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Five Convicted in Ex-Bulgarian Official

November 28, 2003

SOFIA, Bulgaria (AP) _ Five men were convicted and sentenced to life in prison without chance of parole Friday for the 1996 assassination of former Prime Minister Andrei Lukanov.

Alexander Rusov was found guilty of fatally shooting Lukanov in front of his Sofia home on Oct. 2, 1996. Alexei Kichatov was convicted of supplying him with the gun. Both men are Russian-born Ukrainian citizens.

The court also convicted Angel Vasilev, a Bulgarian businessman, with ordering the killing and paying $85,000 for it. The court also found that his nephew, Georgi Georgiev, and his driver, Yuri Lenev, helped hire the assassins, according to court documents.

Rusov’s defense lawyer Marin Markovski said the court had no solid evidence and that he would appeal.

The documents cited a confession by the driver, who claimed his boss masterminded the killing and that the others carried it out.

Lukanov, once a member of Bulgaria’s communist elite, played a key role in the country’s transition to a multiparty system following the 1989 ouster of longtime communist strongman Todor Zhivkov.

Lukanov then served as prime minister in 1989 and 1990. At the time of his death, he was a lawmaker who was often critical of the government’s economic policies.

After the assassination, his supporters speculated that Lukanov was killed because he had possession of documents implicating members of then-Prime Minister Zhan Videnov’s government in illegal transactions.

The purported documents were never found. But three months after Lukanov’s death, mass protests forced Videnov and his government of former communists to resign.

The Lukanov trial started in 2001 after a prolonged police investigation. Ukraine had extradited Rusov and Kichatov at Bulgaria’s request in 2000, and the Czech Republic turned over Vasilev.

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