"The family is sent a severed limb. If they do not pay, the hostage is as good as dead. Abducted businessmen are stock in trade for the Bulgarian underworld," reports the online version of Spiegel, which estimates that 50 people are currently being held hostage. There is hardly any risk for the kidnappers: not only do the country's police appear reluctant to capture them, but members of the force are also suspected of masterminding some of the abductions. "Even small-time criminals can get involved, and the spiral of violence may soon be as out of control as corruption in the country," notes the online newspaper.

Hostages themselves are also regarded with suspicion, because some of the most spectacular abductions are probably "self-kidnappings" to launder money. "Foreign companies are increasingly being targeted by mafia clans allied with corrupt politicians, judiciary and police." Spiegel Online cites the example of an American managing director who awoke one day to find that he was a prisoner in his house, which had been entirely surrounded by barbed wire. "The official story was that the house had been fenced in because it was an 'illegal building' — however, the truth was that the wire was a reprisal for non-payment of protection money." The executive finally paid when a voodoo doll was burned in his garden, and the barrier disappeared overnight.