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Notorious drug lord and former wrestler known as Bulgaria's "cocaine king" surrenders after years on the run

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More than 200 people sentenced in Italy mafia trial 04:04

Fugitive Bulgarian drug lord Evelin Banev, wanted in several European countries, surrendered to law enforcement authorities early Monday, the interior ministry said.

The former wrestler — dubbed Bulgaria's "cocaine king" — had been sought since 2018. Ukrainian authorities caught him in Kyiv in September 2021 but refused to extradite him on the grounds that he had acquired Ukrainian nationality.

His whereabouts had been unknown since then.

"I can confirm that around 7:30 am this morning Evelin Banev 'Brendo', who has been declared internationally wanted, surrendered voluntarily. Police will transfer him to prison authorities," interior ministry spokesman Mitko Dimitrov told AFP.

A web video uploaded on social media by the news website showed Banev and his lawyer Petar Zafirov walking to the central prison in the Bulgarian capital city of Sofia.

This picture taken on December 16, 2013 shows former wrestler Evelin Banev walking escorted by policemen at the court in Sofia.  DIMITAR KYOSEMARLIEV/AFP via Getty Images

"Mr. Banev shows up to serve a punishment that has been imposed on him in line with a sentence that's final," Zafirov told the reporter.

Banev, 59, wearing a grey baseball cap, only said "Of course" when the reporter asked him if he realized what he was doing.

Banev fled after being sentenced in 2013 in Bulgaria to seven-and-a-half years in jail for money laundering. The sentence was lowered to six years on appeal.

Evelin Banev  Interpol

After he was sentenced, his then 10-year-old daughter was abducted outside her house in the capital Sofia, the BBC reported at the time. She was eventually freed and left near a police station in Sofia, Sky News reported.

Banev has been the subject of an Interpol red notice since 2013.

Banev was also wanted by Romania where he was sentenced in absentia to ten-and-a-half years for drug trafficking.

In late 2017, he was also sentenced to 20 years in jail in Italy for smuggling up to 40 tons of cocaine from Latin America between 2004 and 2007 and supplying the 'Ndrangheta mafia.

In 2022, a former Bulgarian tennis player with alleged ties to Banev was found guilty of money laundering in Switzerland, the BBC reported. Prosecutors said that Elena Pampoulova, who worked at Credit Suisse, had built an informal financial relationship with Banev and she allegedly collected bags "full of cash" from people known to the wrestler. Pampoulova died last year at the age of 50.

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