Organized Crime in Bulgaria: Markets and Trends
2.3.1. Drug Market Size
By the most conservative assessments heroin users in Bulgaria are between
15,000 and 25,000. These buyers are not simultaneously present on the market.
As shown by quantitative surveys conducted in a number of cities, at least one
third of this group normally refrains from use for a variety of reasons. Most often
this portion of users consists of people serving a sentence, undergoing treatment,
or have quitted, which is usually temporary. This means that the
number of active users at one at the same time is around 10,000–16,000. Surveys
investigating the average number of doses have found that they are dependent on
the current quality of heroin and on the number of gaps appearing in distribution
at a certain time. In the period 2003–2005 the average number of daily doses
used varies between 1.5 and 1.8.
The average price per standard dose (of any
amount or quality) throughout the country ranges from 5 to 10 levs. Multiplying
the number of users by the average daily dose and the average dose price, one
gets an annual turnover on the heroin market ranging from 32 to 105 million
levs. This size is estimated on the basis of street prices, but part of the heroin
is used by dealers of the highest standing. The research team considers that the
above figure is probably equal to one fifth of actual heroin consumption.
The size of the cannabis market is even more difficult to estimates, as use tends
to be uneven and so far no quantitative surveys have been dedicated particularly
to this substance. National representative surveys among secondary school and
university students provide data about the proportions of these groups that have
tried cannabis, but do not capture consumption patterns. The only fairly reliable
estimates are those of daily sales in the big and medium-sized cities. Thus, it can
be assessed that annual cannabis consumption is between 15,000 and 20,000
kilos. Street prices range widely, depending on the type of location, whether the
local market is controlled by a monopoly and other factors. The average price in
the first half of 2007 in the largest cities is approximately 3,300 levs per kilo (or
3.3 per gram). Thus, annually the soft drug market amounts to 50–66 million
levs. Available data indicate a tenfold growth of the soft drug market compared
to 2002–2003, with an annual growth of 3.2 to 5 million levs.
This market could
probably grow by the end of the year, as currently criminal enterprises are trying
to push the price of 10 levs per gram on its largest segment–the capital Sofia.
The synthetic drug market is as hard to assess. With 7,000 to 10,000 regular users who
consume on a daily or weekend basis (Thursday to Sunday) and an average cost of 50–60
levs according to the in-depth interviews, the average amount generated per year would
be 14–24 million levs. There are also around 30,000–40,000 occasional users. According
to available data their monthly expenses are 20–40 levs, which amounts to an annual
consumption of between 7 and 19 million levs. If the two groups are combined,
the size of the synthetic drug market would reach 21 to 43 million levs per year.
134 In-depth studies have shown that part of heroin addicts either seek jobs abroad, as do many
Bulgarians, or go abroad for treatment, as they believe they cannot get effective treatment at
affordable prices at home.
135 Bezlov, T., Heroin Users in Bulgaria One Year after the Outlawing of the Dose for ”Personal Use”, Open
Heroin Users in Bulgaria One Year after the Outlawing of the Dose for ”Personal Use”, Open
Heroin Users in Bulgaria One Year after the Outlawing of the Dose for ”Personal Use”
Society Institute & Initiative for Health Foundation, Sofia, 2005.
136 See Bezlov, T., The Drug Market in Bulgaria, Center for the Study of Democracy, Sofia, 2003.
137 The various user groups of these drugs are provisionally divided into two basic groups to facilitate
The Drug Market in Bulgaria
The cocaine segment is most assessment-proof of all, as the regular users are few,
gathered in small elite communities. Incidental use is also observed with low-in-
come strata, such as secondary school students and unemployed heroin abusers.
Calculations are further made difficult if one is to consider the significant con-
sumption by foreign tourists in the seaside and winter resorts for which very few
data are available. Some drug dealers who have close observations on the market
in big cities, such as Sofia, Varna and Bourgas claim that in the last year, cocaine
sales have increased to roughly half the market of synthetic drugs. Thus, the co-
caine market may be estimated at around 10–20 million levs annually.
The sales at the four segments taken together provide an annual estimate of the
overall drug market amounting to between 108 and 234 million levs per an-
2.3.2. Drug Market Trends
As noted before, developments at the outset of the new century blurred the
differences between distribution patterns of the separate illegal psychoactive sub-
stances at the middle level. The usual approach in most towns is to have one
dispersal structure selling all types of drugs. At the lowest level, though, street
dealers seem to specialize in particular drugs. Although the processes on the dif-
ferent submarkets and distribution levels are often indistinguishable, for the sake
of clarity the trends on three separate levels will be described.
The Street Level
This level comprises dealers with various specializations, but nevertheless, the
most prominent trend that has affected the markets of all drug types in the
last four-five years are the several crises in heroin distribution. The main factor
is probably the decreasing number of heroin users due to several factors. First,
adolescents are already making a clear distinction between heroin and the rest
of drugs. Second, an increasing number of clients are enrolled in methadone
treatment programs. Third, migration to Western Europe either for the purpose
of seeking better treatment programs, or jobs, has grown with the waiver of
Schengen visas. As a result of harsher law-enforcement and judicial measures
more people are convicted to imprisonment.
According to some estimates
around one third of all 12,000 people serving an imprisonment sentence, have
used heroin. As a result, the number of heroin users at large diminishes, which
restricts the appearance of new users. As described earlier, long-time heroin ad-
dicts play a key role in street distribution. When their numbers dwindle, this af-
fects the availability of pushers and dealers, and consequently, less new users get
hooked. These developments have shaken distribution networks, depriving them
of the steady income from heroin dealing and bringing about financial gaps that
limit the supplies. To compensate for these crises, distributors resort to diluting
the available heroin even further. Financial hang-ups are not only affecting the
import, but also professional violence providers, so that violence is increasingly
applied in a haphazard manner.
138 Not all of the sentences were issued for drug dealing; some of them are for other criminal of-
Organized Crime in Bulgaria: Markets and Trends
While the heroin market has lost dealers, pushers and profits, the opposite
trend is observed on the cocaine, soft and synthetic drug markets. The number
of structures involved in their distribution is on the rise. However, control over
dealers of these drugs is much harder to apply than it is with heroin. In the last
couple of years, apart from the increase of the total number of dealers, free
lancers have also recurrently increased.
The Middle Distribution Levels
The changes at grassroots level that occurred 2002 also caused reshuffles on
the upper levels. Criminal bosses are nearly immune from law-enforcement, yet
internal conflicts in their circles often lead to clashes in which extreme violence
is used. Such events are particularly typical for the largest district market in Bul-
garia–the capital city. A ”war of the areas” into which Sofia is divided started in
2002 when one of the most powerful area bosses, Anton Miltenov ”Klyuna” (The
Beak), attempted to gain control over the whole district. This conflict indicates
that violence in the underworld is indispensable when drug market (re)distribution
is concerned. They inevitably reverberate in related criminal markets, such as
consumer goods smuggling, car thefts, prostitution, etc. In 2004 the conflict was
put to an end through the assassination of Klyuna after which the capital was
carved in two big domains. The boundary that divides them, as explained by
interviewed police officers and drug dealers goes along one of the key roads
Bulgaria Blvd. and down the Perlovska River that crosses the city. Thus, the new
Southern zone is controlled by Zlatko ”Baretata” (The Beret), while the remainder
of the city is held by Pesho ”Shtangata” (The Rod). Two years later, a new clash
led to the ousting of Pesho Shtangata and a new boss called Rasho came to
preside over nearly the whole local market.
Figure 14. Fourth level area bosses in Sofia
The Drug Market in Bulgaria
The succession of the figures that control the district also leads to reshuffles at
the top of the constituent areas in Sofia. Comparing area supervisors through the
years, it can be seen that only two of those who ran an area in 2003 remain
supervisors in 2007.
Such repeated conflicts can also be observed in Varna. After several successive
replacements of supervisors have been made, currently the city is controlled
by two criminal leaders. Based on the accounts of police officers and dealers,
Valyo ”Bandita” (The Bandit) is in charge of the following residential projects:
Vladislavovo, Vazrazhdane, Mladost, Kaisieva Gradina, Aksakovo and Asparuhovo,
whereas Vesko Politsaya runs the distribution in Chaika and Levski, as well as the
resort of Zlatni Pyasatsi.
In smaller towns, the middle level is structured differently. Due to the narrower
scale of the market, even when a local crime leader controls the distribution
of all groups of drugs across the whole town, he still makes less profit than the
pettiest of supervisors in Sofia and Varna. At the same time, the ”tenure” of such
bosses is rarely longer than two or three years.
Table 4. Sofia drug distribution areas and their bosses
Apart form his role as the boss of most distribu-
tion areas, Rasho also controls directly the most
lucrative Area 1. This is why the respective net-
work serves not just the large Mladost residential
project (Area 1), but also nearly the rest of Sofia.
After a 2–3-year absence Rosen Zhivotnoto has
also reappeared in the area and controls syn-
thetic and soft drug distribution.
Until the assassination of Bobara in 2006 the
area was divided
Kosta and Bobby
Kosta and Bobby
Kosta, Bobby and
Kosta and Bobby have been trying to conquer
the area after the assassination of Bobara, but
have come across severe competition. This area
is also very lucrative, as it covers the whole of
A distinctive feature of this area is the
(free rider) that runs his own phone distribu-
This are is least controlled by organized crime
and most populated by active shano.
Organized Crime in Bulgaria: Markets and Trends
Top Level Developments
Looking at the top ranks of the drug market bosses after 2003, it seems that
already in the summer of 2007 none of the top figures were the same. Some of
the old bosses were assassinated or died, others emigrated or were extradited,
still others quit voluntarily or charges were pressed against them (see Figure 14).
Kosyo Samokovetsa was shot dead in 2003 in Amsterdam. Meto Iliyanski disap-
peared in the same year. They were two of the three drug lords in Sofia. In
April 2004, Belana, the Montenegrin national who led drug proliferation in North-
Western Bulgaria was extradited. Anton Miltenov ”Klyuna” was killed in July, 2005.
Two other drug bosses were imprisoned in 2006–Stoyan ”Kravata” (The Cow) and
Maninkata. Kamilata emigrated to South America, while the last notorious drug
boss active in the period covered by the preceding survey, Mityo Ochite, was
arrested in the spring of 2007.
Despite the emergence of new leading figures, such as Rasho (in Sofia), Sand-
zhaka (in Plovdiv), Valyo Bandita and Vesko Politsaya (in Varna) the dissolution
of the top level is increasingly apparent. The larger distribution areas are left un-
controlled. In contrast to the 1990s and the early years of this century, criminal
figures are much less willing to risk having legal businesses together with gray and
drug-related ventures. The most prominent among them have opted to quit the
drug market altogether and invest their savings in the legal economy.
Figure 15. Drug market distribution by individuals in control
The Drug Market in Bulgaria
2.3.3. Possible Scenarios for the Future of Drug Distribution
The future of drug distribution can be lined up under three basic scenarios drawn
from observations of its current state and the potential routes of its develop-
The pessimistic scenario draws on the possibility of recurrent growth in heroin
consumption. A sizeable group of heroin abusers will be released from prison. It is
safe to suppose that a lot of these people will relapse into their addictive habits
due to the lack of sufficient and effective treatment programs. The supply chains
will be revitalized, as top-level control is lifted and mid-level bonds between
Bulgarian and Turkish drug networks are strengthened. Plovdiv is already an ex-
ample of this trend. With a better sustained market, the quality of the heroin on
offer will improve and it will become easier for first-time users to get addicted
(in contrast to the present when the concentration of diamorphine is really low).
The young generation will not be scared off heroin use, as there will be less
examples of old addicts available. The synthetic drug submarket will develop fast
due to the ease of travel and transfer of precursors and drugs from the rest of
the EU, and a synthetic drug outbreak could possibly occur. Currently, marijuana
use is still below the level in the rest of the former communist countries, but it
will steadily grow. The use of cocaine will become much more common, as the
population’s income increases and, similar to Spain, it will also have to supply
the burgeoning tourist industry.
The realistic scenario is based on the preservation of the status quo. Heroin
use will increase, but this will be followed by a drop in consumption. However
low in efficiency, the existing treatment programs will manage to draw new us-
ers and help them stay out of street pushing. There will be no snow ball effect
or a heroin outbreak as the one in the late 1990s. The synthetic and soft drugs
on offer will improve in quality, but also grow in price, which will prevent an
uncontrollably rapid growth of consumption. Bulgarian youth will preserve their
conservative attitudes to psychoactive substances, and although many will engage
in experimental use, few will become regular users.
The optimistic scenario assumes that the state will follow the model of developed
democracies and increase public spending on treatment and social integration
programs, instead of applying harsh punitive measures. Law enforcement bod-
ies will be restructured, so as to raise their efficiency and coordination between
the police engaged in tackling street level drug dealing and anti-organized-crime
units which will be able to deal blows to the middle and top drug market levels.
Currently, law enforcement affects only the lowest levels of distribution and it is
precisely the lack of efficient inter-agency exchange that keeps the bosses safe.
In addition, prevention and outreach programs able to target real problem areas
and groups will be put in place and regular assessments of their effectiveness
will be made.
3. PROSTITUTION AND HUMAN TRAFFICKING
In the past 5-6 years, prostitution has become a much debated issue in Bulgaria
for two notable reasons. First, owing to the connection between paid sex servic-
es and organized crime, and secondly, because of the association of prostitution
with human trafficking and sexual exploitation, which has attracted the attention
both of large international organizations and of western governments.
The young women victims of sexual exploitation who have sought help in West-
ern Europe provided the first indications of the scope of the problem of Bulga-
rian prostitution. The data from countries such as Germany and the Netherlands
have been particularly important in this process – their publicly accessible and
systematic approach has helped reveal that a small country has become one of
the largest suppliers in the human trafficking industry. According to the four an-
nual reports of the Dutch National Rapporteur, between 2000 and 2003, 14% of
these victims in the Netherlands came from Bulgaria, making it the most common
country of origin for the period monitored.
The fact that Holland does not represent some kind of anomaly in the forcible
supply of human flesh finds confirmation in the largest sexual services market
in Europe – Germany. According to the annual analyses of Bundeskriminalamt
for the period 2001-2005, Bulgaria ranks third worldwide by number of female
victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation (see Table 6).
The cases of trafficking for sexual exploitation purposes periodically registered
in Austria, Greece, Italy, Belgium and Spain in particular, suggest the conclusion
that this extremely grave crime against the person is similar in scope to that re-
corded in Germany and the Netherlands, but the information is regrettably not
The data from Germany or the Netherlands concerning sexual trafficking raise
one major issue: what makes it possible for an 8-million country to account
for trafficking comparable in absolute terms with that originating from Russia
and its 150-million population, Thailand with 65 million, Ukraine with 46 million,
as well as to surpass countries having three to five times its population, such as
Poland and Romania.
It was the initial goal of the present analysis to explore the typology and organi-
zation of the prostitution market in Bulgaria; however, the research on trafficking
in women in Western Europe found shocking statistics about the extent to which
the country is represented in view of its demographic profile (see the victim
coefficient in Table 6).
Prostitution and Human Trafficking
and Human Trafficking
and Human Traf
In this context, several important questions emerged: first of all, what is the
scope of the Bulgarian export of prostitutes for Western Europe? As indicated
by the analyses, 90% of the victims are trafficked for sexual exploitation pur-
poses. At the same time, studies on prostitution in Western Europe show that only
a tiny proportion of the women engaged in prostitution in foreign countries have
sought help and have thus been registered as trafficking victims. Consequently,
the records of the number of victims of Bulgarian origin may be viewed as the
tip of the iceberg beneath which there are actually huge numbers of women
engaged in prostitution outside Bulgaria. Secondly, what might be the reason
for this important Bulgarian presence among prostitutes in Western Europe?
And thirdly, whether this high Bulgarian representation among trafficking victims
is the outcome solely of socio-economic factors or can be accounted for by the
specifics of crime in this country.
Table 5. Victims of sexual exploitation in the Netherlands by
country of origin
Percentage of the
Source: Trafficking in Human Beings – Dutch National Rapporteur
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