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Embassy Row

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 19, 2011

'OCTOPUS' AND CROCODILES

Judges who are soft on crime are threatening Bulgaria's crackdown on underworld bosses, according to a classified cable from U.S. Ambassador James Warlick in Sofia.

The ambassador praised the crime-fighting efforts launched by Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, especially Operation Octopus, which rounded up 12 suspected members of one of Bulgaria's most notorious organized crime organizations last year.

Mr. Borissov also rounded up the Crocodiles and the Impudents, two crime gangs specializing in highway robbery and kidnappings.

However, Mr. Warlick explained in his cable of Feb. 10, 2010, that the government's crime fighters are undermined by a judiciary that often sets low bail for major crime figures, who sometimes intimidate witnesses or flee the country.

Little has changed in the 17 months since the ambassador filed his report to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. The European Union this week issued a report on organized crime in Bulgaria, citing the same issues that the ambassador raised.

The high-profile arrests last year "have highlighted the weakness in the judicial system, as judges allow members of these [crime] groups to make bail and delay proceedings despite prosecutors' assurances of airtight evidence against them," Mr. Warlick said in his cable.

He said he is confident of Mr. Borissov's commitment to cleaning up Bulgaria's gangland, "but this may be a losing battle if [the government] is unable to convince the judiciary to make the reforms necessary to allow prosecutors to do their jobs and keep dangerous criminals in prison."

Since taking office in July 2009, Mr. Borissov has "revamped law enforcement by removing 26 of 28 regional police chiefs, many of whom were corrupt or incompetent," the ambassador said in the cable released on the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks.

In December, his government arrested 30 members of the Impudents, who terrorized Bulgaria with high-profile kidnappings. Authorities also nabbed members of the Crocodile gang, who specialized in stealing cars and robbing highway motorists.

Mr. Borissov, who campaigned on promises to fight crime and official corruption, also has unleashed a crackdown on government graft. Authorities have arrested former government ministers, mayors, judges and members of parliament in an anti-corruption campaign that began shortly after Mr. Borissov took office.

However, the ambassador said that Chief Prosecutor Boris Velchev and Justice Minister Margarita Popova have encountered "fierce opposition from the 'old guard' [politicians and judges] affiliated with defense lawyers and [nongovernmental organizations] using the language of human rights to sink necessary reform."

CHANGE 'MINDSET'

The Indonesian ambassador in Washington called on Indonesians to drop their suspicion of the United States and build on a relationship boosted by President Obama's visit last year to the nation with the world's largest Muslim population.

"It is critical for us to change our mindset in order to improve our relationship with the United States," Ambassador Dino Patti Djalal said in a video conference this week.

He urged Indonesians and Americans to drop their "business-as-usual" attitude, according to a report in the Jakarta Post: "We should keep on asking three questions: Why not, what if and what more needs to be done to develop our relationship?"

Indonesians often hold bizarre conspiracy theories regarding the U.S. government. Many suspect the CIA, instead of al Qaeda, is responsible for the 2002 bombing that killed 180 on the Indonesian resort island of Bali.

The video conference included U.S. Ambassador Scot Marciel in Jakarta.

cCall Embassy Row at 202/636-3297 or email jmorrison@washingtontimes.com. The column is published on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

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