Thirteen nearly identical projects for duck farms are hoping for European funding under the European Union (EU) new Rural Development Program (RDP). The target is BGN 46 million, risking to sink into a bluntly scandalous scheme for draining EU funds linked to the infamous businessman Mario Nikolov.

So far, not all projects have collected the required number of points, but sources of Bivol say that high-ranking individuals are propping the bidders and their successful selection.

Two years ago, Bivol revealed that companies with clear links to the “red” businessman, who brought “glory” to Bulgaria in the SAPARD case, had won European projects for millions of euro to raise ducks and turkeys. A check by our reporters on site showed that the poultry farms had not been built in full and there were no ducks in them.

The companies were sanctioned, but now they are applying again for European funding, alongside new bidders with dubious company history that are apparently registered to

Strawmen

For example, among the bidders to build the duck farms with funds under the new programming period, there are three companies that were founded on January 21, 2016. They are “Euro bird” of Kolyu Kolev Stefanov with address in the capital Sofia, Ovcha Kupel district, and two companies from the northeastern town of General Toshevo: “Maxit” of Emil Ivanov Dimitrov and “Venstara” of Gavrail Emilov Alexandrov.

Four more companies appear literally out of nowhere, with no company history and experience in the sector they are applying for. These are Yordan Stefanov Andonov’s “Yoki 2016“, Dimitar Vasilev Vassilev’s “Divo (Wild) Co“, “Ravid” of Videlina Bozhilova Radeva and Teodora Ivanova Cholakova’s “Bonarex“.

The common denominator for the companies listed here is that their owners and managers never owned or managed a business but suddenly they have decided to apply for funding for the same type of projects for about EUR 1 million to raise ducks. Another common sign is that all of these companies have accounts with First Investment Bank (FIB or Fbank), which must also issue guarantees if the bids end up being successful.

Old companies connected with Mario

Similar project applications for duck-breeding farms have been submitted by several other companies, which are connected with previous business ventures related to Mario Nikolov.

For example, “Agrotrade 2016” had been registered in the pig farm in the village of Manole, near the second largest city of Plovdiv, where former pig breeder and current socialist boss Georgi Gergov began his career, before the arrival of Mario Nikolov, defining himself as a “hereditary socialist” as well.

Gavissel” of Hristosko Stoyanov Bogdanov has an address of registration in the village of Slavyantsi, Sungurlare municipality, but until November 2017 it was at another address, in the village of Zhivkovo, at the same location where the unfinished “duckless” duck farms were discovered by Bivol two years ago.

Nivalo” of Ventzislav Hristoskov Bogdanov (son of the above Bogdanov) is also at an address related to Mario Nikolov – in the Manole pig farm.

All of the so far mentioned companies have received the same number of points for their projects – 47. This is evident from the Unique Registration Number (URN) system of the State Fund Agriculture (SFA). At this stage, the projects had at least not made the bids’ ranking.

The SFA refused to provide to Bivol more detailed information about the projects, not even wanting to reveal the amounts for which these companies have applied.

SFA refuses information on the projects

Let’s give even more funds to the thieves

There is also a pretty obvious connection between Mario Nikolov and bidders “Agrobal BG”, “Sami Meat BG” and “Holid” that have received 53 points for their projects and are on the brink of making the list of the projects under review as the latter have 54 points. This connection was revealed in detail by Bivol as early as 2016.

All three companies should be subject to sanctions and interest by the Prosecutor’s Office after Bivol revealed in 2016 that their sites in the village of Zhivkovo were unfinished and there were no ducks in them. This was confirmed by SFA probes.

As they say, they do not even have electricity,” said the then-Director of the Fund Rumen Porozhanov when commenting on the result of the inspections. Instead of tens of thousands of ducks and turkeys in the farms, there were only about 3,000 animals.

After the SFA established a “proven non-functioning of the investment and failure to meet the commitments to raise the necessary number of animals” by “Agroval BG”, “Sami Meat BG” and “Holid”, it issued a request to them to return the money.

It is unclear whether this has happened and whether the law enforcement authorities are investigating the offenders, but their very admission to the new project application process is outrageous.

The scheme: Phantom ducks, machines and construction works at inflated prices

However, the absence of ducks in the farms is not due to a disastrous event, as attempts were made by the companies, caught red-handed, to justify their actions. According to them, they died of bird flu in France and in transport.

This is a scheme in which the same animals are leased to different companies that receive EU funds for their “fake breeding”.

This is detected by data of the Bulgarian Food Safety Agency because the applicant companies do not appear in the registers as holding their own livestock sites.

To report activity, phantom firms are hoping for duck farming contracts in others’ farms, which is a gross violation of the provisions of the Veterinary Medicine Act.

These contracts are concluded with “Business Park Manole” Ltd. This is the renamed “Palmifood” company of Mario Nikolov. Precisely this company was involved in the scandalous case against him for money laundering and theft of EU funds, which ended with convictions in Germany and with acquittal in Bulgaria.

The ducks remain property of Mario Nikolov’s company, which at any moment can rent them to another phantom company. This allows cheaters to show inspectors that there are some ducks after all in the unfinished farms for which millions of EU funds had been paid.

A similar scheme with phantom quails and rabbits was exposed in 2016 in the southwestern region of Blagoevgrad and the Prosecutor’s Office even pressed charges against the unscrupulous farmers who, according to Porozhanov, “carried cages around” during the inspections.

But, apart from fictitious ducks, the fraud with EU funds is done by inflating machine and construction works prices under an old and tested scheme, almost without variation since 2007.

In order to receive European funding, the company must also participate with its own funds. They are provided through loans from FIB, with which Nikolov has a privileged relationship.

The money from the bank loans goes to the companies that have won bids. Mario Nikolov stands behind each of these companies.

The beneficiary companies pay suppliers or construction companies. Mario Nikolov and his partner Dimitar Kerelov stand behind these companies as well.

If the project is for the supply of machinery and equipment (as is the case under the EU operational program Competitiveness), Kerelov’s “Intelligent Food Systems”, as a supplier, imports low-cost Chinese machines and provides invoices with German prices. When it comes to construction (duck farms under RDP), the prices of construction works are inflated.

The EU subsidy is paid on the basis of the inflated invoices and the companies repay the loans to FIB with interest.

The machines, the buildings and 20% of the total amount paid for the project remain in the hands of Mario Nikolov and Dimitar Kerelov. The latter is also known with the nickname “Mitko The Flash Drive” from scandals at the Sofia City Court, where he was in charge of the IT at the time when notorious judge Vladimira Yaneva was the Court’s President and the biggest abuses of the random distribution of cases were happening.

 

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