A few years ago, Bobbie Tsankov made national headlines in Bulgaria for being convicted of using his radio show to defraud people of money. In the first few hours after a fusillade of bullets ended his life on January 5 2010, some media portrayals presented a substantially different view of Tsankov, as an investigative journalist crusading against the country’s endemic organised crime.
Descriptions of Tsankov as an investigative journalist and national radio personality do not quite fit the fact that the only print media for which he had worked was a sensationalist weekend publication, nor that his radio career had spanned nothing more than a series of minor stations of limited listenership – and that this latter part of his career had crumbled after his conviction for using "radio games" to con people into paying for advertising that was never flighted.
The crusading image could also be slightly tarnished by his first radio job having been at a station owned by a now-deceased business person who allegedly had been involved in the narcotics trade.
His television career included no national channel, apart from appearances on other people’s shows towards the end of his life. Arguably the best-known cable channel on which he appeared was Skat, mouthpiece of Bulgaria’s ultra-nationalist Ataka party.
Deutsche Welle, like other news outlets drawing on a Deutsche Press Agentur report, said that Tsankov had been the "author of several books on organised crime in Bulgaria". Just one, in translation entitled The Secrets of the Mobsters, had been published, towards the end of 2009; another was in the works and, local media reported, he had spoken of writing a third.
The Irish Times labelled Tsankov a "prominent Bulgarian crime writer".
Deutsche Welle also said, on January 6, that it was "believed" that his killing was linked to his investigations into organised crime. However, local media said, investigators were reported to be looking into several theories, including Tsankov’s business dealings.
In the hours after Tsankov’s murder, three people already facing criminal charges and with alleged links to organised crime were taken into custody, reportedly in connection with the killing, but on January 6 it was reported locally that it was not certain whether police would keep them in detention. The Interior Ministry said that the arrests of the three were "not necessarily" linked to the Tsankov slaying.
Some media portrayals of Tsankov’s death omitted details of his past, notably the three-year suspended sentence handed to him in 2006 for fraud. A report on the BBC’s website and a wire report by the Canadian Press left out these details, concentrating solely on his recent career as a (self-proclaimed) expert on Bulgaria’s organised crime.
International media linked his murder to Bulgaria’s mafia problem, including recording the previous suspension, in 2008, of huge sums of EU funds for the country because of suspected corruption – though omitting that, since Prime Minister Boiko Borissov’s Government was elected in mid-2009, substantial parts of these funds have been restored.
Linking Tsankov’s killing to Bulgaria’s place in the EU is hardly unjustified, however, given that European Commission spokesperson Mark Gray was among the first to react, calling on the country to act firmly against organised crime.
Local commentators, including a journalist who six years ago had made a film about Tsankov, recalled that he had a silver-tongued manner.
Bulgarian-language media, like their foreign colleagues, largely connected the murder to Tsankov’s allegations about organised crime figures, his book plans, and statements he had made on talk shows and elsewhere about various politicians.
On the morning after the murder, mass-circulation daily Trud headlined its front-page report, "Mafia kills analyst number two," a reference to a previous murder, that of Georgi Stoev, a figure who had been close to organised crime figures and who had published books crammed with allegations about them.
The Tsankov murder, daily Sega said, "challenges the Government".
Another Sofia newspaper said that police had found, during a January 5 raid on the offices of a major insurance company, two firearms allegedly used in the murder of Tsankov and the shooting of his two bodyguards.
Bulgarian-language print and broadcast media said that one theory was that the killing was in revenge for Tsankov having provided law enforcement authorities with information that led to the arrests of the gang known as "The Insolents", who were picked up in late 2009 in a series of busts that the Government said had ended the career of the group that had been behind two years of lucrative kidnappings.
Bulgarian daily Standart interviewed business person Vanya Chervenyashka, describing her as someone from whom Tsankov had defrauded large sums, and quoting her as saying that Tsankov was a megalomaniac fond of exaggerating the events, people and circumstances to which he was privy.
Expressing an opinion widely held in Bulgaria, journalist Martin Karbovski told the same newspaper that Tsankov had made a fatal mistake – believing that the tricks that he had played on foolish people would work with mobsters too.
Tsvetko Tsvetkov, a former Interior Ministry boss, said that Tsankov’s killing probably was a signal to discourage anyone from trying to provide information to the police.
Perhaps, in some cases, it was a signal that was understood. The weekend publication that had run Tsankov’s stories in the past was quoted late on January 5 – while investigators were still working at the crime scene, and before Tsankov’s corpse had been bagged and removed – that it would desist from further such reporting.
By January 6, other theories had emerged that were less glamorous. In separate reports, Darik Radio and Bulgarian National Television said that one theory being investigated was that the killing of Tsankov was an episode in a contest for control of the market in illegal drugs.
Bobbie Tsankov went to his grave on January 10 2010 with suspects in his killing still at large, while a lawyer for fugitive ‘Little Margin’ again rejects allegations that the Marinovi Brothers were involved.
Simeon Saxe-Coburg and his spouse Margarita opened a new heating and insulation system at the Tsar Ferdinand Hospital for Pulmonary Diseases in Iskrets, a project implemented thanks to the Embassy of the Sovereign Order of Malta in Sofia and the Nando Peretti Foundation.
According to the law's provisions, the commission will have the power to investigate individuals without prior notification and would not require a criminal conviction in order to launch an investigation.
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