The caught poacher
Bivol discovered a well-organized mafia scheme for illegal hunting and felling in several municipalities in north-eastern Bulgaria. The organization has functioned and continues to function to date. It includes representatives of key State institutions. The cover-up for the crimes is provided precisely by the people who are in charge of detecting and sanctioning them. Instead, State officials emerge as being complicit in a mafia structure – through action or inaction. Only an immediate and impartial prosecutor’s investigation may elucidate fully the real dimensions of the criminal scheme.
Part I – Wild Hunting and Violence
We will outline the situation by a chronological story as seen through the eyes of one of our main sources of information. The man’s name is Dancho Yordanov, 56, from the Black Sea city of Varna. He is not hiding, but rather has officially confronted the poaching gang. According to his own statements, he is driven by moral motives and civil duty to protect Bulgarian forests. Because of his epic battle against the mafia and the State at the same time, he nearly lost his life and there are continuous threats against it and that of his family. The man has experienced a total of three attacks, some of which were murder attempts. The facts and circumstances, testified by Yordanov, were carefully and professionally checked by Bivol. They proved to be the cruel truth, which is why we present them to the attention of our readers and the competent institutions.
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On September 14, 2013, Yordan Yordanov and his friend Vasil Ivanov were brutally beaten. This happened because they have decided to declare war on the illegal poaching mafia in the area where they live. The victims were tricked into a wooded area west of the town of Balchik with a fake tipoff that poachers were once again active there. It turned out later that it was a trap, organized by the tugs, as an execution-style punishment over Yordanov’s and Ivanov’s resistance and signals against the outrages taking place in the forests.
The friends were ambushed in a remote area. They were confronted by eight stocky young guys, armed with firearms and knives. The two were threatened with firing, surrounded and brutally lynched. Dancho got a concussion from kicks in the head. He also suffered several broken ribs. Vasil lost consciousness in the beating. The bone of his lower leg was broken with a metal pipe. The bloody mob law happened on a deserted country road – between Varna and Dobrich, near the village of Prilep.
Yordanov in the hospital after being beaten
Yordanov is the owner of the hotel-ethnographic complex “Chukurovo” in the vicinity of the incident. Ivanov is one of his employees. Both point at four employees of the State Hunting Estate – Balchik as being among their attackers. All are still active employees. They cannot recognize the others. The victims have identified forest ranger Atanas Rachkov, his son Yasen, Todor Todov – driver of the Director of the State Hunting Estate – Balchik, and Stiliyan Hristov nicknamed Shami.
Traumatized beyond recognition, the victims called the emergency 112 hotline. When they identified their assailants before the team of the Second Police Precinct in Dobrich, who arrived at the scene, the police refused to organize a search and surrounding operation, and failed to call an ambulance and drive the victims to the hospital, as is the mandatory procedure in such cases. The men in uniform just advised the covered with blood victims to file complaints with….the prosecution, says Yordanov.
After the incident, the beaten made their way to the “Emergency Room” in Varna on their own. There, they looked for a coroner. They were forced to go to the seaside city, not to the nearest Dobrich due to fear that there the results of the medical tests can be manipulated. It transpired that the signal for the attack was not even reported in the journal of the Second Precinct in Dobrich. In police records, the case appears as a common violation of public order.
Yordanov, who was an avid hunter, has given up his hobby 7-8 years ago. His friend Vasil Ivanov also hung his rifle on the wall then. Their aversion to killing animals for food was caused by the inhuman, in their words, attitude of poachers and forest rangers to the game, which Yordanov described as “genocide”. He testified that locals were mercilessly killing even pregnant animals. They prodded their hounds to trapped wild boars, whose jaws were broken in advance. In recent years, deer and boars in the State Hunting Estate – Balchik drastically reduced their population, unofficial statistics indicate. The game is indiscriminately massacred for trophies and meat during illegal hunting trips and sausages are often made from game meet. This meat is sold illegally as well, through private establishments. The rulers of the day get delicacies for their celebrations precisely from hunting estates, in particular from the State Hunting Estate – Balchik, familiar sources firmly believe. There is reasonable evidence that much of the money, procured by poaching, enters party coffers under the scheme 19/45 *, now 19/60.
Dancho Yoradnov points precisely at his henchmen as being the main patrons of poachers in the area – father and sons – Rachkov. Atanas Rachkov is a game breeder in the State Hunting Estate – Balchik. His son Ivan is a forest ranger there, and the other – Yasen – is a driver. The cousin of Atanas Rachkov is a tractor driver, again there. The family are guides of paid hunting outings. Eminent people like Georgi Gergov Dimitar Dabov, Rumen Ovcharov, Boyko Borisov and other representatives of the political elite have often hunted in the State Hunting Estate – Balchik. In the late 80’s, a deer with record-large antlers was shot in this area, but today there is no trace of such specimens.
Very frustrated by the total system of corruption, Yordanov decided, as a knight, to defend alone the forest and to document poachers in action. He explains briefly that he feels “indebted” to nature. Almost two years before the incident, on October 4, 2011, after a tipoff from Yordanov, the police in Dobrich caught former policeman Yancho Yankushev and the employee of the State Hunting Estate – Balchik, Milen Valkov, red-handed while poaching.
Everything happened after dark – around 7 pm, Yordanov received a call from Vasil Ivanov that poachers were shooting almost within the limits of the village of Prilep. He called supervising forester Eng. Radoslav Radev, who sent a forest ranger, Yordan Tomov, to check the situation. While Dancho was traveling from Varna to the village of Batovo, Ivanov told him that he found a slain boar. Ivanov got in touch with the Chief of the Regional Police Directorate in Dobrich – Stefan Yonchev. The latter sent five policemen with a mobile lab. They arrived at the site and Tomov was already there. “I figured out that the poachers were going through the woods and went there to intercept them before they walked out on the road,” says Yordanov. When he encountered the poaching forester, Milen Valkov, the employee of the hunting estate started running, but it was bad luck for him as he stumbled in the dark. “Naturally, he stumbled and as I was with the camera, I caught up with him and found him tangled in branches and vines. He had scratches on the face. I remember that I gave him some Band-Aid from the car.”
The camera recording makes it clear that Milen was warned by forest ranger Yordan Tomov to leave the ambush spot because his colleague was coming over for a check! Of course, the footage does not have legal value. However, it is clear that Valkov unsuccessfully sought to offer a bribe in order not to be exposed in poaching. After he recorded the situation on camera, Yordanov led the man to the police officers and to the slain animal. Milen admitted before them with whom and how he was involved in illegal hunting. Investigators also visited the home Yancho Yankushev, who confessed as well and was detained for 24 hours.
The case remained without real consequences. As Yordanov’s recording had no legal value, it was not official, thus there was no reason to prosecute poachers. Those dressed in power outrageously refused to issue poaching citations.
A recording of a telephone conversation between Yordanov and the Director of the State Hunting Estate – Balchik, Eng. Kalina Todorova, explains this absurdity. The forestry boss admits why she refuses to issue penal provisions for poaching. Her concerns were that it might turn out that they might affect someone who is above the sanctions and the law. In the recording, there is talk about someone named Tinko – a former hotel owner in the beach resort “Albena” with serious patrons in Balchik. Todorova explains that no citation was issued for him because it was unclear with whom exactly he was poaching in the forest. Inaction stemmed from the desire not to unintentionally affect a senior persona caught in a criminal act.
The recording gives the impression that if a man is breaching the law in the company of “an untouchable person” – a senior magistrate, politician, minister, State or municipal employee, he also became untouchable and was not going to be held responsible.
Tensions escalated in October 2011 when Yordanov destroyed with his SUV a trap set by employees of the State Hunting Estate – Balchik. The trap was illegal and was set contrary to any applicable law procedures, according to forestry experts. Its very existence seriously implicated government officials in abuses with game. According to Dancho Yordanov’s claims, Rachkov hunted in truly industrial proportions by using these “traps”. The meat was traded on the black market. The official version of the Forestry in Balchik is that the traps were made for “populating” animals. Such activity cannot be reliably proven, but the contrary is true – many documented cases of illegal catch and “disappearance” of wild animals. The protagonists were precisely the forester rangers. During the destruction of one of these traps, Dancho documented his actions and published them in hunting forums.
After the destruction of the trap, Yordanov was summoned for questioning in the Second Police Precinct in Dobrich. The pre-trial proceedings were halted that same year. Investigators failed to establish ownership of the destroyed equipment. The trap that should be property of the State Hunting Estate – Balchik, was not within the compulsory distance from the boundaries of the estate, thus it was illegal and served only for poaching.
Prior to the publication of this story, Bivol sent a request for details of the terminated pre-trial proceedings to the District Prosecutor in Dobrich – Veselin Vitchev. We received no answer.
The situation exacerbated dramatically when the owner of “Chukurovo” decided to make a “gift” of 68 boars to the forest to recover their population in the area. He raised the animals and set them free. Most, however, were shot just in a matter of few days. Yordanov took back, behind the enclosure of his property, the dozen survivors. A few nights later, they were taken out and shot by unknown persons. In the fresh mud near the enclosure, there were shoeprints and sleeves of hunting cartridges. The owner filed a complaint with the police in Dobrich for stolen animals. Again, no preliminary investigation was opened, this time on the grounds that ownership of the illegally shot animals could not be proven.
For her part, the Director the State Hunting Estate – Balchik, Eng. Kalinka Todorova accused Yordanov of breaching the law with his actions. His offense was established by several institutions, including the National Forestry Sofia and the Regional Forestry Agency in Varna. The 68 animals were from the East Balkan breed – half-wild boar, whose breeding was prohibited in the Dobrich area since 2007. Yordanov’s boars could infect the game with diseases and their crossing with wild boars could harm the quality of the population. In addition, pre-trial proceedings were launched against the inconvenient citizen on grounds of polluting the environment because he sprayed with repellent the traps of the State Hunting Estate – Balchik to prevent the catching of animals in them.
The Game Gets Rough
The events that preceded the attack on Yordanov and Ivanov on September 14, 2013, were no doubt a prerequisite for exacerbated relations in the hunting ground around the Batovska River. According to Eng. Kalina Todorova, there was a conflict between her employee Atanas Rachkov and Yordanov. She does not deny that Rachkov is on trial, along with his son Ivan, for a lost service weapon – bolt rifle, caliber 223 Remington. Todorova emphasizes that the gun disappeared from Yordanov’s property “Chokurovo”. (The President of VAI Holding, Georgi Iliev, was assassinated with such a weapon in 2005.) At the time of the theft, however, the ethnographic complex was leased and was not managed by Yordanov.
The story of the missing rifle is quite spicy. In the summer of 2011, Atanas Rachkov courted one of the waitresses in the complex. He came drunk in the restaurant, armed with his son’s service rifle. The game breeder produced several shots in the air to make a “good impression” and then fell asleep on a table. When he woke up, there was no sign of the weapon. Todorova states that Rachkovi were exonerated on two instances in the situation described above.
There are more scandals around this family. One of Atanas’ sons – Yassen Rachkov – has thrashed his supervisor – Eng. Radoslav Radev during the 2013 New Year celebration. The altercation was provoked by a dispute over the orchestra. Radev e filed a complaint after the beating. Todorova left the party before the incident and alleges that Radev was “visibly intoxicated.” She had information that he was bothering the female singer and this is why Yassen hit him. The situation does not involve penalties under the Labor Code.
Police Inaction or Complicity?
Yordanov’s explanation for the lack of adequate response from the Second Police Precinct in Dobrich, after the bloody beating in September 2013, was that its Chief at the time, Ivan Vasilev, was an avid hunter and hunted in the company of Rachkovi. Another hypothesis for failing to record the attack is tempering with criminal statistics. The decline in crime, periodically reported by the Ministry of Interior, as a rule is the product of concealing criminal cases, according to sources from the system. However, when the victims are seriously injured and the damage is bodily injury, it is unacceptable to think about crime statistics.
Yordanov wrote a series of complaints to the prosecution, the government and the Inspectorate of the Ministry of Interior. Meanwhile, a second attempt on his life happened. On November 9, 2013, the hunting party entered almost within the limits of the village of Prilep and rifle pellets were hitting the tiles of the houses. Yordanov called the emergency 112 hotline and a team from the now-notorious Second Precinct responded and arrived at the scene. When Dancho and the police were approaching the hunters on a rural road, a close shot was produced. It came from a weapon with rifled barrel – a typical murder warning. The bullet passed between him and one of the police officers. Another complaint was lodged over the incident. The police, however, denied having attended such an event.
The prosecutors “intervene”
A month later, on December 13, 2013, or three months after the beating, after a complaint to the Supreme Prosecutor’s Office of Cassations, pre-trial proceedings were finally opened by the District Prosecutor’s Office in Dobrich against an unknown perpetrator. On January 22, 2014, the Inspectorate of the Ministry of Interior issued an opinion that a violation was found – failure of the Chief of the Second Police Precinct in Dobrich to properly file Yordanov’s signal for the attack on him and Ivanov. Inspectors also established lack of adequate response from local police officers who visited the scene. A copy of the document was sent to the District Prosecutor’s Office in Dobrich – document is attached.
However, the pre-trial proceeding did not develop as the plaintiffs expected. The interrogation of persons, designated by the victims as witnesses of the incident, was delayed. Finally, the investigating officer from the Regional Police Directorate in Dobrich, Nikolinka Todorova, issued a nationwide search for the witnesses in Yordanov’s case because “the police” failed to find them at their addresses, thus failed to also summon them for questioning”. On April 15, 2014, the pre-trial proceedings were suspended on the ground that “despite conducted search operations, the police authorities did not found the perpetrator.” After more complaints, on May 10, 2014, the investigation was resumed. To date, the collection of evidence has not been complete.
Meanwhile, in the District Prosecutor’s Office in Dobrich nobody thought to act on the opinion of the Inspectorate of the Ministry of Interior that the Second Police Precinct and its Chief, Ivan Vasilev, showed unacceptable omissions in the performance of their duties. District Prosecutor, Veselin Vitchev, in an informal conversation explained that he was not aware of the results of the inspection, although the Ministry of Interior sent him a copy. At the same time, Ivan Vasilev was demoted to ordinary operating police officer, but… in the First Precinct. At a meeting with a reporter of Bivol, he said that he did not care about the opinion of the Inspectorate and the demotion had nothing to do with Dancho Yordanov’s complaints.
Here is blitz conversation with the police chief:
Ivan Vasilev (I.V.): The first thing is that the case was filed. There were pre-trail proceedings.
BIVOL: But, according to the opinion of the Inspectorate, it was not filed.
I. V.: It was; it was. So, what they wrote, there is a way to challenge it and to verify it. This case, I think, is closed. And another case that you’re talking about…
BIVOL: Yes, the shooting
I. V.: So there was a probe, an inquiry was made; there were interrogations. Illegal hunting was carried out. These are only interpretations of Mr. Dancho Yordanov, who is seeking public and media stardom. He is settling accounts with the game breeding station, not the police. Police got involved in the case as a body that has been called. This does not correspond to reality.
BIVOL: Look, there are some people who are suspected of poaching and it seems as if the Second Police Precinct provided cover up for them.
I. V: Who, who did that?
BIVOL: The Second Police Precinct in Dobrich
I. V.: No, no, impossible. No people can be linked with the employees in this Precinct. Nobody went to visit Dancho or someone else. So, these are just rumors.
BIVOL: This pre-trial investigation in the beating was discontinued.
I. V.: Only the prosecutor and investigators who conducted it may say this. We have not conducted it. Police just arrived at the scene to check the signal.
BIVOL: According to the Inspectorate of the Ministry of Interior, you have not done your job properly!
I. B: Nah, it is not like that.
BIVOL: How is it?
I. V.: According to Mr. Dancho Yordanov!
BIVOL: And in the opinion of the Inspectorate of the Ministry?
I. V: The opinion of the Inspectorate of the Ministry of Interior has nothing to do with procedural activity, right – that which corresponds with that of the prosecution and the court. These are some employees, like us, who give their opinion.
BIVOL: According to the Inspectorate of the Ministry of Interior, employees who visited the scene of the incident have not done their job properly!
I. V.: Now. . . if one of the employees, as far as I know, had a day off failed to do something that has nothing to do with me. Do you understand? So, do not involve my name! And if someone is trying for some reason to smear it, because the first thing is that this is not ethical and the second – it should not be this way. Who sent you here?
BIVOL: We are working on a tipoff and I came to get your opinion and will also ask the prosecution and others involved in the case for theirs. You are a party to this conflict, whether you like it or not.
I. V.: No, no, no. I am not a party to the conflict. Someone is trying to frame me as a party to the conflict.
BIVOL: But they accuse you of providing certain cover up.
I. V.: So, no one accused me of that; you interpret it that way. There is no such thing. There was a case that was visited by employees (of the Ministry of Interior), an opinion from the other employees (of Ministry of Interior), which, however, did not prevail.
BIVOL: Is there a systematic non-registering of signals made by Yordan Yordanov?
I. V.: There is no such thing. They were checked. FYI, he was looking for political connections in Sofia to distort things and put them in that light. Work more in this direction.
Where Oligarchs Hunt, Game Does not Survive
Bivol’s investigation into the case in the attack against Dancho Yordanov and his employee Vasil Ivanov showed that poaching is not the only problem in the State Hunting Estate – Balchik. It suffers lasting losses from its main business – hunting. Its Director Eng. Kalinka Todorova admits it. In 2011, losses from hunting activities were 55,000 levs; in 2012-30,000 levs, and in 2013 – 94,000. However, it is never at a loss. In the past two years, its profit was 64,000 per year. The elite hunting estate, holding world record for antlers, is sustained by logging, which offset losses from hunting activity and from funds for afforestation. Eng. Todorova emphasizes that for every cubic meter of timber, the Estate pays taxes.
Presumably hunting estates deal with game preservation as it is a national treasure. Who, however, needs a hunting estate, which supports itself by timber logging? It also seems reasonable to ask the question to what extend the State Hunting Estate – Balchik protects game and wildlife, when a man, who is not its employee, is trying to fight poachers there.
It is further justified to pose the question how come an estate where Dimitar Dabov, Rumen Ovcharov, Georgi Gergov and Boyko Borisov hunt is at a loss? Is it possible for this popular destination for paid hunting to be at a loss? Aren’t there enough animals or is the game shot illegally and then the profit goes in the pockets of private individuals?
WHO Has Interests to Control Forest and Hunting Areas in the Northeast?
Kalinka Todorova believes that the situation will change. In May 2014, a contract has been signed for joint hunting business with an external company – “Teveks” Ltd., which would fully fund all hunting activities.
Information about the company and related parties leads to direct connections with Russian gas interests through the “Stroytransgaz” consortium. The owner of “Teveks” Ltd., Georgi Tcholakov, is one of the managers of the consortium “Stroytransgaz” and “Gazproekt South”. These entities were directly connected with quotas for the construction of South Stream and the interests of shady lawmaker Deliyan Peevski in this project. Because of the majority ownership of the close to Putin Russian oligarch, Gennady Timchenko, the consortium was removed from direct involvement in the construction of the pipeline. However, aspirations to appropriate natural resources in the Dobrudza region remain.
A similar agreement, for another part of the hunting area of the Estate, exists since 2011. The contract is with the company “Manex”, associated with Simeon Manasiev, former member of the Political Cabinet and Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture and Food during the term of the centrist party Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB). The company was exposed in a scam to drain targeted subsidies in 2010. Before the entry of private investors, losses from hunting activity reached up to 120,000 levs a year, says Eng. Todorova. However, no private investor pours money into loss-generating activities. Therefore, when there is joint hunting activity, it is profitable, and when it is done by the State Hunting Estate – Balchik, it is at a loss. There are several hypotheses. One is that the company is intentionally made to suffer losses to open the way for cooperation with private companies. The explanation that hunting is an unprofitable business in our country rings hollow. If this was so, the interest of private oligarchic structures in the activity would be excluded, but it is a fact.
Damages to Bulgarian forests and game have reached unimaginable proportions in the last 10-15 years. The blanket felling of our old forests and the mass extermination of wild animals have become a sinister practice, protected by the government at the highest level. Corruption in the Agriculture Ministry and outrages in the forests of Bulgaria devastated our most valuable national capital until recently – clean, pristine and beautiful scenery. The peak in the feudalism and lawlessness in our forests and mountains are the amendments to the forests and hunting laws, adopted on the proposal of notorious former GERB lawmaker Emil Dimitrov. One of the statutory clauses for the normalization of our democracy is the abolition of his laws, created to serve only oligarchic neo-feudal practices and not at all the public interest of the nation.
Part II on illegal felling will follow.
*The “19/45” scheme was made public in April this year by GERB’s leader and former Prime Minister, Boyko Borisov. According to him, the bosses of the six forestry estates had to “shell” 45,000 levs on the 19th day of each month to a female Deputy Minister in the Agricultural Ministry in order to retain their posts. The man who tried to expose this criminal scheme, Yuri Mihov, Director of the Southwest Forestry, died in a car crash in Greece. The only acting female Deputy Agriculture Minister is Eng. Valentina Marinova. She is from the quota of the party of the Turkish minority in Bulgaria, Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS). Former GERB Agricultural Minster, Miroslav Naydenov, also gave explanations in the case. According to allegations that he heard, the money was going into a particular party coffer and the six enterprises are the most powerful economic structures after the National Electric Company (NEC), with annual turnover of about 400 million levs.
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