BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — A man known as Nutzu the Pawnbroker has been indicted for leading a fearsome criminal gang, but the public seems to be more interested in his pets: four lions and two bears.
Ion Balint — his real name — had long been known to have an affinity for wild beasts in his home.
"You said I fed men to the lions?" Balint was recorded saying on a videotape as he rode away from prison on a black stallion in 2010. "Why don't you come over and I'll give you some lions!"
Authorities won't confirm that the lions and bears were used to intimidate rivals at his high-walled and heavily guarded estate in the poorest part of Bucharest. The compound also contained less fearsome beasts, including thoroughbred horses and canaries.
Balint, 48, a stocky man with a mustache and a receding hairline, often appears dressed in T-shirts and tracksuits.
The Romanian news media were awash in unconfirmed reports about Balint's excesses, reporting that he used the lions and bears to intimidate rivals and that his house contained a torture chamber.
His son-in-law, Marius Vlad, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that the reports were false.
"Many untruths are being reported," he said.
Bystanders and relatives who gathered near the gates of the estate described Balint as a good neighbor and an animal lover, and said they weren't bothered by roaring lions.
"We can hear them every day, but only when they're hungry or the female is in heat," said Gabriela Ionescu, 36, clutching her toddler daughter's hand. "They don't disturb us at all."