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Suspected gang leader Dimitar Zhelyazkov arrested in Istanbul

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Suspected gang leader Dimitar Zhelyazkov arrested in Istanbul

Suspected leader of a gang for racketeering and distribution of narcotics, Dimitar Zhelyazkov, also known as Mityo Ochite was arrested in Istanbul and is pending extradition to Bulgaria. The arrest followed an earlier crackdown on his lieutenants, who allegedly terrorised the Bulgarian southern Black Sea summer resorts. The police operation lead to the detaining of 19 people in Bourgas area. The Special Criminal Court ordered five of them to be held in police custody.

Zhelyazkov, who was placed on Interpol's Red Notice list, entered Turkey from Greece. In a swift and professionally enacted operation they managed to apprehend Zhelyazkov in Turkey's largest city on Saturday. According to news media reports, seven other Bulgarian nationals were apprehended together with Zhelyazkov, including Bourgas Municipal Council Deputy Chairman Bencho Benchev and former Movement for Rights and Freedoms MP Nesrin Uzun.

Also on Saturday, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov said that Turkey's Interior Minister and Prosecutor General had personally assisted with Zhelyazkov's detention. Prime minister Boiko Borissov said that Bulgaria had already launched an extradition procedure for the suspect who is held in a jail in Turkey.

On Sunday, the Bulgarian Interior Ministry Press Centre said that the seven Bulgarian citizens apprehended during a specialized police operation in Istanbul had been handed over by the Turkish authorities to Bulgarian Interior Ministry officials at the Kapitan Andreevo Border Checkpoint late Saturday evening. The seven are detained in custody for 24 hours. The press release specified that Zhelyazkov was not among the seven.

The Special Prosecution Office said on Sunday that Benchev's home in Bourgas had been searched. Bulgarian Deputy Prosecutor General Ivan Geshev told journalists later in the day that the search at Benchev's home had yielded records on the cash that was to be given to the organized crime group leader. Geshev assumes that Benchev may be charged with membership of an organized crime group and (which is more probable) money laundering.

According to the Special Prosecution Office, more than 30 premises linked to the crime ring had been searched, including the homes of persons who were handed over by the Turkish authorities on Saturday. Geshev assumes that the number of searches may increase to several hundred, now that new witnesses have come forward. Their security will be guaranteed.

The Deputy Prosecutor General noted that planning the crackdown took about a month. In his words, this was one of the largest such operations in Bulgaria over the last 20 years. A pre-trial proceeding in connection with Zhelyazkov's criminal activity was initiated in 2016.

In a related development, the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) said in a press release that Benchev is not a BSP member and was elected to the Bourgas Municipal Council on the Socialists' non-party quota. "The BSP National Council Executive Council distances itself from him and insists on his immediate resignation from the Bourgas Municipal Council," the press release reads.

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