Life in jail for Bulgarian contract killing gang led by sumo wrestler

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A COURT in Bulgaria has sentenced three men, including a six-time European sumo champion, to life in prison for membership of an organised crime gang that carried out contract killings.

Bulgaria, as a member state of the European Union, has been repeatedly criticised by Brussels for doing too little to fight widespread corruption and organised crime which still blight the Balkan country 20 years after the end of Communist rule.

Petar Stoyanov, who became head of the Bulgarian sumo federation after retiring from competition, Vasil Kostov and Georgi Valev were yesterday found guilty of aiding and abetting the murder of three businessmen in 2008 and 2009, as well as beatings, arson and usury.

Another three men from the same gang, nicknamed “The Killers”, received jail terms ranging from four to 17 years, the head of the regional court in the northeastern town of Shumen said. The six were arrested in 2010.

The court said Stoyanov, who weighed 160kg during his competition days, Kostov and Valev will not be eligible for parole.

Stoyanov, 36, also known as The Chieftain, is a close friend to Bulgaria’s best sumo wrestler Kotooshu – the first European sumo wrestler to win the prestigious Emperor’s Cup.

The verdict against Stoyanov is another blow to Japan’s ancient sport which is already struggling with declining popularity after recent scandals, involving drug use, bout-fixing, violence and alleged links to organised crime. Bulgaria is the EU’s poorest member state, and has struggled to address social inequalities and the ruinous legacy of Communist misrule.