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Murder Of Alleged Crime Figure Shocks Bulgaria

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Authorities are working on “all possible versions” regarding the murder in broad daylight of influential Bulgarian business figure Alexei Petrov while police are still researching the crime scene, media reported on Thursday.

“The version that the murder was ordered by people close to him has not been ruled out,” reported bTV channel. 

In the meantime, MP Atanas Atanasov demanded a high-level meeting on national security following the murder.

On Wednesday, representatives of the Prosecution and the Ministry of Interior gave a briefing where they said that witnesses are being questioned but without giving any further update on the possible motive or type of weapon used.

Petrov was shot dead on Wednesday along with an as yet unidentified woman who is now confirmed to have survived the attack. They were in the presence of three bodyguards, walking around a forest route in Sofia’s Vitosha mountain, near Dragalevski neighbourhood where Petrov lived. 

Bulgarian National Television reported on Thursday that Petrov was not expecting any danger and his security was behind him. 

This is the latest killing of an influential figure with alleged criminal ties from the same generation. On May 25, Krassimir Kanev “Kyro”, along with three other people, was shot dead in his home in Cape Town, South Africa. 

Some experts see a possible tie between the killings. Politicians and commentators have also adopted the phrase that Bulgaria is “returning to the 1990s” because of the increased attacks on organised crime figures, symptomatic of internal conflicts. 

“The mobster years have never gone away,” commented Democratic Bulgaria MP Ivaylo Mirchev on Wednesday. 

“Key figures who knew and remembered quite a lot are now going away,” investigative journalist Miroluba Benatova told Bulgarian National Radio on Thursday, adding: “Everyone is surprised by this murder. Such turnouts are not to be expected, especially when it concerns such an influential figure who has been through everything.”

Petrov, sometimes nicknamed “The Tractor” for his imposing character, was born in 1962. He graduated from the police academy in Pazardzhik in 1981 and worked as part of Bulgaria’s anti-terorrism unit during the last decade of the Communist regime as well as in the structures of the repressive state security apparatus, including as an undercover agent.

In the early 1990s, some members of the former police entered the private sector through insurance and security firms. Petrov was part of this trend. These firms are now often associated with organised crime, political influence and assassinations of other influential figures in the late-1890s and early-2000s. 

There were previous assassination attempts against Petrov in 1998, 2002 and 2015, all ending without conclusive investigations.

“After the turbulent 1990s, Petrov underwent a metamorphosis, typical of many similar individuals in Eastern Europe in that transitional era. He began to gradually make his business more transparent, as well as entering official relations with state institutions,” wrote Capital Weekly newspaper.

It noted that Petrov was one of the supporters of future Sofia mayor, three-time Prime Minister and GERB party leader Boyko Borissov – who also developed businesses in security, was once a bodyguard to Communist leader Todor Zhivkov in the 1990s and in 1998 had shares in a firm along with Petrov. 

Despite this connection, in 2010, Petrov was briefly arrested as part of a raid against an organised crime group, and in 2011 was investigated for bribery, corruption and extorsion among other charges. He denied wrongdoing, was later cleared and successfully counter-sued the state for 21 million euro in damages.

On February 17, in a TV interview, Borissov said he and Petrov “we were always opponents, although not enemies” and credited him with preventing a terrorist attack in Sofia in the mid-1980s without providing further details. 

In 2011 Petrov founded the major insurance company Lev Ins. 

Petrov was also a lecturer on national and cyber security at Sofia’s University of National and World Economy as well as at Plovdiv University. His rich biography includes positions such being the President of Bulgaria’s karate association. 

In his most recent interviews, Petrov was critical of the current politics of GERB and was also in favour of the ousting of Prosecutor General Ivan Geshev, who was a subject of an attack in May.

Borissov has yet to comment on the murder.

Opponents of the current coalition, such as former GERB member and Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov and recent interim Interior Minister Ivan Demerdzhiev, noted in their first statements that Petrov was instrumental in the creation of the current cabinet, featuring two opposing blocks.

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