Zlatomir Ivanov, who was sentenced to eight years in jail for organising a crime group to distribute drugs, was shot and wounded as he was about to enter the Palace of Justice in central Sofia on the morning of January 29. Ivanov was in court for the hearing of his appeal against the sentence.
Ivanov and his bodyguard were both shot at about 9.30am local time; they were taken to hospital for emergency medical treatment, the Interior Ministry said in a statement. According to reports in Bulgarian media, which quoted Ivo Spiridonov, deputy head of the Sofia directorate of the Interior Ministry, Ivanov had four gunshot wounds and his bodyguard was wounded in the legs.
Ivanov was reportedly conscious and was taken to Pirogov emergency hospital, where there was an increased number of police officers to provide additional security, Focus news agency said.
At the same time as the shooting, a fire was reported in the attic area of a building across the street from the Justice Palace. The police said that they were investigating whether the two incidents were related.
The fire, in a building that housed several stores on Sofia’s main shopping street, Vitosha Boulevard, had been contained by 10.30am, reports said. Local residents said that the building had five entrances, including three in the back, so it was possible for an assailant to enter and exit the building without being noticed, news website Mediapool.bg reported.
In the meantime, the area around the Justice Palace has been cordoned off and traffic, including public transportation, was being diverted to other streets, the police said.
Ivanov has not said whether he has received death threats recently, his lawyer Mariana Todorova told Focus. She said that she last spoke to Ivanov at the weekend to discuss the details of his appeal.
Ivanov, 44, is better known by his alias Zlatko Baretata, Bulgarian for Zlatko ‘the beret’, a reference to the time he spent in Bulgaria’s anti-terrorism special unit in the early 1990s, whose nickname is ‘the berets’.
His official businesses ranged from private security to gambling establishments, as well as companies trading oil products and pharmaceuticals, according to reports in Bulgarian media. In the late 1990s, he was suspected of involvement in human trafficking and smuggling stolen cars, as well as the drug trade – in 2003, a report by the Centre for Study of Democracy think-tank named him as the leader of one of Bulgaria’s six largest drug gangs.
Despite several arrests on suspicion of illegal activities, no charges were pressed against him until February 2009, when he was accused of organising and leading a group involved in the drug trade and assassinations.
In February 2012, he was sentenced to eight years in jail on the charges of drug trade, but was acquitted on the charges of ordering the assassination of an alleged rival. He has been under house arrest for months to allow him to recuperate from an earlier surgical intervention.
(The Justice Palace in Sofia, view from Vitosha Boulevard. Photo: Klearchos Kapoutsis/flickr.com)