By Svetla Dimitrova
Bulgaria’s special anti-mafia prosecution charged two men on Saturday (August 18th) with participation in an organised crime group, after 23 Bulgarians were arrested by authorities who seized a vessel carrying about 3 tonnes of high-purity cocaine near the port of Cadiz, Spain, last week.
Doychin Doychev, the owner of the Burgas-based Seaborne Trading Company and of the Saint Nikolay ship, and Ruslan Kolev, 37, who is believed to have recruited some of those involved in trafficking the drugs, will remain in custody until Tuesday. Judges will then decide whether the two are to remain in custody or should be set free.
“There is no way that the owner of this ship did not know what it was transporting,” Bulgarian Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov told Sofia-based private television station TV7 on Saturday.
The cargo was said to have been loaded on the Bulgarian-flagged SV Nikolay ship somewhere in the Caribbean Sea. Spain is the primary gateway for Latin American drugs to enter Europe.
Last week, representatives of the Spanish National Police’s Special Operations Group boarded the vessel registered in Bulgaria’s Black Sea port city of Burgas and seized more than 100 packages of cocaine. All 21 Bulgarian crew members were arrested, according to a statement by the Spanish Interior Ministry.
Ten others, including six Colombians and four Spaniards, were detained in Madrid and Spain’s northwestern Galicia region.
“Police detained those responsible for sending and collecting the drugs on land,” the ministry said in a statement. “The shipment, managed by a Colombian group from Madrid, was loaded on the ship in South America by an organisation of Bulgarian nationals.”
Bulgarian investigators believe that the captain of the ship was also aware of what the vessel was carrying, as were perhaps at least some of the crew members who are currently being questioned by the Spanish authorities and might be charged over the case.
The operation, dubbed “Espartana,” was launched in January and was carried out jointly by the Spanish and Bulgarian authorities, in co-operation also with the French police services, the US Drug Enforcement Agency and the UK’s Serious Organised Crime Agency.
Speaking to reporters last week, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov confirmed that the Balkan country’s security services had been aware that the traffickers would use a Bulgarian ship. He also indicated that some of the sailors might have not known what the vessel was carrying, but that they “couldn’t tell the sailors ‘Flee the ship, because they’ll capture it!’ ”
An AFP report on Friday quoted Lieutenant-Colonel Giovanni Interdonato of the Italian police as saying that a high-tech ATR-42 patrol aircraft operated by his country’s financial police had spotted and followed Saint Nikolay “for two or three nights” before its capture.
While refusing to provide any details about the sophisticated drug-detecting technology, he said that the Italian Financial Police patrols have caught more than 8 tonnes of marijuana this year and have located 250 marijuana plantations in Albania.