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Bulgaria's violent crime problem

Do a recent murder and political corruption scandal signal a resurgence of crime in Bulgaria?

Further delays could also be pricey. Much of the previously frozen EU money has since been released, but European Commission spokesman Dennis Abbott said Brussels is considering suspending as much as 1 billion euros in EU funding for water treatment and other projects because Sofia won't produce audits, raising suspicions about the fate of previously transferred cash.

"Not enough of this money is reaching the actual beneficiaries on the ground," said Abbott.

Experts also said the global recession — which arrived late to Bulgaria — could exacerbate relations between mafia clans and lead to more violence, making Borisov's job still harder. Criminologist Tihomir Bezlov at the Center for the Study of Democracy, a Sofia think tank, said recent internecine fights over shrinking spoils have resembled those among criminals after the fall of communism.

"We see more rude relations, more brutality," said Bezlov. "Maybe we'll have some return of the middle 1990s."

Borisov also must depend on judges in order to fulfill his pledges, but it's not clear he can count on them. Younger Bulgarian magistrates and United States federal justices who have participated in U.S.-funded training missions have said many senior Bulgarian judges are unreconstructed communists with little interest in the law beyond enriching themselves.

Over the past year, those claims have been underscored by a scandal involving influence peddling that has rocked the Bulgarian judiciary. Prosecutors have accused 27-year-old disco owner Krasio Georgiev of offering to help judges secure promotions for hundreds of thousands of euros.

It's not known if Georgiev wielded such influence or was a scam artist, said Bezlov, but phone records show he had thousands of conversations with jurists throughout the country. Never before have judges been so implicated in corruption. "The Krasio case is very important," Bezlov said. "It broke the ice."

Sofia City Prosecutor Kokinov also expressed optimism. The government is giving him more support than ever, he said. Proposed reforms stemming from the Georgiev case might erect better firewalls between judges and profiteers, he added.

And while the Margin brothers have escaped convictions, Kokinov said their recent legal hassles have disrupted their operations. That means new, less experienced bosses are assuming more responsibilities, giving him more opportunities to catch them.

"They'll make more mistakes now," said Kokinov. "They're becoming new, and when a person is new, they make more mistakes."