Who is behind the offshore companies, owners of ski facilities in the mountains Vitosha and Pirin? Bivol visited a suburb in Nicosia where their nominal owner Georgios Georgiou lives in the basement of a modest apartment building.
The man, who opens the door in white boxer shorts, a white T-shirt with a large hole, and a three-day-old beard, is the largest foreign investor in the Bulgarian economy. The assets of the companies he owns amount to over 800 million levs. He is owner of the remnants of the steel mill Kremikovtsi, of the non-ferrous mill Kardzhali, emblematic companies such as Vitosha Ski and Yulen, construction, transportation and tourist business in Bulgaria. Georgios, however, is also the largest debtor. He has acquired all this with loans from First Investment Bank.
“I do not understand what you mean,” he keeps repeating in broken English to all our questions. We ask him if he has taken the loans; how he thinks he will pay them back and does he know the Bank’s majority shareholders Tseko Minev and Ivaylo Mutafchiev. On paper they ought to know each other, because two years ago, namely Georgios sold to Tzeko and Ivaylo the company which holds 6.7% stake in FIB, or about 40 million levs.
Furthermore, Georgios Georgiou is the manager of the company FRAMAS, which is directly owned by FIB. “I do not understand what you mean,” he insists.
The man who understands what we mean is named G. Papadopoulos. The office of the lawyer is sprawling over three floors in an unassuming office building.
Papadopoulos is the “Boss”. At least this is what Evdokia Maklamuzi’s relatives claim. Maklamuzi is a colleague and co-owner, together with Georgios, of companies in different sectors of the Bulgarian economy. She is a multimillionaire on paper as well. Maklamuzi lives in a mountain village 30 km outside Nicosia. The residence of the multimillionaire is a modest house, where we were welcomed by her relatives. Maklamuzi was away, but after a relative called the “Boss”, we had the privilege to hear an angry tirade from Papadopoulos himself. Our attempt to contact him on the following day and in a more relaxed ambiance remained without result.
What is the scheme? Georgios and Maklamuzi work for Papadopoulos as dummies. He receives instructions from FIB from Bulgaria to register businesses and open accounts for them in the Cypriot branch of the Bank.
Then, in Bulgaria, the ownership of Bulgarian companies receiving loans from FIB is transferred to these companies. The Bulgarian companies are also owned by dummy destitute persons (see here) or employees of the Bank (see here). The money then goes to Cyprus. From there it goes to other offshore accounts. According to well-informed sources, before the introduction of capital controls, around 500 million euro has left from the Cyprus branch of FIB to different locations.
All this was thoroughly investigated by Bivol in a large-scale investigation examining documents of the registered pledges established after FIB has granted the loans. We studied in detail the ownership of 50 Bulgarian companies that received loans and 30 offshore companies behind them. Besides Georgios and Maklamuzi, Elena Maklamuzi, Stavros Konstantinou, Stella Georgiou, Nicky Tenekedzi, Anastasia Yoannides, Christiniya Kone, Nicky Ann Reymundo and others also work as dummies for Papadopoulos. All they have accumulated a total of
1.27 billion levs in debt to FIB!
or nearly twice the bank’s capital with permitted lending to related parties of no more than 20% of its own equity.
These revelations of Bivol were followed by the deafening silence of the central bank (Bulgarian National Bank, BNB) and the banking supervision. After a signal to the Prosecutor’s Office and the National Security Agency (DANS), an investigation was launched, but it is not even inching along. However, the genie is already out of the bottle as showed the report of the World Bank and the IMF, which identifies the inability of the banking supervision to cope with the concentration of loans to related parties.
This post is also available in: Bulgarian