The Teplice Hellhole

The Teplice Hellhole

Three years after police raided the brothels of Bulgarian Tsvetomir 'Tsetso' Belchev in Czech Republic, the operation "Strike" (Oudar) remains the most successful crackdown on trafficking and sexual exploitation of women in Bulgaria’s contemporary history.By Yovo Nikolov (Capital, Bulgaria)

Three years after police raided the brothels of Bulgarian Tsvetomir 'Tsetso' Belchev in the north of the Czech Republic, the 1997 operation called "Strike" (Oudar) remains the most successful crackdown on trafficking and sexual exploitation of women in Bulgaria's contemporary history. The Bulgarian's brothels in Teplice, Usti nad Labem and Dubi were searched by the Czech vice squad on the night of October 7 to 8, 1997. Twenty-three Bulgarian men and 45 prostitutes, 40 of them Bulgarian, were arrested. Nine members of Belchev's gang were charged with abduction, possession of unlicensed firearms and sexual exploitation, and sentenced to 61 years' imprisonment altogether. A year after hiding in Tunisia and South Korea, Tsvetomir Belchev was arrested in Poland and extradited to the Czech Republic, to serve a 10-year prison sentence he had been given in his absence. The crook tried to restore his sex empire in Southwestern Poland and to recover the money he had made in three years of brutal exploitation of 40 abducted Bulgarian girls. Interpol has launched an international manhunt for Belchev's henchman Emil Dossev, charged with the brutal murder of one of the women who tried to escape from the prison of the Bulgarian thick-necks and was buried in the garden of Tsvetomir Belchev's house in Dubi.

Here are the stories of one of Belchev's henchmen and part of the girls who survived the Teplice hellhole.

The names of the female witnesses have been changed.

This is the testimony of Czech Vlastimil Morel, 27, in the trial against Belchev's gang in Usti nad Labem, Northern Czech Republic:"The company was founded on December 16, 1996, under the name LA PIOVRA 13, based at 147 Masarykova St, Usti nad Labem. Its line of business was purchase and sale for the purpose of resale in a rented pavilion opposite the Sport Hotel in Dubi. In about half a year Tsvetomir Belchev bought a similar pavilion uptown in Dubi. The pavilions are on land owned by State Forests, Litvinov, and Belchev's company pays a monthly rent of 6,200 korunas for them. I knew that Belchev also owned another company, La Piovra 15. The two pavilions in Dubi opened shop in December 1996. Only then did I realize that Belchev had started bringing young girls, Bulgarian nationals, to Dubi. I thought it odd that such a small pavilion was so overstaffed. Then it occurred to me - as I saw for myself about a month after the pavilion opened shop - that the girls there were in prostitution. Belchev had the two pavilions redecorated, redone and completed, glazed on the front - with huge shopwindows, and small rooms with beds built at the back of both pavilions. By 8 a.m. every morning, the girls were already in the shopwindows, offering themselves to clients. There were always six girls in the shopwindow, with two Bulgarians sitting nearby and obviously guarding them, while another man or woman was behind the bar serving clients. The pavilions are open virtually around the clock, working in two 12-hour shifts - from midnight to 12 noon and from noon to midnight. I learned that Belchev has similar operations in Chomutov.

"I knew that the girls were staying at an apartment owned by Belchev in Dubi, which he bought from Mr Diepold. I went there several times, and was horrified by the girls' living conditions. They all slept in a single room, one bed on top of the other; there were very few cupboards, so most of their clothes were scattered on the floor, as in Gypsy houses. In the apartment the girls were guarded around the clock, just as in the pavilion - so the six people from the two pavilions (two bodyguards and a bar-tender from each pavilion) were there all the time.

"All I was told, I can't remember by whom, was that perhaps around early summer 1997 two of the girls had tried running away precisely from this apartment, by jumping from the window. One of them managed to escape, but the other was injured and had to be taken to hospital.

"...I saw Krassimir beating one of the girls in his shift with a wooden object like a table leg. He was striking her across the back. Before he hit her he told her that she was good-for-nothing, that she hadn't earned a single Deutsche Mark. I have also seen Tsvetomir Belchev abusing another girl. He used his bare hands - he slapped their faces or hit them with fists and then kicked them when they fell. He did this for the same reason as Krassimir - because the girls had not earned Marks. The beatings were invariably in the room before the fruit machines. All the girls in the victim's shift would watch on. Each girl was told in advance how much money she had to make on the shift. The sums varied - some were expected to make as many as DM 500, and the whole shift had to bring in DM 2,000.

"...Promptly after returning from Bulgaria in winter 1995, after he was locked up in Bulgaria, [Belchev] brought four or five girls, whom he set up at the Helena Hotel in Litomerice, where he lived with them. I knew that the fee per girl and room was DM 70 for half an hour - 50 for the girl and 20 for the room. This was how it worked: the girls who earned well had been singled out and were obliged to make DM 500 a shift or get the same corporal punishment as the others. If one of the other girls made the minimum - say, DM 70 on a shift (one client) - she was also punished sometimes, depending on the mood of the staff and Belchev. The girls themselves were not on good terms, because those who met the full target were mad at those for whose sake they had to work more, and I heard that they often fought in the apartment."

Ts.V., 23:"...On August 22, 1996, my cousin came over to my place. He offered me a job as a barmaid in the Czech Republic, which I accepted because I was unemployed. Belchev's mother came to pick me up, and we drove to the Czech Republic in her Nissan. We arrived in Dubi, in a big country house, where I met Tsetso - I know his name is Belchev. He told me that I wouldn't be working as a barmaid, but for him as a prostitute. That's when he took my passport. The other girls told me that there was no point in resisting, and that I had to work as a prostitute or get into trouble, which might come in the form of corporal punishment. Then I was taken to the glazed pavilion in Dubi, near the station, where I danced and attracted clients. I was forced to make DM 400 or even 500 a day, which I passed on to security, which consisted of two bodyguards, and my earnings were recorded in the account book. If I failed to meet the target, I was beaten with a truncheon, always in the country house."

V.K., 25:"...I went to the Czech Republic after Belchev's mother offered me a job as a waitress or barmaid for DM 2,000 a month. From Bulgaria, we went straight to Dubi via Hungary and Slovakia... Arriving in Dubi, we went to the country house where Belchev asked me if I would volunteer to become a prostitute. I refused. In response, Belchev beat me black and blue, hitting and kicking me, in the pavilion opposite the Sport [Hotel]. He kicked me with hobnailed shoes. He kicked my back, and used a chair too. He summoned Krassi and Emil (Blackie) on the walkie-talkie, and ordered them to beat me too. I was taken down to the cellar, where the two went on kicking and hitting me, mainly in the abdomen. Emo clasped my head and struck me with fists. I passed out, they poured water over me and when I came round they handcuffed me by one hand to the radiator pipe. I was in excruciating pain. I was handcuffed there all day... Before he took me to the said apartment, Belchev raped me in one of the rooms in the country house.

"For failing to meet the target I was hit five to ten times several times a day by Belchev - he did the same to the other girls too, which I saw for myself. After I went into prostitution, I used to make DM 15,000 for Belchev, but after the first month my earnings doubled, to about 30,000 a month.

"...Before my time, a girl nicknamed Trambovka had tried running away from the same bar. She was caught by Rossen. Before she was taken to the pavilion, she managed to escape and made it to the road, where she ran into a police car with a green stripe. She did not get any help or protection from the police. That's what the girls told me. Besides, I was told that the same girl was beaten in the cellar of Belchev's country house by Emil Dossev, Krassimir and Belchev. Later, at some point Belchev mentioned that the girl had died."

S.M., 19:"...I had a conversation in Rousse, where I shared a flat with this girl. She told me that she had a job as a shop assistant in the Czech Republic, and that I too could find a job in a very nice shop there, where I could make up to DM 3,000 a month... Then we went to this flat in an apartment building in Dubi. I was surprised to see that all the windows were barred. I spent a short time alone there, then the other girls came home after the shift, I knew one of them from Rousse. She and the other girls told me that all of them were actually in prostitution, and that I was there for the same purpose... I couldn't keep in touch with my family except for a single phone call a month in his presence, so all I could say was that I was doing fine.

"I have worked in three bars owned by Belchev - two in Dubi and one in Chomutov. In Dubi the terms were that if one of us failed to make DM 2,000, she was not entitled to a break, while in Chomutov we worked 12 hours a day. There were two rooms in the bar for occasional clients, while regulars were taken to Belchev's house, i.e. to Dubi. The fixed rate was DM 50 for the service and DM 20 for the room for half an hour. DM 140 for a full hour. Clients always paid in advance and we had to promptly deliver the money to the guards on shift. I made an average DM 15,000 a month, and was beaten if I failed to meet the target.

"About a week after I arrived in Dubi, Belchev picked me out to go to bed with, but I refused. That was in Dubi, in his house, he beat me with his bare hands, with a rubber truncheon, a wooden club. Then the guards took over. They always did, after learning that Belchev had beaten me up. This happened every week, to the others too - the minute he wanted one of us, he would simply drag her to bed. When it came to punishment, Krassimir was the worst, but the others were no better. The punishment was brutal beating and handcuffing to the radiator pipes in the cellar.

"...I tried escaping by begging a German to drive me away. This was the only chance, we were guarded around the clock. I was caught getting in the car with the German, and taken to the bar in Chomutov, where Belchev and one Emil beat me up. Emil is a Bulgarian, the boss of the Chomutov bar. Krassimir was there too, they hit me and kicked me, I was handcuffed, they broke my nose and went on beating me until I passed out. In the Chomo-bar there's a Bulgarian girl called Milena, whom they beat up so badly that she had to stay in bed for a fortnight.

"I was checked by the police in Dubi on three occasions, that was in the bar itself, in the presence of the guard who always showed our residence permits, to which he alone had access. Belchev also gave us free of charge to the police officers, mainly from Teplice, because they drove us to the local police station. We were driven by a policeman called Benes. All police officers knew us, so it was hard to escape."

G.T., 20:In August 1996 I met Krassimir in Sliven, who offered to find me a job as a waitress in the Czech Republic.

"...When I failed to make enough money Belchev would beat me at the bar with a thick wooden club with the inscription 'Shinka' [the name of a girl on which Belchev broke the club and which managed to escape]. I had to bend forward and lean on the bar, and I got five or six blows on the backside, but the moment I let go of the table I was beaten heavily and showered with blows. I was bruised all over, on that occasion he struck me across the back with a club...

"I know that Tsetso himself has sold some of his girls to other Bulgarians in Dubi. The Bulgarian would simply come along and take the girl away. Tsetso sold them for DM 2,000 each, maybe more, I don't know for sure... I think Tsetso sold the girls in Germany, that's what people said, but this was also confirmed by some Germans who went round the pavilions in Dubi and bought girls.

"I was in the house when the girl nicknamed Trambovka was punished, as I've already said. They said that this was because she had planned to run away, she had arranged something with some German who was supposed to find her some documents and abduct her from Tsetso. Tsetso had learned about that from S., who was his informer among the girls and reported everything to him. So Emil Dossev delivered corporal punishment in the cellar, I could hear Trambovka's screams and wails, then they eventually died down. Later Tsetso's mother and Blackie or Emil Dossev told us that 'Trambovka's no more,' from which we inferred that she had not survived this punishment. Then they said that her body had been taken somewhere in the woods, so Trambovka must have been killed by Emil Dossev."