Since Wednesday, March 16, workers in the factory of the Bulgarian tobacco maker Bulgartabac in the capital Sofia – “Sofia BT” are on leave and are not reporting to work, Bivol learned from two independent sources. The factory’s security has warned them to not speak to the media. On Monday, the factory will reopen to process the remaining tobacco and will close for good on April 1.
Two days ago, the company Bulgartabac Holding announced it was stopping exports to the Middle East and blamed the press group Capital of publisher and businessman Ivo Prokopiev /we feel neglected 😉 – editor’s note/ for tarnishing its image and causing problems. According to the announcement of the Holding, 400 people could be laid off. In fact, they have lost their jobs on that very day.
The problems of the company, however, did not start on Wednesday, sources share, speaking on condition of anonymity. In recent months, investments in maintenance of machinery and equipment have been frozen. Moreover, there is an ongoing dismantling of machines in “Sofia BT”, which will officially be moved to the southern city of Blagoevgrad. However, from there, the equipment will depart to the factory of Bulgartabac “Duvana” in Banja Luka – Bosnia (Republika Srpska), Bivol learned from a well-informed source.
The export to Middle Eastern countries accounts for over 75% of all exports of Bulgartabac Holding, and earns, according to official reports, around 500 million levs per year. Halting exports to these destinations means a catastrophic decline in income for Bulgartabac, whose majority owner is hiding behind offshore companies, but in the words of former banker Tsvetan Vasilev, (majority shareholder in the collapsed Corporate Commercial Bank, CCB) the real owner is Irena Krasteva, mother of controversial mogul and lawmaker, Delyan Peevski. Peevski, himself, acquired 5% in Bulgartabac in August 2015, but recently announced that he was selling his shares.
According to data from 2014, “Sofia BT” produces just over half of all cigarettes exported by Bulgartabac to Dubai and Syria with the main quantities destined for Dubai. According to a report by Turkish special services, quoted by Milliyet, the cigarettes are exported to the Emirates and then via contraband channels go back to Turkey. These channels are held by Salam Quadir (or Quader) Faraj, who has exclusive distribution rights in the Middle East. These are about 16 billion pieces or 800 million packs, mainly from the brand “Prestige”, and they are sold on the black market in Turkey for 3 levs per pack.
The reports of the Turkish services also claim that the smuggled cigarettes are financing terrorist organizations, mainly PKK, which is recognized by the EU and the United States as such. Delyan Peevski was named the “Emperor of Smuggling” in Turkish media close to the government. He was banned from visiting Turkey, together with Ahmed Dogan, Honorary Lifetime Chairman of the party largely representing the Muslim minority in Bulgaria – Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS – Peevski’s party).
In a series of investigations, Bivol disclosed documents clearly showing that the privatization of Bulgartabac happened under a criminal scheme with the pouring a huge amount of money (76 million euro) of unknown origin that came from an account in Dubai. The origin of this money is probably the smuggling carried out in parallel with the official export by the same Salam Faraj (see here and here).
There are suspicions that the privatization scheme has included current second-term Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, Ahmed Dogan and the close to Borisov businessman Alexander Staliyski as people who have received a commission from it. This information was published by financial journalist Miroslav Ivanov, who cites correspondence between lawyer Alexander Angelov and ex-banker Tsvetan Vasilev.
Connections of Bulgartabac with smuggler Salam Faraj have been long-lasting, as it became clear from documents published by Bivol. The Holding has signed a contract with the company Caledon Invest and Faraj for the distribution of cigarettes in the Middle East as early as in 2004. In 2007, Caledon was investigated for smuggling and money laundering, but Bulgartabac did not terminate its relationship with this company. Moreover, the Bulgarian holding company continues to sell cigarettes to Caledon and Faraj even after the latter lost his license in Iraqi Kurdistan over document forgery.
For years, this illegal under international trade agreements to which Bulgaria is a party export, has been done with the assistance of the State and the Customs Agency with them continuously closing their eyes to the false documents submitted by Bulgartabac and its partners.
Today, this is still ongoing. The new Head of the Customs, Rosaliya Dimitrova, refused to grant Bivol access to documents requested under the Access to Public Information Act (APIA) that expose the smuggling scheme. She denied it on grounds that disclosing this information was not in the public interest, but it would affect negatively the business interests of Bulgartabac.
Bivol has evidence that there was another plan for legally expanding the export of Bulgartabac’s production which has been deliberately and consciously ignored by the management of the holding company before and after its privatization.
There is also the open issue about the responsibility of the State to the 400 workers in Bulgartabac, who just lost their jobs, and to their families as it has been providing a cover-up for many years for a criminal and shady business financing the people in power in Bulgaria, but that #WHO naturally crashed today.
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