Tsankov (Sofia News Agency)
Tsankov (Sofia News Agency)

Chronicler of Bulgarian criminal underworld is slain

New York, January 5, 2010—Bulgarian prosecutors must thoroughly investigate today’s murder in Sofia of Bobi Tsankov, author of a new book and a series of newspaper articles detailing the activities of reputed crime figures, the Committee to Protect Journalists said. 

At least two gunmen opened fire on Tsankov, 30, and two other men on busy Aleksandur Stamboliiski Boulevard in downtown Sofia at around 12:30 p.m. 

Tsankov died at the scene while the other two men—identified by the daily Dnevnik as Tsankov’s  bodyguards—were hospitalized with gunshot wounds. Sofia Prosecutor Nikolai Kokinov told reporters that 15 bullet casings were found at the crime scene.

Late today, a Ministry of Internal Affairs task force arrested three reputed crime bosses, Stefan (Sako, or the Jacket) Bonev and brothers Krasimir and Nikolai Marinov, the English-language Sofia News Agency reported. No charges were disclosed.

“We condemn the contract-style killing of Bobi Tsankov and urge Bulgarian authorities to act swiftly and resolutely in apprehending and prosecuting all responsible for this crime,” said CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova. “Sofia must demonstrate that such brazen brutality will not be tolerated by a European Union member.”

Beginning in September, Tsankov wrote a series of articles in the tabloid Weekend that purported to reveal the activities of Bulgarian crime figures, according to local press reports. The latest article, published Friday, alleged that reputed crime boss Meto Ilienski had ordered the killing of a rival, Zhoro Iliev.

Tsankov had made similar accusations in November on the popular Nova Televiziya show “Goreshto” (Hot). The show’s host, Veneta Raikova, said she had talked with Tsankov on Monday to discuss details of another appearance, the Sofia News Agency reported. Raikova said she understood Tsankov was going to reveal details about the recent killings of three other Bulgarian crime chiefs, the news agency reported.

One of today’s suspects, Bonev, was arrested in November for allegedly threatening the author during and after a wild car chase through the streets of Sofia. At the time, the journalist said Bonev told him not to publish anything about Ilienski. Bonev was freed on bail after the November episode.

In his book, “The Secrets of the Gangsters,” published in December, Tsankov claimed to have had close relationships with several crime bosses who were killed in recent years. He was preparing a new book about the activities of a drug-trafficking group, press reports said.

A former Viva Radio host, Tsankov gained notoriety several years ago after a number of people accused him of taking money for advertising that he did not air, according to press reports. In June 2006, a Sofia court convicted Tsankov of fraud and gave him a three-year suspended sentence, the daily 24 Chasa reported. Tsankov also survived two explosions, in 2003 and 2004, at his home.

Bulgaria has seen a wave of organized crime and gangland-style killings in recent years. In 2008, another popular crime chronicler, Georgi Stoev, who had authored a series of books on the origins and rise of Bulgaria’s criminal underworld since the fall of communism in 1989, was shot dead in downtown Sofia. His killers remain at large.