Bulgarian crime boss shot and wounded in Sofia

SOFIA Tue Jan 29, 2013 11:57am GMT

1 of 3. Bodyguards carry Zlatomir Ivanov (C) after he was shot in front of the central court building in downtown Sofia January 29, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Gergana Kostadinova/BGNES

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SOFIA (Reuters) - A Bulgarian crime boss nicknamed "The Beret" was shot and wounded as he entered a court in central Sofia on Tuesday to attend an appeal against his conviction for running a drug trafficking gang.

Bulgaria, the European Union's poorest member, is still blighted by corruption and organised crime more than 20 years after the fall of communism, and is under pressure from Brussels to tackle the problem.

Zlatomir Ivanov, 44, was shot four times in his legs, arm and stomach as he was entering the court in broad daylight for an appeal against his eight-year jail sentence, police said.

Ivanov and his bodyguard, who was also wounded, were taken to hospital, where Ivanov was due to undergo surgery.

Local media say Ivanov is a former member of a special police force known as "The Berets". Because of health problems, he had been allowed to remain under house arrest while awaiting his appeal.

"The site gives easy access for a shooting," said Prime Minister Boiko Borisov. "If he had been in custody, he would have had protection."

Borisov's ruling GERB party swept to power in 2009 promising to put an end to a climate of impunity but has done little to put corrupt officials or crime bosses behind bars, or boost a struggling economy that has encouraged crime.

(Reporting by Angel Krasimirov and Tsvetelia Tsolova; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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