Maduro's treasurer extradited to USA, specialised prosecutors drag their feet over his money at Bulgaria's Investbank

Maduro’s treasurer extradited to USA, specialised prosecutors drag their feet over his money at Bulgaria’s Investbank

Specialised Prosecution informs Bivol the investigation is ongoing, while petrodollars remain blocked

Over the past weekend Colombian billionaire Alex Saab Moran, appointed by Venezuelan dictator Nicolas Maduro as his “special diplomatic envoy”, was extradited from Cabo Verde to the USA, where he features on the Treasury Department’s sanctions list. In 2020, in collaboration with Venezuelan investigative outlet Armando.info, Bivol published a series of investigations that revealed Alex Saab had up to 158 million USD at Investbank in Bulgaria. The money was found to be in a fiduciary account held by attorney Tsvetan Tsanev and had been frozen by the State Agency for National Security (SANS) after a request by the US ambassador at the time, Eric Rubin. The ambassador for Venezuela’s opposition leader Juan Guaido, Estefania Melendez, has shown us a letter received in the summer of 2021, in which the Specialised Prosecution refuses to give her information on the case, because “the investigation is still ongoing”. The Specialised Prosecution have confirmed for Bivol that the inquiry is still in progress and the bank accounts remain frozen. Attorney Tsanev said for Bivol that among his clients there was only one company linked to Alex Saab whose funds had been frozen. Meanwhile the author of the investigation on behalf of Armando.Info informed us that the police visited his family’s home in Venezuela on the night before Maduro’s treasurer was extradited to the US.

Photo: Deutsche Welle

Colombian billionaire Alex Saab Moran, appointed by Venezuela’s disputed president Nicolas Maduro as his “special diplomatic envoy to the African Union”, has finally been extradited by the republic of Cabo Verde to the USA. He was arrested months ago in the African island state, where his private jet had landed for refuelling (see video below).

In collaboration with our Venezuelan colleagues, Bivol has been working on the Venezuela Laundromat series of investigations, where we have repeatedly reported on transactions worth dozens of millions of dollars made via Investbank in Bulgaria. At least part of the overall flow of transfers, the amount of 158 mln. USD, was frozen by the State Agency for National Security (SANS).

Venezuella rejects the illegal operation for extraditing Venezuelan citizen Alex Saab Moran carried out by the United States“,

tweeted the Venezuelan National Assembly of Maduro’s regime, which is not recognised by the USA and the European Union.

Maduro’s parliament called Alex Saab’s extradition “yet another act of aggression on behalf of the USA”. Maduro’s cabinet announced a stop to the negotiations with the opposition led by internationally recognised acting president Juan Guaido – talks that were scheduled to take place over the past weekend.

Furthermore, Venezuela’s foreign ministry has refused to send a delegation to the African Union meeting on 17 October. It is not clear how much progress has been made in the investigation of Alex Saab and Nicolas Maduro’s alleged funds at Investbank in Bulgaria.

The specialised prosecution has got nowhere after almost 3 years of investigation

Estefania Melendez

The Venezuelan ambassador to Bulgaria Estefania Melendez, a representative of Juan Guaido’s government, has informed Bivol that in the summer she requested a meeting with Specialised Prosecution investigators working on the case. However no such meeting took place because the Specialised Prosecution refused her request. This was made clear in a letter sent by the investigative authority to Estefania Melendez, which Bivol has been given access to.

On 11 June 2021 SP prosecutor D. Darmonska wrote to Estefania Melendez regarding “request for an official meeting to discuss past or pending investigative and legal actions on pre-litigation procedure #38/2019 in the records of DI – SP, plp 424/2019 in the SP records”.

«We hereby inform you that at the current moment investigation on the case is still ongoing».

«Therefore, as well as pursuant to art. 198, § 1 of the Penal Procedure Code, investigative information collected on the case must not be disclosed», prosecutor Darmonska concluded in her brief written reply.

Letter from the Specialised Prosecution to H.E. Estefania Melendez from 11 June 2021

(Source: Bivol)

The letter shows that 2.5 years after the start of the investigation in February 2019 it is still not clear if any progress has been made at all – it took less time for an African country to detain and extradite Alex Saab than for the “specialised prosecution” in a EU member state to get anywhere in an investigation with implications for national and international security, especially in view of Alex Saab’s links to internationally recognised terrorist network Hezbollah.

“They have not tried to contact me,” attorney Tsvetan Tsanev, whose Investbank accounts were frozen, replied to Bivol’s question if he was ever contacted again by the Specialised Prosecution working on the case since 2019.

He reiterated his clarification that not all of the frozen accounts were associated with Alex Saab Moran:

„Only one of them has, according to Bivol, some kind of remote link to him.”

Tsvetan Tsanev‘s next statement is one we find somewhat difficult to take seriously, as there is hardly a famous billionaire engaged in personal communication with the lawyers hired by their multiple businesses around the world.

„I do not know him and have never worked with him,“ says the Bulgarian attorney whose Investbank accounts have been blocked.

He did not answer any further questions, refusing to specify the exact amount of money frozen by SANS and the Prosecutor’s office.

As we previously reported, Tsvetan Tsanev‘s explanation for the freezing of the accounts was that US sanctions against Venezuela’s state-owned oil corporation PDVSA forced it to distribute certain amounts through European banks for the purpose of buying equipment and supplies needed in their operations and there was nothing illegal about that.

The Specialised Prosecution replied to Bivol that they were not aware of the extradition of the person implicated in the case. They also once again repeated they could not disclose any further information as the investigation was still ongoing аnd

the funds (at Investbank – editor’s note) remain frozen”.

It is noteworthy that the freezing of the funds happened as a result of a meeting between the US ambassador at the time Eric Rubin and former prime minister Boyko Borissov, at which Sotir Tsatsarov – then still the chief prosecutor of Bulgaria – was also present.

Sotir Tsatsarov is currently head of the anti-corruption commission CCCSIAP and it is strange that a case once under his personal oversight has not made any progress until today. In February it will be three years since the investigation began.

At the same time the Venezuelan opposition under the leadership of Juan Guaido has been in contact with the authorities in EU countries in which there are assets operated by Alex Saab, trying to have the funds handed over to their government. The country is facing a humanitarian crisis and is in dire need of financial resources (links to our articles about the attempts of the opposition government in Caracas to get access to the millions in Bulgaria can be found below).

Maduro sends police to pressure journalist because of Alex Saab

Roberto Deniz, Armando.Info

Meanwhile journalist Roberto Deniz from our partner outlet Armando.Info, who has been working alongside Bivol on the investigation into Alex Saab‘s money, has informed us what happened to his family in Venezuela.

As we have mentioned before, the entire Armando.Info team lives and works in Bogota, Colombia, as the journalists received multiple threats times by the Chavist regime in Caracas and were forced to evacuate to the neighbouring country.

Roberto Deniz recounts that on the night before the extradition of Alex Saab, whom he has been writing about for years, his family in Venezuela were “visited” by the police in what looked like a threat raid.

“The visit by police officers to my home is a kind of revenge against me.”

“It is because of the work we have been doing at Armando.Info over all these years, trying to expose Alex Saab’s actual role in propping up Nicolas Maduro’s regime,” the journalist said.

He pointed out that over the last few years his team managed to reveal the close ties between billionaire Alex Saab with his shady businesses and the Venezuelan dictator.

“One example of those ties is the case of the international bank transfers and other operations carried out by Alex Saab and his partners via the Bulgarian bank (i.e. Investbank – note by Bivol), Roberto Deniz concluded.

Image caption: Letter by Venezuelan MPs to prime minister Boyko Borisov dated 9 April 2019

The Venezuela Laundromat Bulgarian backstory

As Bivol revealed in our investigation Not Pirates but Corsairs: who hijacked Libyan tanker Badr?, on 4 April 2013 the company Bulgargeomin Ltd was re-registered under the name Consortium BGM. Ownership over the new entity is equally divided between two companies: the Swiss Tectona Trading, which holds bearer shares and is represented by Andrea Caravelli, and the offshore firm Moran Trade and Investment, registered on the British Virgin Islands.

Their Bulgarian avatars are Tectona EOOD (sole-owned limited liability company) with a registered capital of 200 BGN, Global West Group 1 EOOD with a registered capital of 200 BGN, later renamed to Moran West and Moran Trade with a capital of 5,000 BGN. The association agreement was signed by those three companies with Tectona owning 50% and the remaining 50% held by Global West Group and Moran Trade.

Assen Kavdanski is a regular proxy owner used by companies in this circle. He is a manager at Tsvetan Tsanev’s company Ruspetroleum. A European arrest warrant was recently issued for him in Greece for aiding Greek businessman Georgios Lapas in setting up a fraudulent marine mortgage over the Badr tanker.

As Bivol wrote in February 2019 in our investigation The Venezuela laundromat: Russian oil companies, the Bankya circle and a deputy head of SANS, attorney Tvetan Tsanev, holder of the Investbank account that processed dozens of millions coming from Venezuela’s state oil corporation PDVSA, used to have close business relations with persons in the so-called Bankya circle, related to oil trade with Russia.

On 14 January 2020 Bivol wrote that the opposition majority at Venezuela’s national assembly is investigating Bulgaria’s role in the laundering of petrodollars via Investbank. A key part was played by the company Salva Foods 2015 SA under the cover of fictitious food transactions. The company is linked to Nicolas Maduro’s close aide Alex Saab Moran, investigated in the USA for money laundering.

The case of the Badr tanker and persons involved (chart by Bivol)

In Bulgaria Saab Moran’s presence can be seen in several companies’ names. They are all linked to attorney Tsvetan Tsanev and the hijackers of Libyan tanker Badr. A group of MPs who decamped to Maduro’s side and are considered traitors by Juan Guaido’s team wrote a letter to prime minister Boyko Borisov, asking for the funds to be unblocked because they were needed in Venezuela. Read more in our report Venezuela investigates petrodollars in Bulgaria, prompted by a Bivol article.

On 15 August 2020 Bivol and Venezuelan outlet Armando.Info published a joint investigation on the subject. It revealed that transactions amounting to a total of 158 million USD had been passed through attorney Tvetan Tsanev’s accounts and all of those transactions are being scrutinised by SANS’ financial investigation department and by the Prosecution in an ongoing inquiry into the origin of the funds. Read more in our article 158 million dollars belonging to Nicolas Maduro on hold at Investbank.

The official reaction from Caracas to Bivol’s joint investigation with the Venezuelan investigative journalists came on 30 August 2020.

Alex Saab’s flights (Source: Armando.Info)

Venezuelan MP Freddy Superlano, at the time a representative of the opposition, wrote an official letter to chief prosecutor Ivan Geshev about the millions of dollars at the Bulgarian bank. A copy of this letter is at Bivol’s disposal.  Read more in our article Venezuelan MP reaches out to Geshev about Nicolas Maduro’s money at Investbank.

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