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Anti-corruption body acts on Bivol’s findings about Vassil Bozhkov’s property

Acting CACIAF chief confirms the seized building is the one we identified in 2021
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Bulgaria’s Commission for Anti-Corruption and Illegal Assets Forfeiture (CACIAF) is working on seizing the property of gambling boss Vassil Bozhkov, known as the Skull, identified by Bivol in an investigation based on the Panama Papers. The first of those seizures were announced by CACIAF’s acting chairman Anton Slavchev on 22 March 2022 – a residential building in Paris. Comments made by CACIAF for Bivol reveal that the address is the same as that of the building identified in Panama Papers documents, photographed, and made public by our team in March 2021. The same applies to properties in Spain and Greece, as well as the private jet and yacht Bivol identified based on the Panama Papers.

Image: The building at the prestigious Paris address 27 Quai Anatole France. (Colage: Bivol Archive)

CACIAF has placed property in France owned by Vassil Bozhkov under seizure. This was confirmed by Anton Slavchev, acting head of the anti-corruption body after Sotir Tsatsarov’s resignation, for Bulgarian news agency BTA.

The news came just days after Bozhkov himself boasted he had spoken to the National Police Directorate and provided evidence, and that he had been questioned by the office of European Public Prosecutor Laura Kövesi. In his words the evidence he provided led to the urgent arrest of former prime minister Boyko Borissov, ex-finance minister Vladislav Goranov, the former head of the parliamentary budget and finance committee, and PR chief for GERB Sevdelina Arnaudova on 17 March 2022.

“The process took place in parallel in Bulgaria and in France, where special proceedings were initiated in accordance with the French Civil Code. It is being overseen by a notary”, Slavchev announced on 22 March 2022.

„Under those proceeding the legality of the measure has been confirmed and a decision has been submitted for entry with the Paris registrar of mortgages/seizures.”

“The property consists of individual items within residential buildings and is subject to a civil case for the forfeiture of illegal assets”, he explained.

“The value of the property is over 2.6 million BGN“, Slavchev claimed. It is unclear how this was calculated, as our own investigation based on documents shows Bozhkov’s properties in Paris to be worth over 20 million euro.  A year ago claims were made with the Sofia City Court for over 278 million BGN.

Among the assets subject to those claims was his yacht worth 41 million BGN and his private jet worth 34 million BGN. Civil claims against Bozhkov are based on the investigation against him. He has been charged on 19 different counts.

Building found by Bivol through Panama Papers is placed under seizure

The seized building in the the heart of Paris (photo: Bivol archive)

Bivol approached CACIAF for clarification on whether the building was the one we wrote about in March 2021. The address matches the one the anti-corruption body acted on.

CACIAF has asked for a building to be placed under seizure, the address being 27, bis quai Anatole France, 75007 Paris, and the area 00 ha 18 a 10ca. The owner of the property is a company controlled by Vassil Bozhkov”, says the written reply received from Anton Slavchev’s office.

The building at 27 Quai Anatole France is on the banks of the Seine, opposite the Tuileries Garden and within a few hundred meters from the French National Assembly. It is very imposing, built-in 1905, and has listed cultural heritage status. It was created by the renowned French architect Richard Bowens van der Boijen for the famous bankers of the Lazard family. Decades ago it was home to France’s Centre for Political, Economic, and Social Studies in Aeronautics and Astronautics. This probably means that the building and its infrastructure have been adapted to meet very high standards of security.

We also asked the commission how they identified the property in France, as well as others in Greece, Spain, etc. “CACIAF identified the properties on the basis of documents received from the competent authorities and through inquiries to its international partners,” the reply said.

We also asked if the property in France could have been sold but CACIAF replied they had no such information:

During the proceedings for instituting the asset freezing order no such findings were made.”

Slavchev’s employees are apparently also not aware of further facts revealed by Bivol involving cash taken out of the country on board of Bozhkov’s private Bombardier jet.

„As a result of a CACIAF claim filed with the Sofia City Court a seizure has been placed on a Bombardier aircraft, model ВD-700-1А11 (GLOBAL 5000 GVFD), evaluated at 34 million BGN. The seizure has been registered with the Civil Aviation Administration”, the anti-corruption commission says. According to the most recent data, the aircraft is currently grounded in Nuremberg and is not carrying out any flights. Three years ago it was that same private air plane that carried Bozhkov out of the country and to Dubai. After that, the plane had been returned to Greece, where it was kept until it was permanently grounded in Nuremberg.

CACIAF also pointed out that the total value of all claims filed with the Sofia City Court against Vassil Bozhkov for the forfeiture of illegal assets is 278 299 803.33 BGN.


  Letter from CACIAF to Bivol from 23 March 2022 (source: Bivol)

For the time being, no further details are known about Bozhkov’s properties that CACIAF is trying to seize in Greece and Spain.

„CACIAF has initiated proceedings in other foreign countries requesting seizures to be made on further assets that are currently subject to an investigation involving other individuals”, the commission says.

The anti-corruption body emphasized that further information could only be given after the procedures for instituting the assets freeze had been fully completed and this was necessary in order to protect the interests of the state. Lack of accurate information always gives rise to many questions and opens the path for suspicions of shady arrangements or corruption.

Ambiguities and contradictions

The first element in CACIAF’s data that does not match what we know is the value of Bozhkov’s property in Paris. The 2.6 million BGN quoted by CACIAF would be enough to buy nothing more than a flat in that part of the city. At the same time, Bivol found documents and contracts showing that Bozhkov injected 20.6 million euros into his French company. That was the amount of the targeted loan Bozhkov’s French-registered  SCI BO received from his secret offshore firm in Panama Variety Finance SA for the purchase of the building in downtown Paris.

Loan agreement between Variety Finance SA and SCI BO, dated 2008

The transaction took place in 2008 at the peak of the global financial and property crisis. Prices were at a record low. A property of the kind would cost multiple times that amount today, experts say, placing its current value at around 70 million euros.

That means that the estimate of the anti-corruption commission is 50 times lower than the market value of such a building in the heart of the French capital.

A little over a year ago CACIAF announced to some fanfare that they were freezing assets owned by Vassil Bozhkov who has been charged with 17 crimes and is in hiding in Dubai. The total value of the assets listed was 406 547 219 BGN. They included flats in Sofia and Balchik, a house in Greece, and real estate property in Paris, as was announced at the time. So, on the one hand, the value of the overall claim has shrunk to almost half the original amount and, on the other, the worth of the Paris property has gone down to symbolic levels. There has been no explanation on behalf of the anti-corruption authority and the only thing that’s left now is the pompous PR.

The only logical explanation is that Bozhkov must have succeeded in selling most of his real estate in France before the Bulgarian state, represented by CACIAF, managed to effectively freeze his assets, despite all the very public threats they have been making since 2020, and so at the moment only a fraction of his property is under seizure. Why this happened and why the gambling mogul’s losses were considerably minimized at the state’s expense is something that will be investigated and clarified.

This brings us to the second ambiguity – the one that concerns the ownership of the building after it was made public a year ago by Bivol. According to our sources, the property underwent an urgent sale. Furniture and equipment were lugged out for days and loaded onto vans with Bulgarian registration plates from the district of Montana, witnesses say. If a sale did indeed take place, it remains to be answered how it could happen under the very noses of CACIAF and the responsible Bulgarian institutions.

Bivol sent questions to Vassil Bozhkov himself but he did not reply to our messages regarding CACIAF’s information about the seizure of his assets. That the commission instituted a seizure in Paris in 2021 is also mentioned in CACIAF’s annual report published in February 2021. It quotes the Paris asset freeze as

the first successful attempt at international cooperation“,

while the name of the owner of the property, Vassil Bozhkov, is not mentioned. However, the commission clarified that Slavchev’s statement was based on data contained in the report (see photo).

Annual report by CACIAF published in 2022, mentioning the Paris property (screenshot: Bivol)

 Property purchased through secret offshore companies

We would like to recap once again that on 2 March 2021 Bivol revealed: Vassil Bozhkov, the richest and most dangerous Bulgarian in the words of chief public prosecutor Ivan Geshev, owns an extremely expensive property in the heart of Paris in an imposing building on the banks of the Seine.

There is data showing Bozhkov owns another expensive property near the Arc de Triomphe, the value of which is as yet unknown. According to the documents found by Bivol, the property was bought from a company registered in France. In the same building two companies owned by Vassil Bozhkov had their official headquarters: SCI-BO and SCI BOTWO. SCI stands for Société Civile Immobilière – the legal phrasing for a specific type of company established for the purpose of managing real estate.

SCI BO was registered on 3 September 2008, initially at 133 boulevard Haussmann. A month later SCI BOTWO was registered at the same address. SCI BO then moved to the building at 27 quai Anatole France.

Registration document for SCI BO, listing Vassil Bozhkov as majority owner (Source, screenshot: Bivol archive)

All of these facts have emerged on the basis of documents contained in the Panama Papers archive, which Bivol has access to as a partner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists ICIJ. Based on the Panama Papers we also previously managed to reveal that the actual owner of Viafot Limited, the company behind the attack on Emilian Gebrev, and his ownership of the Dunarit arms-producing plant, was none other than Delyan Peevski’s lawyer Alexander Angelov (see here).

Vassil Bozhkov himself is listed as a partner in both companies alongside another Bulgarian – Kaloyan-Dimiter Stoyanov. Bivol’s investigation shows the latter is a finance professional providing fiduciary management for a number of companies in Switzerland.

Kaloyan Stoyanov was also the person in contact with the Panama company Mossack-Fonseca, regarding the registration of the offshore Variety Finance. His Swiss fiduciary services company Ilex Trustees was entrusted by Vassil Bozhkov with the management of Variety Finance S.A. already in 2003. The company was registered on the British Virgin Islands at the time but was later re-registered in Panama. That is how information on Bozhkov’s secretly owned company became part of the official correspondence of Mossack-Fonseca‘s Panama office leaked in the Panama Papers.

WikiLeaks: “The most infamous Bulgarian gangster”

We should not forget that in 2008 Bozhkov was listed as one of Eastern Europe’s 50 richest people, with his personal wealth estimated at 1.5 billion USD. According to a report by the American embassy in Sofia from 11 September 2009, made public by Wikileaks, he was also

“Bulgaria’s most infamous gangster”,

who over the years had started cleaning up his business, previously linked with organized crime.

The American diplomats in Kozyak street literally say the following about him:

Vassil Bozhkov, a.k.a the Skull – head of Nove Holding. Linked to Intergroup through a company owned jointly with Mladen Mihalev – Madjo. “Bozhkov’s illegal activities include money laundering, privatization fraud, intimidation, and extortion and racketeering.” (2005). http://wikileaks.org/cable/2005/07/05SOFIA1207.html#parF

“Bulgaria’s most infamous gangster… Still active in money laundering, privatization fraud, intimidation, extortion, racketeering, and illegal antique dealing. He maintains close relationships with many former government officials.” (2009). http://wikileaks.org/cable/2009/09/09SOFIA508.html#par3

Cable by US Ambassador John Beyrle regarding Nove Holding (Source: Wikileaks)

As a partner for Wikileaks, back in 2011 Bivol published the above information about Vassil Bozhkov and other persons considered by US diplomats to have links with organized crime (read more here).

Part of Bozhkov’s attempts to clean up his business went through his investment in the road construction company Patishta Holding in 2007, which marked a move towards large infrastructure projects such as the Trakia motorway. However, Bozhkov’s construction companies went bankrupt and were acquired by persons linked to First Investment Bank in compensation for huge debts owed to the financial institution. This indicates that the

“cleaning up” is actually a large-scale operation for laundering money acquired through criminal activities through the use of bank loans.

The Paris real estate transaction carries some of the same traits – money from an offshore business secretly owned by Bozhkov is loaned to a “clean” French company in which he is officially a partner.

After exiting the construction business, Bozhkov developed his “National Lottery”, selling scratch cards through the kiosks of the Lafka network, whose ownership has been linked to parliament member Delyan Peevski. Up until early 2020, Bozhkov enjoyed total impunity and privilege from the state, which provided him with a service passport (read more here), while the GERB administration proposed and voted legal changes in favor of his gambling business through parliament.

It is not clear what caused the abrupt change in attitude towards Bulgaria’s richest man but it was most likely brought about by a business conflict with Borissov and Peevski, whom Bozhkov now calls “Siamese twins” and “a junta”.

Additional reporting: Nikolay Marchenko, Bivol

 

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