The popular in France investigative journalism TV show Capital on M6 TV exposed through witnesses’ accounts a “sting” scheme of which thousands of French people have fallen prey. They have been fooled by fake sites for internet trading which are located in Israel. However, the money has transited through offshore companies’ accounts in the Bulgarian bank TBI, which has Israeli owners.

“My task was to research new customers and to distract customers who have already joined the platform… My clients’ requests to withdraw money were simply canceled one after another, every time. Then I asked my bosses what was the reason for these denials, and they explained to me that the company was fake; that customers believed that they were making a financial investment, but in reality the money went through banks abroad, such as TBI Bank in Bulgaria, and then – directly into the pockets of the owners of the company,” claims one former employee of such “company”.

This same scheme was detailed in a publication of Bivol from May 2015. Our editorial office has documents and testimonies of the victims. The French TV investigative report has now confirmed the information that this does not boil down to isolated cases, but it is a matter of a large-scale fraudulent scheme for hundreds of millions of euro.

This raises questions on the safeguards against such suspicious transactions, as well as on the role of the Bulgarian central bank (Bulgarian National Bank, BNB). The BNB report for 2014, in its part about laundering money from criminal activity sounds optimistic. “The functioning of the banking sector as a reliable environment, eliminating the transfer of illegal funds in the financial system, was among the most important topics to which BNB has committed at a national and European level,” is written in the report presented to the Parliament (in Bulgarian). It also notes that “when isolated cases of violation of the Law on Measures against Money Laundering have been established, BNB had undertaken measures in adherence to the law“. According to the central bank, there is a “high level of commitment of the management of banks to the process of building defense mechanisms”.

Bivol asked questions to the press office of TBI Bank to clarify these “defense mechanisms” – how did the bank respond to complaints received from French citizens and what it has undertaken. We also asked what are the conditions for opening an account by an offshore company; is the ultimate economic beneficiary of offshore companies known; are legal provisions against money laundering being applied and how. The answer of TBI stated the following:

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“As you know very well, in cases like the one you are mentioning, as a rule, credit institutions are reluctant to play the role of arbiter between contending parties, especially if their dispute has already been referred to the respective jurisdiction. In such cases, credit institutions communicate only with the competent authorities and institutions in accordance with relevant legislation and applicable regulatory requirements and guidelines.”

Victims of fraud, however, complained explicitly that they have turned to the bank and have not received any assistance.

According to insider information that Bivol has, after the publication in May, the offshore companies of the fraudsters have left TBI Bank, but not Bulgaria. They have moved to other banks with a reputation of “bad apples”, where the control on the opening of accounts and on operations with accounts of offshore companies is looser.

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