Pirate Raid against Libyan Tanker in Bulgarian Port

by Екип на Биволъ

Just around the Christmas holiday, a Libyan tanker, anchored in the Burgas Bay on the Bulgarian Black Sea coast, has been approached by a border police patrol cutter. These have been armed police officers, guards and civilians. The Libyans have obeyed the order of the border police to allow them on board. About 30 persons, armed with various weapons, have boarded the vessel, including uniformed border police officers and an inspector from the Maritime Administration in the city of Burgas. According to the Libyan crew, there have been thugs among them and they have enjoyed special attention and visible privileges on the part of the civil servants. The captain, his deputies and the sailors have been threatened, cursed, beaten and forcibly removed from the ship. According to their testimony, the armed men have behaved like assailants – openly aggressive and rude. They have literally taken the ship by storm and have warned everyone not to make phone calls, pointing guns at them. All members of the crew have been forced to disembark the tanker and have been deported from Bulgaria. The 62,000-ton MT BADR tanker left the Bulgarian territorial waters on December 27, under a Panamanian flag, under a new name -BDIN and with a Ukrainian command.

Was this a replacement of the crew following an ordinary trade dispute or an unprecedented hijacking of a huge ship in the territorial waters of the European Union? Bivol‘s investigation found that the raid involved dubious from a legal viewpoint actions of a private law enforcement agent (PLEA) and of a number of Bulgarian institutions in favor of persons related to the Italian mafia, the Bulgarian bank Investbank and the Titan waste management company. We established conclusively that the latter have used fake documents to change the ship ownership in an unlawful way.

Instead of thwarting the mafia raid, the Bulgarian State, represented by its institutions, has actually helped to hijack the ship owned by the Libyan national shipping company General National Maritime Transport Company of Libya (GNMTC). The actions against the Libyans have involved an unprecedented physical abuse and humiliation of the sailors and personally of Captain Abdullah Abdul Jalil, who has been brutally insulted, beaten and kicked by border police officers and has been prohibited to even make a phone call to the ship owner. The cellular network has been muffled within a radius of 200 meters with a special device brought on the cutter. As the Captain has somehow managed to establish a connection through his satellite phone, one of the thugs has forcefully pulled the phone out of his hands, damaging it and interrupting the conversation. The Libyans have been terrified and stressed and left without a right to any protection or to a fair reaction. The official report of the captain to the Libyan authorities reveals incredible and outrageous details about the behavior of the Bulgarian border police officers, accompanied by private guards and the contenders to seize the tanker. Bivol possesses the Captain’s detailed testimony about the fatal December 21, when he became an unsuspecting victim of the “pirate” raid to conquer his ship and will publish it after a translation and a transcription. It is 45-minutes long.


Story as in a movie script

The story of the mafia-style attack on the Libyan tanker BADR goes back to 1992. The former State-owned during the time of the Communist regime and scandalous company Bulgargeomin, then filed claims against the Libyan shipping company for about USD 9 million. This claim had been disputed by the Libyan side, and there had been court cases in the Arab Jamahiriya. Everything has gradually dissipated over the years amidst the changes that have taken place in the two former socialist countries, until a quarter of a century later, when a company was registered under the Law on Obligations and Contracts, under the same name as the former State holding but without any legal connection to it – “Bulgargeomin Ltd”. The consortium is made up of three private companies with a brief track record, but pretending to be the successor of the former State company Bulgargeomin. The ill-fated Libyan tanker that arrived at the Burgas port in November 2017 had been chosen as a scape-goat. The ship was arrested then at the request of the new Bulgargeomin for the purpose of securing a future receivable and remained anchored there under the order of the Maritime Administration. Bulgargeomin Ltd is basing its claim on a maritime mortgage agreement between them and the Libyan company, worth USD 9.23 million. Based on this claim, the Burgas court has accepted the collateral and the Maritime Administration has arrested the tanker. The ensuing lengthy court saga ended with the release of the ship after the final rule of the Supreme Court of Cassations (SCC). On the very same day, however, new claims to the ship were made, this time through the Burgas private law enforcement agent (PLEA) Totko Kolev, who had initiated a case for the sale of the ship at the request of the claimant and on the basis of the official mortgage documentation. The ship was arrested once again.

As is always the case with any suspicious, criminal, corrupt and illegal actions, just in the afternoon on Friday December 21, before the Christmas and New Year holidays, when most institutions are closed, the main actors decided to put an end to their unsuccessful attempts to take over the Libyan ship once and for all. The events seem truly astonishing in their brutality and would seem plausible if they had happened in the Somali waters and not in the territorial waters of a State that is a full-pledged member of the European Union.

The report was read in full on the phone to Bivol’s editorial office by the company’s insurance agent Mohamed El Ahrech. He said that a crisis headquarters had been established by the company in Tripoli.


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Here is a summary of Captain Abdul Jalil’s firsthand account and of his report to the GNMTC made on December 24:

On December 21, 2018 at 12:20 pm the Captain was informed on the VHF’s Channel H by the Border Burgas Traffic that a ship of border police and Maritime Administration was approaching the tanker.

Two cutters approached the tanker with 30 people descending on it, including uniformed border police officers, armed guards from Bashev Team & Security, Maritime Administration officers, and civilians who presented themselves as the new owners of the ship. They forbade the captain to contact the tanker’s owner and muted the ship’s communications with special equipment.

Border police officers began to check the crew’s passports, and civilians, who presented themselves as Maritime Administration officers, told the Captain that the ship already had another owner and he had to disembark it with his crew. The Captain insisted on seeing documents for the change of ownership, but none had been presented to him.

Despite the muted communications, he managed to get in touch with the Libyan company from a stationary satellite phone and reported that the ship had been hijacked. When the assailants realized that he had been talking to Tripoli, one of the guards struck him and pulled the phone cable out. This happened before the eyes of Bulgarian border police officers who did not react.

The recording is over 45-minutes long

At that moment, I realized that the police were here to protect the attackers and had no power,” says the Captain. “All the power was in the guards. They made me sit down, they interrogated me for a long time, forcing me to evacuate the ship. I refused.”

“If you want to see your family again, do not do act stupid.”

Meanwhile, border police lined up the crew members on the deck with their belongings to take them on the border police cutters. The Captain, however, signaled to the crew not to leave the ship. At that moment, he was attacked by the guards, and one of the civilians, who had presented himself as the owner of the ship, screamed: “If you want to see your family again, do not do act stupid. Get off my ship,” while brandishing a handgun at him.


One of the civilians, who had presented himself as the owner of the ship, screamed: “If you want to see your family again, do not do act stupid. Get off my ship.”

As Abdul Jalil continued to resist in the hope that he would be contacted back by phone by the Libyan owner of the ship, the guards and policemen lost patience and resorted to physical aggression.

One of the two officers was very nervous… He kicked me in the back and I fell. I tried to stand up back on my feet, but he kicked me again and again,” the Captain wrote in the report.

The Captain of the ship has concluded that he has been kicked by a Border Police officer because the assailant has been dressed in a uniform of the State institution.

Asked whether this person had been a border police officer, Mohammed El Ahrech confirmed that the Captain had talked about a uniformed man, a border police officer and an especially aggressive one.

Eventually, Abdul Jalil was forcibly taken on board of the cutter, and driven to the shore where a border police car and cars of guards had been waiting for him. He even remembers a gray “Audi” with license plate number CB4907KT.

The crew remained at the border police precinct until 9 pm, guarded by private guards the entire time. The police took the Captain’s mobile phone and to his surprise handed it over to the private guards.

Again, it became obvious that the police did not have any power; all the power was in the private guards,” he says.

Then the Captain was taken by the guards to a hotel in the Black Sea city of Varna, where he has been contacted by the person claiming to be the new owner of the ship.

Look, this is just business. It does not bother us. Before you do anything, think about your life and your family,” he told him.

On the next day, December 22, the crew flew from Varna Airport under a deportation procedure. The Libyan Consul arrived in Varna from Sofia. He took the Captain back to Burgas to file a complaint with the police about the seized tanker. The police, however, refused to accept it. The Captain and the Consul returned to Sofia, where the former described the events in a complaint handed to the Ambassador. He then left for Libya on a flight from Istanbul.

Bivol was unable to reach the Libyan Consul and the Ambassador to confirm this account.

Mohammed El Ahrech also confirmed that the statements of the Captain had been notarized in Tripoli and filed as a protest with international shipping regulators. The specialized navigation site vesseltracker.com has published the GNMTC reports, claiming that the BDDR tanker had been seized by armed men in violation of international laws. “The vessel’s communications/AIS had been immediately cut, meaning that neither the vessel’s owners nor any legitimate authority can now contact or track the whereabouts of the ship.”

Bivol conducted its own inquiry and found that the flag of the BADR ship had been changed after February 25 with a Panamanian registration, and after that day, it appears in the AIS system with the name BDIN.

The Marine Traffic system shows that on December 27 the tanker left the Burgas Bay and since then it has been anchored in the Black Sea, apparently outside the 12th mile State border. Maritime specialists suppose that the ship is being repainted and renamed BDIN before being sold.

On December 31, the port of Burgas West’s tug ALCOR, headed towards BADR. The screenshot from the system shows the two vessels together at 4 pm on December 31. For the time being, the purpose of this tugboat maneuver is unclear.

The mafia raid against the Libyan tanker did not remain hidden from the Libyan press, as well as from global and regional media in the field of maritime navigation such as World Maritime News and Maritime Bulletin, which immediately reported it. In Bulgaria, except for the report by the specialized site Maritime.bg, this outrage remains completely unknown to the public.

Here is what is said in the official statement of the GNMTC company:

Urgent Statement on the developments of the carrier “BADR” At Burgas anchorage at 14:04 on the afternoon of Friday, 21 December 2018:

Armed men (some purporting to be Bulgarian border police) boarded MT BADR – a vessel within the fleet of the General National Maritime Transport Company of Libya. The vessel’s captain and crew were then forced to immediately disembark the ship. No legal documentation, court order or warrant was provided to justify or support this action – the crew were simply ordered from the ship at gunpoint, under threat of violence. The vessel’s communications/ AIS were then immediately cut, meaning that neither the vessel’s owners nor any legitimate authority can now contact or track the whereabouts of the ship.

This is not only a criminal act, but also a flagrant violation of all international laws. It is furthermore in direct contravention of a ruling of the Bulgarian Supreme Court, which ordered the Vessel’s release in January of 2018.

This order was ignored by the Port Authority of Burgas, meaning that the vessel has since been improperly detained. We, the rightful and legal owners of MT BADR, remain in constant contact with all relevant bodies and maritime organizations – both in Bulgaria and internationally – seeking an immediate halt to this corruption and criminal activity.

Issued in Tripoli Saturday Dec 22

National General Maritime Transporting Company (G.N.M.T.C )

Ministry of Interior: Yes, we helped. Everything is fine

On the last day of 2018, Bivol turned to the Ministry of Interior (MoI) for a comment. They replied that they did not see anything wrong with what happened and stated for the record that the border police had been simply helping the new owners entirely within the law.

In its answers to our questions, the MoI press office explains that on the basis of a letter from December 21, 2018 by the ship agent “Euro agent” and the Maritime Administration Directorate to the head of the port in connection with the replacement of the crew, a team has been tasked with assistance and execution at an outbound border inspection of a tanker under a Panamanian flag, named BDIN and located in the harbor of the Burgas port. It further notes that this has been a standard procedure, performed in accordance with the border checks’ instruction and the Main Directorate Border Police have fulfilled their obligations under these instructions.

The MoI refused to provide us with the Maritime Administration’s letter, to report how many border police officers participated in the crew replacement operation and to comment on the security company that accompanied them to the ship.


“Bashev Security” logo Photo: Facebook Логото на “Башев Секюрити” Снимка: Facebook


According to the Captain’s statement, the said company is Bashev Team & Security. Officially, it is owned by Martin Kolev and Stefan Voynov, but is known to be controlled by Rumen Bashev, who has a criminal record therefore he is banned from managing a security firm.

The company does not have a site, while a person who has nothing to do with it answers the phone number listed on its Facebook page.

Bivol was unable to reach the Euro Agent, mentioned in the MoI message.

The editorial office, however, reached on the phone Captain Zhivko Petrov, Director of Maritime Administration. He said he was on leave, but according to the information he had, the crew replacement operation had been at the initiative of the new owner, who had been helped into possession by PLEA Totko Kolev.

In the Panamanian flag registration document, the owner is listed as Bulgargeomin Ltd., Captain Petrov remembered. The new owner has registered the ship under a Panamanian flag and the name BDIN as early as December 12 or 13. The Maritime Administration no longer has obligations to the ship since it has regular Panamanian documents, Petrov added and said that the new crew had a Ukrainian captain and aides. According to him, the actions of the Burgas Maritime Agency are fully in line with the Bulgarian legislation, which, he says, stupulated that in Bulgaria a PLEA may change the ownership of a foreign vessel which is subject to international maritime law.

The site Maritime.bg, which has been monitoring the case for a long time, also claims that the reason for the change of the owner is a PLEA. It quotes a representative of the Libyan company as saying that the reason for the “unprecedented in the global shipping industry” situation is an order to surrender the ship to Bulgargeomin Ltd.

The same PLEA order has been used to keep the ship in the Burgas port once it has been released from the Maritime Administration after the final rule of the Supreme Court of Cassations, in a move to overcome the outcome of the legal proceedings.

Our attempts to contact by cell phone and email PLEA Totko Kolev were unsuccessful. There is also no public information on the orders issued by him.

A fake Greek mortgage and an illegitimate new owner

According to the Supreme Court ruling (Supreme Court Ruling 29.1.2018 Download in Bulgarian), Bulgargeomin’s claims are based on fake documents and the company itself is not a legal entity under Bulgarian and international law. With its rule from January 29, 2018, the SCC unconditionally released the vessel from arrest on grounds that the marine mortgage contract, prepared by the Greek notary, Ioanna Andreadaki, is in fact a forged document.

Maritime.bg has published the notary’s complaint to the Greek Public Prosecutor’s Office detailing how the fraud has occurred. Andreadaki has been approached by a Greek businessman to arrange a maritime mortgage contract. She has prepared the papers and has handed the drafts to the businessman for him to show them to the proxies of Bulgargeomin and to the Libyan side. However, the proxies have not shown up at the scheduled day and time for the signing of the mortgage. Thus, no mortgage on the BADR tanker has been recorded and it does not exist in the legal world. According to Andreadaki, the drafts had been used to produce a counterfeit mortgage with her forged signature and seal.

Bivol contacted Ioanna Andreadaki by phone and she fully confirmed the information that she had not registered such a mortgage and had filed a complaint with the Greek Prosecution Office for the forgery of her signature and seal.

She was adamant that criminal proceedings are underway and the graphology test has already proven the forgery of her signature. She believes that the apostille has been forged as well.

The change of the flag with a Panamanian one has also taken place in Greece, Bivol has learned. The nearest Panamanian consulate which can prepare such documents is located there.

According to the Libyans, however, this action is a product of forgery as well. They have officially appealed to the Panamanian Maritime Administration. If it withdraws its registration, the ship will remain in a sort of “purgatory” – in international waters, without a flag, and unable to enter any port.


Controversial businesses and individuals and former State Security behind Bulgargeomin

Bulgargeonmin, the company behind the fake maritime mortgage, includes the companies Tectona, Moran Trade and Moran West. Formally, it is managed by Ventsislav Krastev from the western city of Pernik. At the beginning of 2018, companies of Dimitar Yosifov, the well-known owner of the waste disposal and management company Titan were transferred to Krastev.

Exerpt from the rule of the Burgas Court of Appeals

It was Yosifov who appeared before the Court of Appeals in Burgas as a proxy of Bulgargeomin, together with Kostadin Anakiev. They claimed that Bulgargeomin had bought in 1995 from the insolvent State-owned company Bulgargeomin a receivable from the Libyan company.

From the Gabonese affair, to amphetamines and diamonds for the Mafia

We must recall that Bulgargeomin was the main actor in the colossal criminal case, the so-called “Gabon Affair” involving the syphoning of hundreds of millions of dollars in national resources through a fraudulent concession for logging of tropical forests. This crime is symbolic of the way the country’s external debt was syphoned. A number of former Bulgarian politicians and bankers from the time of the Communist regime and the early years after its fall were involved in it and it had a direct connection with the-then First Directorate of the regime’s special services – the State Security (DS). Its exposure is the work of serious investigative journalism, which is part of Bivol’s portfolio.

The transfer of this asset of the State-owned company to a completely ineligible entity – a company with a similar name – was made in 2013 by the scandalous trustee, Hristina Stamova, a former trustee for the collapsed Corporate Commercial Bank (CCB) and a protagonist in other criminal schemes for illegal property seizure, investigated by Bivol.

Because of one such scheme, the victims – two Israeli investors, have filed an arbitration claim against the Bulgarian State at the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) for tens of millions of euros.

Bulgarians linked to Cosa Nostra

Like “the Titans”, the people associated with the Tectona company, which holds 50% in Bulgargeomin Ltd, are also involved in criminal activities as revealed an earlier investigation by Bivol, in partnership with Italian colleagues from IRPI/ANCIR entitled “Mafia in Africa”

Assen Kavdansky has been also designated as proxy of Bulgargeomin. According to the Greek notary, he had been the one supposed to sign the contract for the maritime mortgage. He is closely connected to the group linked to Tectona, according to the data from Bulgarian Trade Registry.

The group involves amphetamine (captagone) trafficker Tsvetan Tsanev and Investbank’s banker Dimitriika Andreeva, who represents an “Omani investor” in the bank, and who are entwined in complicated business relations with Swiss banker Andrea Caravelli and German businessman Henri Henrion.


The Bulgarian connection diagram Bivol/OCCRP

The investigation established on the basis of documents that Tsanev, Caravelli and Henrion had negotiated with Italian mafia boss Antonino Messicati Vitale to join as “European investors” in a criminal affair with South African diamonds.

Henrion claims that “attorney Tsanev and his investors have given up the project and have never done anything related to it.”

Tsvetan Tsanev is well known in Bulgaria. There is serious evidence that in his youth, during the time of the Communist regime, he had been involved in the trafficking of amphetamines through a German company through the Italian port of Bari.

In 1991, the notorious captagone case was launched by the Prosecutor General’s Office. Tsvetan Tsanev was among the 21 defendants, including politicians, directors of State enterprises and State Security agents. According to the case, the captagone was produced to implement the program for the acquisition of foreign currency, masterminded by the Currency Committee of the Central Committee of the Bulgarian Communist Party. The case was later closed because of important State interests, but the prosecutors had claimed at the time that USD 1 billion a month had been taken out of the country through this so-called “hidden transit”.

Tsanev later became known as a “credit millionaire”, who received a loan of BGN 348 million from Mineralbank in 1992 and never repaid it.

Tsanev and Henrion are close business associates. Henrion is the manager of the former oil company of Tsanev – Russpetroleum, investigated in the 1990s for deals with Russian aircraft. Today, Russpetroleum is controlled by the Swiss company Petro Alliance AG38, whose Bulgarian branch is represented by Dimitriika Lazarova Andreeva. She is a member of the Supervisory Board of Investbank, representing the interests of Omani shareholder Al Shanfari.

An international scandal is brewing

From all of the above, the question arises whether the action is legitimate, as the MoI and the Maritime Administration claim, or it is along the lines of a piracy act, as the Libyan side insists. Either way, it seems that an international scandal is forthcoming because the actions of PLEA Totko Kolev in fact circumvent the final rule of the Supreme Court and have come as a total surprise to the Libyans.

Apart from that, the operation to replace the crew and the means used to do it are shocking and should be investigated by the authorities. Such an investigation should be initiated by the Bulgarian Prosecutor’s Office, which is yet to react, despite all of the evidence and the complaints by the Libyan side.

***

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