SOFIA (Reuters) - The 11-year-old daughter of a convicted Bulgarian gangland boss has been freed, seven weeks after being kidnapped on the way to school in the first abduction in the Balkan country since 2009, police said on Monday.
Six years after joining the European Union, Bulgaria's justice system remains under special monitoring by Brussels, which has repeatedly criticized Sofia for failing to impose the rule of law and crack down on corruption and organized crime.
Lara - the daughter of Evelin Banev, who is serving a jail sentence for laundering profits from drug deals - was left near a police station in central Sofia late on Sunday and was in good health, police said in a statement.
They declined to give a reason for release, though local media reported that a ransom of 500,000 euros ($654,000) had been paid to kidnappers.
"Work on the case continues and will continue until those who caused all this have been found," Interim Deputy Interior Minister Filip Gunev told Bulgarian national radio.
Banev, 49, was arrested in Italy last May in an international police operation dubbed "Cocaine Kingpins" involving Bulgarian, Italian, French, Swiss and Spanish authorities. Italian police alleged that his gang had been smuggling around 40 tonnes of cocaine into Italy per year.
Last month, three men stopped a car taking Banev's daughter to school, shot and wounded its driver and abducted the girl.
In February a Bulgarian court sentenced Banev, nicknamed "Brendo", to seven-and-a-half years in jail for laundering drug-dealing profits of over 2 million euros. Italy handed him to Bulgaria for that trial but he is now back in a prison in Italy, where he is on trial for drug trafficking.
In 2009, Bulgarian police arrested 25 people in connection with 16 kidnappings of rich or famous people for ransom. Four of them were sentenced to at least 16 years in jail last April.
(Reporting by Angel Krasimirov; Editing by Kevin Liffey)