After a night-time shootout at the Sunny Beach coastal resort which left one man dead and one of Bulgaria’s most notorious organised crime convicts in critical condition, the country’s authorities have rushed to mount high-profile tax and police raids at the Black Sea coast summer holiday hotspot.
On the two nights following the beach bar shootout involving “Mityo The Eyes” Zhelyazkov, which left him in intensive care with five bullet wounds, economic crimes police and the National Revenue Agency were ordered to Sunny Beach, carrying out a range of check-ups.
These included police checks of people with luxury cars, the latter seen as a trademark of Bulgaria’s organised crime figures.
Nikolai Stoilkov of the economic crimes squad in the Black Sea city of Bourgas told reporters that checks were being carried out of the documentation of luxury cars, including proxies where the driver was not the owner of the vehicle. Checks also included searches for weapons and illegal drugs and where occupants were found to be in possession of firearms, their gun licences.
The order for the checkups is understood to have come from Prime Minister Boiko Borissov, who earlier told reporters that there would be check-ups of luxury cars and inspections for tax evasion at the resort.
Sunny Beach, known for its garish night-life, is a centre for “alcohol tourism”, especially among young foreigners who head to the Black Sea resort lured by cheap drinks. It also has long come to symbolise the low-cost mass tourism that has overtaken significant parts of Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast.
Borissov hit out at the Bulgarian-language media for their coverage of the shootout involving “The Eyes” – a June 8 confrontation between two groups that is said by police to have started as a parking dispute, and that ended with Zhelzyakov in intensive care, one of his bodyguards dead, another with a gunshot wound, and with dozens in people in custody as people followed up the incident.
The Bulgarian Prime Minister told reporters that in Greece, one the largest media bosses had been killed, but he implied that this death had been treated by the Greek media with much more discretion than the blanket coverage given by the Bulgarian media to the Sunny Beach shootout.
Like Greece, Bulgaria has a tourism industry important as a source of income, and is sensitive to negative publicity.
Given that the shootout involving “The Eyes” is the first such prominent incident in recent years, Sunny Beach largely has attracted media attention for its place on the summertime itinerary of booze-cruising Brits.
Borissov made no mention of an English-language report in a British media outlet which claimed that UK teenagers holidaying in Sunny Beach had had to “flee for their lives” when the shooting at the beach bar began.
In the raids at the resort, according to Bulgarian-language media reports said, State Agency for National Security and National Revenue Agency officials had seized computers with illegal software, second sets of books and 30 000 leva (about 15 000 euro), the origin of which could not be accounted for.
Reports said that the high-profile check-up campaign was expected to continue for several days.
Zhelzyakov, meanwhile, who had multiple blood transfusions and a number of operations, was reported to continue to be in critical condition.
Bourgas Regional Court was due to hold a custody hearing for Todor Slavov, arrested in connection with the shooting death of Zhelyazkov’s bodyguard Alexander Alexiev. Slavov’s lawyer said that his client’s defence was that he had acted in self-defence.
Zhelyazkov has been reported to be one of the most powerful figures in the underworld on Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast. In 2012, he was released from jail after serving a five-year sentence that he had plea-bargained for heading an organised crime group involving in illegal drug distribution.