on 16 September 2001. He was believed to have controlled the distribution of drugs in Sofia at
74 See: Bezlov, T., The Drug Market in Bulgaria, Center for the Study of Democracy, Sofia, 2003.
75 ”Head” was the title used when areas were demarcated and probably reflected the subordination
to the biggest criminal leaders at that time.
76 The corruption in law enforcement and judiciary authorities is of crucial importance for the
development of crime in Bulgaria. Coalition 2000 has dedicated special research to this topic
(See http://www.anticorruption.bg). The theme has been repeatedly discussed also by the policy
makers at the Ministry of the Interior.
The Drug Market in Bulgaria
It is noteworthy that the old model of posts has not disappeared since the time
when the territories were divided. It continues to operate but posts function
within the area. They receive the drugs and report to the boss of the territory.
There are also some general posts, i.e. places known to heroin addicts, which
account for most of the sales. They are located downtown – the monument to
Patriarch Evtimii (”Popa”), Orlov Most (”Sinyoto”), the monument to the Soviet
Army (”Baba Yaga”), etc. The situation is similar in Bourgas and Varna. The main
problem with this distribution of public posts is that the places of dealing become
known to the general public and the police cannot afford to ignore or neglect
them. In the beginning of the decade cell phones became so common that the
Western model of telephone sales was introduced in Bulgaria, too. As a result,
the old forms of control became more difficult to exercise. New dealers ap-
peared and ”took customers away from reporting dealers”. The balance between
the bosses controlling the posts was tilted and that reduced the proceeds of the
two extortionist structures (VIS and SIC).
Unlike the division of Sofia, the countryside was divided in a more spontaneous and
natural way. Local leaders (from the former subsidiaries of the extortionist group-
ings) were entitled to get control over the distribution of heroin. In 2002 – 2003
the analysis made by the Center for the Study of Democracy using at least two
developed a conditional map of the allocation of the country,
specifying the major criminal leaders exercising control in the big cities.
The logic of the control over drug distribution territories followed two principles.
The first one related to the size of the regional market – larger markets subordi-
nated the smaller neighboring markets. The second one was the strength of the
local organization of organized crime. An organization is more important when it
uses violence more effectively and has penetrated the local government institu-
tions, the local law enforcement and judiciary authorities more effectively. Un-
like Sofia, smaller cities usually do not need zoning. An exception to this rule is
Varna, where the drug market is big enough. In smaller cities the drug distribution
networks are part and parcel of the distribution network of the neighboring big
city. There are some areas like South-west Bulgaria where not only the regional
centre (Blagoevgrad) but also the smaller cities close to the border with Greece
are intricately interwoven into the hierarchical structures of at least four criminal
leaders in Sofia.
All interviews held in 2002 – 2007 point to a single main theme in the explana-
tion of regional markets, i.e. their subordination to Sofia. Except for Bourgas and
partially Plovdiv, the influence of the capital city is very tangible. People often talk
of ”permission from Sofia to take the heroin” or ”permission to deal also in weed
and amphetamines”, ”monthly contributions to Sofia”, etc. The most realistic ex-
planations are that the capital city continues to provide for the importation of the
77 Information from special services, local police structures, interviews with street dealers and push-
ers, publications in the mass media, etc. After CSD published The Drug Market in Bulgaria, many
and diverse comments and information on the maps were received. All this gives us grounds to
believe that, in spite of some inaccuracies, the 2003 national map have a true reflection of the
distribution of drugs. This map contains the names of some leaders who were omitted for one
or another reason in 2003.
Documents you may be interested
Documents you may be interested