Bulgarian Prosecution, Fund Agriculture Conceal EU Fund Abuses by Owner of SUV that Killed Popular Journalist

The mother of Christian Nikolov, the young man who high on drugs crashed on Easter a large SUV into the car of popular Bulgarian journalist Milen Tsvetkov, killing him on the spot, has been involved in fraud with European Union (EU) funds. The mother, Dessislava Nikolova, has acted together with “alcohol boss” Minyu Staykov, while the scheme has been concealed by the State Fund Agriculture (SFA) and has been ignored by the Prosecutor’s Office, despite its much-touted criminal charges against Staykov. The company, with which Nikolova has applied for EU funding, is dubbed Dessislava Pesheva – Commerce. The Audi Q7, which killed the journalist, is registered to this company. Had the SFA and the Prosecutor’s Office done their work to counter the fraud, this car would have been impounded long ago.

“Karnobat” Empire

Minyu Staykov was charged in May 2019, together with seven other people, on a new count of criminal association to abuse and drain EU funds from the Rural Development Program (RDP). Then-Deputy Prosecutor General, and current Prosecutor General of Bulgaria, Ivan Geshev named the case the “Karnobat Empire” after the name of Staykov’s alcoholic beverage manufacturing company Karnobat.

In July 2019, the Special Prosecutor’s Office also indicted six SFA employees, among them the deputy executive director of the SFA and directors of directorates. According to Geshev, they are guilty of allocating money to companies affiliated with Minyu Staykov under the Young Farmer program and under the RDP.

Bivol has obtained documents proving that charges have been pressed against the owners of several companies from the “Karnobat Empire”, affiliated with Minyu Staykov, but there are others that have not been investigated because the SFA has concealed the evidence of crime. Dessislava Nikolova, who is a minority partner of Minyu Staykov in his main alcohol production business and Director of his Karnobat plant, is one of them.

An SFA check finds connected companies

An internal audit by the SFA has found a group of ten connected companies, owned by Staykov’s daughter, his partners, and relatives, applying for EU financing of a total of BGN 17 million.

The SFA employees, who have examined the applications of these companies, have found that indicators of potential crime because the companies have declared that they were independent businesses but they were not.

Information from the Commercial Register and the Registry Agency reveals that most of the applicants were co-owners of the company Viniterra Karnobat. In addition, the applications have been for neighboring plots, and all companies have used the same consultant and the same accounting firm.

The additional connectivity checks made by Bivol in the Commercial Register fully confirm the findings of the auditors from the SFA, and in addition establish family ties between the candidates, which the Fund’s employees had not examined. All companies also share the same phone number with a Sofia area code, 02 962 20 30. Actually, this number for contact is linked to 32 companies, which otherwise have different address registrations, owners, and businesses. However, they are all related to individuals and businesses around Sis Industries, Vinprom Karnobat, and Minyu Staykov. The company Dessislava Pesheva – Commerce has provided the same contact number.

Creating false conditions for financing is considered fraud with EU funding across the EU, according to OLAF standards. It is usually used to circumvent restrictions on one company receiving many subsidies within a programming period. The simple explanation is that owners resort to fraud by creating fake microenterprises that are only used as a platform to apply for additional EU subsidies. This circumvents the restrictions imposed on applicants and creates a prerequisite for the unlawful receipt of funds outside the regulatory framework. These microenterprises are usually registered to straw people who, with the so-called “counter letter” declare that the actual beneficiary is another person, hiding in the shadows. In any case, this is an illegal practice, prosecuted as misuse of public (in this case EU) funds.

This has not been the first time when Dessislava Pesheva has applied for subsidies with her company. During the previous programming period, the company has received funding under the RDP twice, BGN 242,098 for the purchase of a grape harvester and BGN 250,117 for the purchase of agricultural machinery. Bivol found that eight out of the ten companies listed in the SFA abuse report had applied for and had received funding in the previous 2007-2013 programming period. However, this scheme has been fully ignored by the investigating authorities. It is still not too late to carry out checks and launch an investigation.

Thus, it becomes clear that in the previous and the current programming period, the companies around Minyu Staykov have done and are doing the same fraud by splitting activities into several separate companies to get more money, circumventing the restrictions at the expense of many honest farmers, who receive nothing because there is not enough funding for them. The money went to the big firms in the sector, the masterminds of these schemes.

SFA’s Anti-Fraud Office sees no indicators of connectivity

According to the documents in Bivol’s possession, the SFA inspectors reported all their findings to the SFA’s Anti-Fraud Directorate, which stated that… there were no indicators of company connectivity because the businesses had separate accounting and had not been specifically created for these projects, and accepted all declarations of lack of connectivity to be true instead of alerting the prosecution.

Eventually, a working group of the SFA, chaired by Atije Alieva-Veli, met on December 1, 2017, and discussed the irregularities report. After a vote of five votes in favor and four against, the working group decided to suspend work on the detected fraud and process the applications. Bivol is in possession of the minutes of the meeting.

However, those voting against expressed the view that the described cases unquestionably identify with the classic cases of fraud and irregularities described in the officially published Guidelines of the European Commission (EC).
Bivol asked the SFA who voted for and who voted against, but no answer was received by the editorial closure of this article.

The Prosecutor’s Office did not respond to our inquiry as to whether Dessislava Nikolova is a defendant or a witness in any of the cases related to Minyu Staykov. However, media reports revealed that the origin of the funds for the purchase of the luxury Audi Q7 SUV, with which Nikolova’s high on illegal drugs son took the life of Milen Tsvetkov, would be checked.

The new SFA management also sees no problem with Pesheva – Nikolova

Bivol sent several questions to the current SFA Director Vassil Grudev, whose answers show that the new management does not see a problem with the connectivity of the companies around Minyu Staykov that was discovered, researched and duly reported back in 2017, and in particular, with the role and connectivity of Dessislava Pesheva – Nikolova.

To the question “how many projects connected to Minyu Staykov have been approved and funded by the SFA”, the SFA replied that there has been a total of five projects that have been connected with Minyu Staykov through the so-called “counter letters”. These have been approved by the SFA but have not been funded since the subsidies contracts have been terminated in August and September 2019.

The Head of the Special Prosecutor’s Office Dimitar Frantishec also mentioned the “counter letters” saying the prosecution had established BGN 7 million that had to be handed over to Staykov.

In a response to another question of how many projects are connected to Staykov’s daughter and wife, the SFA lists most of the companies subject to the 2017 audit, but not those of Minyu Staykov and Dessislava Nikolova.

Thus, it becomes clear that to this day, the SFA does not see any connection between Minyu Staykov and Dessislava Nikolova, despite the obvious evidence of crime that was detected and discussed by the working group in 2017. It seems inexplicable why Dessislava Nikolova, who plays a fundamental role in the entire business network of Staykov, has suddenly dropped out of the group of connected and accused by the prosecution individuals.

However, the connection exists and can be found in the numerous joint ventures of Nikolova and Staykov and in their common consultant.

An answer by the SFA, shows that the consultant that prepared the business plan of the only submitted and subsequently approved project of the company Minyu Staykov-Commerce under the RDP 2014-2020 “Sleepy Vineyards” is also the consultant to the only submitted and subsequently approved project of the company Dessislava Pesheva-Commerce under the RDP 2014-2020.

In addition, Minyu Staykov and Dessislava Pesheva’s joint company Viniterra Karnobat is something that is common to the main defendants from the EU funds fraud network, and its Director is Dessislava Nikolova. Despite her leading role in the activities of the connected companies and persons, precisely she has remained outside the scope of the findings of the SFA and the prosecution’s investigations.

Assets for more than BGN 300 million had been seized in the course of the investigation against Minyu Staykov, the Prosecutor’s Office boasted. However, the assets of the companies so conveniently missed by the SFA remain in their possession, including the SUV with which Milen Tsvetkov was killed.

If he were alive today, Milen would probably ask the logical questions why and how come. The answers should be given by the institutions, and especially by Prosecutor General Ivan Geshev, who is closely involved in the investigation into the companies of Minyu Staykov from the very beginning.

Peevski’s untouchable replacement

Why, with so much evidence of connectivity and with so many false declarations, has the Prosecutor’s Office failed to unravel the dealings of all companies connected to Staykov and has investigated only part of them? The declarations alone are sufficient to press charges of attempting to abuse EU funds.

There is also the question of whether such an investigation is at all possible since the name of the untouchable activist of Peevski’s party Movement for Rights and Freedoms, (DPS) Atije Alieva – Veli appears in the most prominent place in the documents proving crime cover-up. She was the one to chair the working group that concealed the evidence of abuses by the network of companies affiliated with Minyu Staykov.

The same woman was the protagonist of Bivol’s revelations in the ApartmentGate scandal. It became clear that she lives in a posh apartment in Sofia, which is too expensive for her income and was purchased in the name of her father, who has even more modest means.

In the end, instead of being investigated, Atije Alieva-Veli was listed fifth on the DPS ballot for the European Parliament (EP) elections and landed a MEP seat, replacing Peevski, who was elected but decided to not become MEP.

Bivol will continue to unravel other obvious and hidden connections around Dessislava Nikolova, whose 22-year-old son killed with her SUV one of the best and most popular Bulgarian journalists, committing a first degree murder, according to the Prosecutor’s Office.

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