Prosecutor’s Office Accuses Two Individuals of Extortion of Senior Bulgarian Politicians

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Bulgarian and Romanian nationals have been in custody for four months because the Specialized Prosecutor’s Office believes they have blackmailed controversial businessman and lawmaker from the party Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS), Delyan Peevski, and the Honorary Lifetime Chairman of DPS Ahmed Dogan.

The reason for the blackmail is an alleged report by the French services on Peevski’s and Dogan’s involvement in cigarette smuggling and terrorism financing. The suspects had asked EUR 12 million not to send the report to the European institutions and to delete the names of the politicians. EUR 10 million was to go to a “French prosecutor” investigating the smuggling, and two million to the “extortionists”.

On September 26, 2019, the Court of Appeals of the Specialized Court held a hearing on the remand measure of the Bulgarian and the Romanian, who had been in custody for several months. In the end, they remained in pre-trial detention without a right of appeal because, according to the Special Prosecutor’s Office and the court, there had been reports that they had blackmailed Dogan and Peevski, in collaboration with an influential Romanian businessman for whom a European arrest warrant had been issued.

The prosecution’s arguments have been authored by prosecutor Evgeniya Stankova, who “rose to fame” over statements that Parliament’s watering system could be hacked by terrorists and threaten national security. Initially, she has charged the Romanian and the Bulgarian with financing terrorism under Article 108 of the Penal Code. Afterward, she must have clearly felt that this has been a blunder since “terrorism financing” refers multiple times to Ahmed Dogan and Delyan Peevski in the documents from the case.

Ultimately, the charges have been defined as “blackmail” committed by an organized crime group (OCG). In fact, the records of the case show that Prosecutor Stankova is not sure what the exact crime is – extortion or attempted fraud, but she is sure it was committed by an OGC.

“Cigarette smuggling used to finance international terrorist organizations”

The detainees are Romanian entrepreneur Dorin Yordake, who has been exporting goods from Bulgaria for years, and Diliyan Dimitrov Georgiev from the Bulgarian Danube city of Ruse. Yordake is linked to the influential Romanian businessman with a French passport, Ovidiu Semenescu.

Yordake and Georgiev had a joint business in Bulgaria’s second largest city of Plovdiv, where they had approached a protected prosecution witness number 436. The number had not helped him remain anonymous, and it is understood from the debates in the case that the person in question is Ivan Petleshkov. Yordake and Georgiev had taken Petleshkov to Semenescu and had shown him the report on Semenescu’s iPad. This has happened twice at meetings in Bucharest and Vienna.

The names of Ahmed Dogan, Delyan Peevski and the Executive Director of Bulgarian tobacco manufacturer Bulgartabac Holding, Ventsislav Cholakov, could be seen in the report. Semenescu, as “a representative of people associated with the French services”, had asked Petleshkov to convey to Peevski that if he paid EUR 12 million, his and Dogan’s names would be removed from the report. Semenescu had also claimed that the report would be submitted to the European Commission on June 1, 2019.

During the interrogation, Petleshkov had said that the report in question had been entitled “Cigarette Smuggling and Financing International Terrorist Organizations through It” and had contained 20 pages on Bulgaria. This report had been also the basis of a criminal investigation by the French Prosecutor’s Office with lead prosecutor Bernard Asso. Semenescu had claimed Asso would receive EUR 10 million to delete the names of the Bulgarian politicians. The other two million would be for the Romanian intermediaries.

The Bulgarian prosecution further claims that it has special surveillance devices from the meetings and flash discs with the report. However, the discs are not included in the case file, therefore, their contents remain unclear. Protected witness number 436 testifies that the report is referring to the cigarette smuggling by Bulgartabac and the related to it funding of terrorist organizations such as the Al Nusra Front, the PKK, the Islamic State and the Bashar Assad regime. The text had mentioned the names of intermediaries and companies in Dubai.

The defense’s pleadings reveal that the Executive Director of Bulgartabac Holding, Ventsislav Cholakov, had been questioned by the Prosecutor’s Office on May 23, 2019, but he had not been asked whether Ahmed Dogan and Delyan Peevski had anything to do with the cigarette holding. The victims of the “extortion” – Dogan and Peevski – had not been questioned at all in this case.

However, the Prosecutor’s Office seems convinced that such a report exists, that Peevski and Dogan are featured in it and that they have been blackmailed, which is why it insists that the Romanian and the Bulgarian should not be released from pre-trial detention. The Court of Appeal accepted prosecutor Stankova’s arguments and ruled that they are to remain in custody.

The prosecution has even issued a European arrest warrant for Ovidiu Semenescu, as well as a European investigation order to interrogate Bernard Asso, who had been named in the report as the “French prosecutor”. The last move is extremely strange because if Asso is a colleague of the Bulgarian prosecutors, as alleged in the case file, and if he is involved in such a scandalous act, they could inform the respective French Prosecutor’s Office through the legal cooperation channels, instead of summoning him for questioning as the “French citizen Bernard Asso”.

A check by Bivol showed that there is no publicly known prosecutor by that name. The only public figure named Bernard Asso is the Vice-President of the Alps-Maritime Department (Nice), who is also a lawyer and law professor.

Semenescu – Investigated in Romania for affairs with Veolia

This is not the first time when Romanian businessman Ovidiu Semenescu is subject to an arrest warrant. A few years ago, he has triggered the interest of the Romanian National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA), which has accused him of scheming linked to the French company Veolia. The latter is the water utility of Bucharest, just like Sofia.

According to the Romanian prosecutors, Semenescu has been the “backstage manager” of the local company representing Veolia and has benefited financially. Semenescu, who is also e French citizen, was arrested in public several years ago. However, the case has not yet reached the court.

The name of the Romanian businessman is also listed in the Panama Papers as a secret owner of offshore companies, Bivol’s partners from the Romanian investigative site Rise Romania reveal.

Dorin Yordake, arrested and charged in Bulgaria, is a former employee of the Romanian anti-mafia police, who has been involved in car theft and trafficking. After leaving the police, he has engaged in trade. Bulgarian Diliyan Georgiev, who has been previously convicted of football hooliganism, is his business partner and translator in Bulgaria.

Dorin Yordake claims in court that the purpose of his frequent visits to Bulgaria was business plans to export the production of the Plovdiv cosmetics company Refan to China. He also told the court that the investigators had threatened him and that Ivan Petleshkov’s story had been completely fabricated.

“From the pre-trial proceedings, which lasted four months and eight days, as the court found, for more than two months the Prosecutor’s Office had not gathered any evidence and had not undertaken any action to prove or disprove the accusations, or any action whatsoever that would in any way lead to the conclusion of this investigation,” Yordake’s lawyer, Nikola Atanassov, commented for Bivol.

The representative of the Romanian Embassy in Sofia at the court hearing told Bivol that the diplomats are “monitoring” the court proceedings, but the Embassy will not comment on the case.

Protected witness Ivan Petleshkov is known in Plovdiv as a former financial and executive director of Football Club “Lokomotiv Plovdiv” at the time when the Club’s President was Galya Topalova. Zeki Bairam, the owner of a trucking company, servicing the Middle East-Netherlands route, is believed to be the real owner of the Club.

As of 2018, Petleshkov runs the security company Traffic Security, which, according to Bivol sources, employees between 1,000 and 1,500 security guards. Its official owner is someone named Lyubomir Apostolov.

Bulgartabac Smuggling Reports

In recent years, the Turkish services have produced official reports on the subject of cigarette smuggling by Bulgartabac. Media outlets close to the government in Ankara have also linked Delyan Peevski and Ahmed Dogan to smuggling activities, with allegations that the two are banned from visiting Turkey. In 2017, a report by the Anti – Smuggling and Organized Crime Unit (KOM) of the Turkish National Police was sent to Interpol and its Balkan counterpart SELEC, based in Bucharest.

However, the Bulgarian Prosecutor’s Office and the Interior Ministry long dodged and ignored the Turkish reports, until Prosecutor General Sotir Tsatsarov eventually declared that they contained no evidence of illegal acts by the Bulgarian tobacco monopoly. However, it is not clear whether the Prosecutor’s Office is aware of the evidence sent to Interpol, or only of the public version on the KOM website.

One year ago, Bivol published an investigation that details the quantities of cigarettes exported by Bulgartabac. According to data from the Customs Agency, obtained after winning a case under the Access to Public Information Act (APIA), this is a trade for billions of dollars.

The Customs Agency was forced to disclose that exports to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are carried out by a single entity – Andalus Al-Sharq General Trading LLC. It is a company based in Dubai, owned by Iraqi smuggler Salam Quader Faraj. It is the strategic partner of Bulgaria’s tobacco holding in the Middle East. Andalus represents Bulgartabac in over 50% of the exports to this key region.

Officially, Delyan Peevski has nothing to do with Bulgartabac, but according to public statements before the media by the former owner and majority shareholder in the collapsed Corporate Commercial Bank (KTB), banker and financier Tsvetan Vassilev, he himself co-owned Bulgartabac with Delyan Peevski, Peevski’s mother Irena Krasteva and the owners of alcohol producer “Peshtera”. According to a scheme prepared by Peevski’s lawyer Sasho Angelov, Boyko Borisov and Ahmed Dogan, as well as Alexander Staliyski, a person close to Borisov, had been also given hidden shares in Bulgartabac during the process of its privatization.

So far, there is no public data for a French report on the topic of Bulgartabac, Peevski and cigarette smuggling. There is also no evidence of a criminal investigation by the French Prosecutor’s Office, as is mentioned in Yordake’s and Georgiev’s case.

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