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Round table Organized Crime in Bulgaria: Markets and Trends
On December 12, 2007 the Center for the Study of Democracy organized a round table Organized Crime in Bulgaria: Markets and Trends.

The event launched CSD’s report on this subject which builds upon various studies published by the Center for the Study of Democracy throughout the last decade. The report presents the latest trends and manifestations (or market niches) of syndicate crime and its particularly damaging effects.

The event was opened by CSD Chairman Dr. Ognian Shentov. He highlighted the need for public-private partnerships in tackling organized crime. Dr. Shentov outlined the process and methodology of the development of the report and the significance of the analysis for the elaboration of effective anti-crime policies.

The German Ambassador to Bulgaria Michael Geier pointed out that vote buying during the recent local elections was a sign of the growing power of shadowy local business groups. The report presented by the Centre for the Study of Democracy - with financial support by the European Union - proves that Bulgaria has not made its homework as far as the fight against organized crime and high level corruption is concerned, he said. This has been clearly stated by the German President in August, when he stated that the German-Bulgarian relations are close, full of trust and devoid of problems, adding, however, that there is much to be done in Bulgaria, much to be done in Germany. According to Ambassador Geier the key question of the CSD report is: "what could be done against the increasingly brazen symbiosis of policy makers and civil servants with grey business." The access to the Schengen area in the beginning of the next decade will lead to fresh discussions within Europe on how well Bulgaria controls the threats of OC coming from outside and from Bulgaria. The past municipal elections were a little edifying example of the power of local business groups.

Mr. Tihomir Bezlov, Senior Analyst at the Center for the Study of Democracy and one of the authors of the report dwelt on the various aspects and trends in Bulgarian organized crime. He highlighted the differences and similarities between the Bulgarian and Russian models of organized crime. In describing the modes of adaptations of organized crime to a changing institutional and regulatory environment Mr. Bezlov focused on the use of gray market techniques and the transition from hierarchies to networks. Further, Mr. Bezlov outlined the conclusions in the analysis of the drug market, car theft and prostitution and human trafficking.

Ambassador Tove Skarstein from the Royal Norwegian Embassy underlined that prostitution and human trafficking are an important issue in the Norwegian–Bulgarian relations. Norway is the largest sex market in Northern Europe and a preferred destination for trafficking of women for sexual purposes. Norway regards the issue not only as a crime, but as a severe violation of human rights. As few victims seek help, however, it is difficult to distinguish the extent to which trafficking is influenced by social factors from the level of involvement of organized crime. It is certain, though, that exporting women for prostitution relies on highly professional networks of organized crime. The UN Palermo Protocol and the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking, place a clear responsibility on the countries of origin to alleviate the root causes for trafficking, but countries of destination also have a clear responsibility to curb the demand.

Prostitution is not identical to human trafficking, and this has a bearing on the discussion of the legalization of prostitution. Ambassador Skarstein presented the Nordic model—an approach that criminalizes sex buyers, not the prostitutes themselves. Some of the arguments against it are that prostitution will go indoors, and that the police will lose their source of information.

The Ambassador of Finland Kauko Jamsen, pointed to the similar position of Finland and Bulgaria at EU’s outer borders and underlined the need to strengthen Union-level decision making in criminal justice. He presented the Finnish anti-organized crime approach, focusing on its key good practices. One aspect is target selection, implemented jointly by police, customs administration and the border guards and involving regular exchanges with the prosecution offices which effectively undermines the operation of criminal groups. Another aspect is that inter-institutional cooperation networks are backed by a well-developed computerized monitoring system that greatly helps identify emerging crime groups. Finally, the use of special investigation means for organized crime prosecution is clearly regulated in Finnish law.

Ambassador Jamsen also focused on the expanded cooperation in criminal justice matters with neighboring countries, such as Russia and the Baltic states, which involves frequent meetings of relevant national bodies enabling free information sharing on trans-border crime. On a national level, the inherent public transparency of Finnish institutions is an indispensable tool in fighting organized crime. He dwelt on the increasing threat of customs frauds and goods smuggling through the Russian-Finnish border and pointed that an electronic information system for all border-crossing operations would greatly diminish the risks of cross-border infiltration of organized crime. Likewise, Bulgaria would benefit from electronic monitoring of people and goods flows through its borders. As a current EU member Bulgaria should aim at accelerated progress under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism, especially in view of its joining the Schengen area in 2009.

In his address, the US Ambassador John Beyrle focused on the importance of efforts to shed light on the shady businesses of organized crime. Organized crime in Bulgaria is not just a problem for Bulgarians - it's also a problem for America and the EU and that's why “you see so many Embassies represented here.” The US its own battle against organized crime in the United States in the 1950s and 1960s involving not just police and courts, but members of Congress, journalists, trade union leaders, and many courageous individuals who stood up against it. Today the spotlight is on the problem in Bulgaria: the apparent impunity of organized crime figures; the connections between organized crime and politics; and the inability of existing laws to be enforced; and special benefits for the gray economy.

Ambassador Beyrle highlighted the issue of duty free shops as a case in point. These shops have sales volumes that are far beyond the level of cross-border traffic and the fact that this is widely known indicates that it is simply a kind of protected smuggling. Moving from talk to action, according to Ambassador Beyrle, should be possible given the presence of a critical mass of Bulgarians at the event -- members of the press, members of Parliament, government officials, experts from civil society. It should be possible to agree on some concrete next steps to bring the handling of duty-free goods at the border, into compliance with the way it is done at the borders in the rest of the EU.

Bulgarian Minister of Interior Rumen Petkov commended the consistent and methodical efforts of the Center in analyzing a sensitive area such as criminal markets. He said the report confirmed the need for public-private partnership in such endeavors, not least in order to point the weaknesses of government in tackling organized criminality.

Minister Petkov outlined five areas on which the state should focus to increase its efficiency in countering syndicate crime. One is to put in place consistent and fair legislation for organized crime prosecution which should be backed by mechanisms and resources for effective enforcement. Further on, institutional involvement should be broadened to a wider range of law-enforcement bodies. The MoI also needs to have a consistent human resource policy that motivates and empowers law enforcement officers. The massive lay-offs of over 15,000 security officers during the transition period have driven some of them to apply their competence in favor of criminal interests. Law-enforcement effectiveness - another key aspect - depends on the ability to form teams capable of tackling organized criminality that can rely on full thoroughgoing state support. Publicity and transparency are also important, though there are certain limits in some sensitive areas. Publicity must also take the form of awareness-raising about the powers of the Ministry of Interior. Law-enforcement bodies should not be indiscriminately blamed for crime problems, as the underlying causes are often found in the value system of society, the family environment and education.

Regarding some of the criminal markets discussed in the report, Mr. Petkov noted that stricter measures need to be introduced for those involved in the trafficking of women for sexual exploitation. Prostitution must not be legalized, according to him, as it both would give society the wrong signal and would help generate revenues that could be used for organized crime purposes. He also mentioned the strong positive impact of cross-border police cooperation, especially in reducing the export of criminals such as pick-pockets and car thieves, the growing recovery rate of stolen cars, and the increasing number of successful operations for seizing drugs at the Bulgarian borders.

Agenda of the round table

Full text of the CSD report Organized Crime in Bulgaria: Markets and Trends

Media Coverage (international)
Media Coverage (in Bulgarian)
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