"It is war," said Borissov. "It remains to be seen who will withstand."
The remark came in response to a question from the correspondent of Dnevnik, EurActiv's partner publication in Bulgaria, who asked whether the prime minister expected organised crime or political circles in Bulgaria to strike back after the launch of the operation.
On Wednesday, anti-mafia police in Sofia arrested thirteen people considered to be part of an organised criminal group, which according to police had been active for at least ten years.
Most prominent among them is Alexey Petrov, a highly controversial personality in Bulgaria's tormented transition to democracy. Those arrested are suspected of large-scale racketeering, drug trafficking, large-scale VAT fraud, running prostitution rings, and siphoning off the country's largest metallurgical plant Kremikovtsi.
The operation, dubbed 'Octopus', echoes the famous 'La Piovra' Italian TV series.
Petrov is a former member of anti-mafia special forces, who infiltrated mafia circles in the early 1990s. His detractors say he never fought the criminal world, but instead used his position to make a personal fortune while enjoying immunity from law enforcement.
Under the former government of Socialist Prime Minister Sergey Stanishev, Alexey Petrov was appointed special counsellor with DANS, a National Security Agency inspired by the FBI, which was put in place in recent years to combat organised crime. Sources told EurActiv that DANS, which initially enjoyed substantial support from the USA and EU countries, lost all credit after it recruited Petrov.
Rumen Petkov, a former interior minister in Stanishev's government, who himself was forced to resign after wiretapping revealed that he was in regular telephone contact with mafia personalities (EurActiv 15/04/08), said that if it is indeed proven that Petrov was part of an organised crime group, Stanishev should resign from his party post. The former prime minister now leads the opposition Socialist Party.
Warm US greetings
James B. Warlick, US Ambassador to Bulgaria, warmly welcomed the Bulgarian government’s arrests in Operation Octopus.
"The United States congratulates all law enforcement personnel involved in the courageous and professional actions they took in apprehending some of the most notorious suspected criminal figures in Bulgaria," says an Embassy press release. The US diplomat personally hailed Borissov for his courage.
However, critics remain doubtful as to the real extent of the new Bulgarian prime minister's determination to crack down on organised crime. Some pointed out that Borissov in fact had a personal motivation for seeking revenge on Petrov, as the latter reportedly commissioned the bombing of Borissov's car in 1997.
Back then, Borissov was running a security firm. He was not himself in the car at the time of the explosion, but his long-time partner, Tsvetelina Borislavova, emerged badly wounded. Borislavova, who has since recovered, is now the head of KBC bank in Bulgaria and according to press reports has a personal fortune estimated at more than 100 million euros.
Bulgarian National Radio's Brussels correspondent asked Borissov how he would respond to claims that Operation Octopus was in fact an act of personal revenge against Petrov.
"Complete nonsense," Borissov answered. But he did admit that "whoever you deal with in Bulgaria is related to somebody else".
EU money starts pouring
Borissov distributed to the Brussels press photocopies of letters from the European Commission dated that same day, announcing that another two EU aid programmes, which had previously been put on hold by the EU executive due to mismanagement, had been unfrozen.
The first, an environmental programme, amounts to 1.466 billion euros, while the other, an administrative capacity programme, is worth 132 million euros.
In recent days, four other EU operational programmes for Bulgaria have been unblocked. The only one to remain frozen is related to human resources. A decision here is expected in the coming weeks.
"As we secretly hoped, the Commission says that everything Bulgaria was expected to do has been implemented. For administrative capacity, we have 132 million euros available, which we were refused in 2008 and in 2009. Now the letter says everything is in order. For environment, the funding for 2008 was frozen, for 2009 also, and for 2010, we have available 1,466 billion," he beamed.
Asked by EurActiv to explain the Commission's new attitude, Borissov said: "I leave it to you to comment. As you see, for the former government they consistently refused to release the funds, and with the new government, all the money starts pouring only six months after we took over. I think everything is clear. Out of modesty, I would not add more," he concluded.