Crime writer shot and killed in Sofia

New York, April 8, 2008—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns yesterday’s murder of popular writer Georgi Stoev, author of a series of books on the origins and rise of Bulgaria’s criminal underworld since the fall of communism in 1989.

Stoev, 35, was on a busy street when two unidentified men stopped him near the Pliska hotel in Bulgaria’s capital, Sofia, the independent news Web site Mediapool reported. Both men fired at Stoev at a close range; one bullet hit him in the head, Mediapool said. The two fled. Stoev was taken to Pirogov emergency hospital in critical condition and underwent brain surgery, but died of his wound Monday evening.

“We are shocked by the murder of Georgi Stoev, and call on Bulgarian prosecutors to carry out an immediate and thorough investigation,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “Authorities must demonstrate that killers cannot get away with murder.”

Shortly before his death, Stoev had given a series of interviews to the Bulgarian press, announcing his willingness to testify against a well-known mafia boss and complaining about a lack of interest by prosecutors to follow up on the revelations in his books, according to local press reports.

Stoev was a former bodyguard and a retired member of the notorious racketeering group VIS, which extorted money from private businesses in the guise of providing them with insurance in the early 1990s. Stoev’s first book, VIS, is an insider’s view into the group’s activities. He is the author of a total of nine books—all chronicling the history of organized crime—including The BG Godfather: The Real Story of Madzho, which Stoev devoted to the activities of notorious underground boss Mladen Mikhalev-Madzho.

Before his death, Stoev had said in interviews with the Bulgarian press that he is ready to testify against Mikhalev about his allegedly ordering Stoev to carry out murders in the past, Mediapool reported. Mikhalev is currently a witness in the murder trial of another crime boss, Milcho Bonev, who was assassinated in 2004. Before his own assassination, Stoev had also alleged that Mikhalev was being protected by a “political umbrella.”

In an interview with the Bulgarian television channel Nova Televiziya, Stoev’s publisher Nedyalko Nedlyalkov said yesterday he believed the writer was killed “by his characters.” Nedyalkov recalled Stoev’s words when the former gang member-turned-writer gave him a copy of The BG Godfather: “I give you this book, for which I will be killed,” Nedyalkov said Stoev told him.

Stoev’s editor, Vlado Daverov, told Mediapool that prosecutors had neglected the writer’s willingness to testify against Mikhalev. Stoev’s coauthor, Dimitar Zlatkov, said the author had been threatened before the murder. Zlatkov blamed Interior Minister Rumen Petkov and Prosecutor General Boris Velchev for neglecting to follow up on Stoev’s book investigations.

Sofia City Prosecutor Nikolai Kokinov told the popular television channel bTV that authorities had offered “every possible protection as legislated by the code of criminal procedure” to Stoev, but the writer had refused.