SIC, Boutique and House in Barcelona

Atanas Tchobanov

The life partner of Iliyan “Matsola” Penev (left on the headline photo) and his business partner have inherited the company Ema BGS S.L. and its luxury Ermanno Scervino store in Barcelona. They are part of a EUR 5 million asset investigated by the Catalan police and the Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office of Spain for money laundering and links with Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov. Catalan newspaper El Periodico published information about the investigation on Friday, February 21, 2020. After that the store was suddenly closed and workers removed the goods. Penev is from the Bulgarian Danube city of Ruse and is associated with the former Security Insurance Company (SIC), seen as a front for a powerful criminal organization in the 1990s.

Catalan investigation into unexplained wealth

Famous Italian brand Ermanno Scervino has given a franchise for its Barcelona store to Ema BGS S.L., whose original owner is Georgi Yovchev, father of model Borislava Yovcheva and football player Stanko Yovchev.

Allegations of a romantic connection between Boyko Borisov and Borislava Yovcheva have been circulating in Bulgaria for a while. She was mentioned for the first time in November 2013 in an article by the local Maritza newspaper with the headline “Family Wars – Boyko Plays against His Brother-in-Law”, accompanied by a picture of Borisov and Stankov from a football match. The El Periodico article uses the same photo.

A year earlier, on June 26, 2012, Borisov shared with the LOVE Style magazine the following: “There is a young lady that is close to my heart, poor darling, if I reveal her identity, they will tear her to shreds. When I end the State job, it will marry her and take her back.”

In 2015, Bivol published the YanevaGate recordings. In them, judge Yaneva can be heard claiming that Borisov had bought a “house in Barcelona for a EUR 1.5 million” for a lady for whom he had special feelings. Yaneva does not mention the name of the lucky girl.

Anonymous videos, posted in the summer of 2018, citing documents from Spanish registers, revealed for the first time the link between the house in Barcelona and Stankov’s sister. They show that Yovcheva lives in a EUR 3 million house and her father owns a company with a capital of EUR 1.7 million. The videos contain serious allegations, prompting Bulgarian Civil Movement BOETS (Fighter) to alert the Spanish Prosecutor’s Office through the Spanish Embassy in Sofia. A few months later, in March 2019, the Movement also approached the MOSSOS d’Escadra Catalan police with the same alert. In addition, BOETS sent a report to the Bulgarian Committee for Combatting Corruption and the withdrawal of illegally acquired property (KPKONPI) (sic), while opposition MP Elena Yoncheva alerted the Bulgarian Prosecutor’s Office in May 2019.

The Bulgarian Prosecutor’s Office and KPKONPI failed to act, unlike their Spanish counterparts who, according to El Periodico, had worked diligently on the alert and had found that it contained reliable information about money laundering. The newspaper’s headlines emphasize that Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov is also investigated. The publication alleges that police are examining his tax returns as well as his romantic relationship with Borislava Yovcheva. She has an eight-year-old girl whose father is unknown. Catalan police confirmed to several Bulgarian media that such an investigation is being actively pursued, but declined to provide detailed information.

On the day of the publication, Borisov told reporters in Brussels that he had nothing to do with the house, but did not answer the question whether he knew Yovcheva. There were no questions about the little girl’s father. The Prime Minister attributed the investigation to a slander campaign by Bulgarian President Rumen Radev and saw a hybrid Russian connection behind it.

Not a million and a half, but five million

What is known so far is that Ms Yovcheva suddenly became rich in 2013 and moved into a luxury house valued at EUR 3 million in a posh Barcelona suburb. Alexander Chaushev, a highly trusted person of Lukoil Bulgaria’s boss Valentin Zlatev, is the buyer of the property. On his part, Zlatev is known for being close to Borisov. The house has been allocated as equity in the company Numin Invest S.L., in which Yovcheva holds the modest amount of EUR 3,000, while the remaining EUR 2,900,000 of the estimated value of the house, represent shares of Chaushev and his wife. Chaushev does not have manager rights and has never lived in the house.

A year later, the inexplicable wealth also caught up with Yovcheva’s father, Georgi, a former plumber. In 2014, he acquired Ema BGS S.L., in which he invested EUR 1 million of his own capital of unknown origin. Another EUR 753,000 came from the Cypriot offshore Palms Enterprises (Overseas). Its representative for operations in Spain is Sylvia Nikolova. Nikolova also became the administrator of Ema BGS S.L. together with Georgi Yovchev. Nikolova’s husband, Yordan Hristov, represents the offshore in Bulgaria.

El Periodico cites Sylvia Nikolova and Yordan Hristov as the subject of interest of the Catalan police, along with three other unnamed persons. Investigators say the amount invested in Ema BGS S.L. has reached EUR 2.3 million. This is EUR 0.5 million more than the company’s capital, according to public information in the Spanish Commercial Register. Former model Borislava Yovcheva is not listed as an administrator of the company but has exercised “management and control” functions in the store, according to the Spanish investigators.

In Bulgaria, Hristov has business relations with the close to Borisov Ivan Sazdov, President of the Tennis Club in Sofia’s suburb of Bankya where the Prime Minister grew up and still lives. In addition, Sazdov is a business partner with Borisov’s cousin Radoslav Ivanov. After Borisov entered politics, Ivanov took over his security company Ipon and has been an activist of the party Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB) since its launch by Borisov when he was Mayor of Sofia.

SIC and the Prime Minister’s dark past

Yordan Hristov is a discreet businessman, not known as one of the infamous protagonists of the “gangland transition” after the fall of the Communist regime. However, there are such people among his business partners. In 1997, Hristov became a partner with the Iliyan “Matsola” Penev from the city of Ruse, one of the prominent representatives of the SIC group in the Danube city.

The activity SIC, also known as Intergroup, it eloquently summarized by former US Ambassador in Sofia James Pardew in a secret diplomatic cable titled Bulgarian Organized Crime, published in full for the first time by Bivol:

“Intergroup’s illegal activities include narcotics (especially heroin), financial fraud (through its ties with the AMIGOS financial guarantee company), car thefts and trafficking in stolen automobiles, smuggling, extortion and racketeering, and prostitution.”

At the end of 2005, the Sofia headquarters of SIC-Intergroup celebrated an anniversary of its establishment with a grand party. The young owner of the security company Ipon Boyko Borisov was there and was busy assisting the media that came to cover the event, Bulgarian Capital weekly reported.

Отляво надясно: Венцислав Стефанов, съдружник в Интергруп, вицепрезидент на Славия и БфС, Румен Николов-Пашата, Бойко Борисов, шеф на фирма Ипон, Николай Златев, председател на управителния съвет и изпълнителен директор на ТСБанк
© Живко Ангелов [Капитал]

The photo published by Capital at the time shows Borisov with two of the SIC bosses, Rumen “The Pasha” Gotsov Nikolov and Ventsislav Stefanov. Another photo shows him in the company of Krasimir “The Big Margiun” Marinov. Borisov’s relations with people from SIC are also found in former joint business endeavors with Rumen Nikolov.

“Go ahead, make your offer!”

In Ruse, the representatives of SIC-Intergroup convened in the local company Intergroup Nord, established on April 15, 1996. It was controlled by Iliyan “Matsola” Rachev Penev, Alexander Ivanov Petrov and Valentin “Valio The Wrestler” Dochev Getsov. The latter is a silver medalist from the Barcelona Summer Olympics in the 68-kg category and is seen as a person very close to one of the big SIC bosses Mladen “Madjo” Mihalev.

Penev also controlled the gambling company with the expressive name “Barça – Stoichkov” Ltd., established in 1996, owner of a local bingo hall. Iliyan Penev’s love for the Catalan football club further materialized in the legal entity Barça, which also deals with gambling.

The joint business of Iliyan Penev and Yordan Hristov, who is now investigated by the Catalan police in connection with the money-laundering affair in Barcelona, dates back to those years. In June 1997, they founded the company Sport-Star, a sportswear manufacturer. The other shareholders in it were Ivan Garvalov, Jory Dotsev and the manufacturer of the “Ruen” clothing line.

The SIC bosses controlled the fuel business in Ruse and repeatedly fell in the crosshairs of the anti-mafia police due to their smuggling operations. They also dealt with classic racketeering of entrepreneurs. The criminal chronicle associated with the exploits of Penev’s thugs is rich, nevertheless, he has managed to avoid justice.

His luck finds its explanation in one of the emblematic operations of the anti-mafia police at the time. Among 16 volumes of special surveillance devices, there is a recording of Iliyan Penev speaking with the prosecutor of the Appellate Prosecutor’s Office Nikolay Ganchev, where the latter tells the former “Go ahead, make your offer”. The prosecutor’s words have become a symbol of corruption among the judiciary in Bulgaria. The Supreme Judicial Council even fired Ganchev but the Supreme Administrative Court reinstated him.

From racketeering to a “Happy” restaurant in Barcelona

At the beginning of the 21st century, however, Penev’s group was confronted with the tenacity of the local anti-mafia chief, the late Vanyo Tanov. In 2004, the anti-mafia police attacked and searched the offices of his numerous companies, according to a publication by Paragraph 22. Tanov is quoted saying that “in recent years the honest business in Ruse is relentlessly harassed by a group of racketeers, by people who took over SIC group’s shady business in the region, people who have kept the structures of the criminal organization and continue to be subordinate to a single boss.”

To escape the unpleasant encounters with the police, Penev moved his business to Barcelona as a representative of the Bulgarian restaurant chain “Happy”. There is no public information about him being a partner of the chain’s owner Orlin Popov, but Penev is the brand’s representative in Catalonia. In 2004, he opened the first “Happy” restaurant there and subsequently acquired two bars, according to his interview with a Spanish professional magazine dedicated to the restaurant business.

The business expanded in 2007 with a new facility, the Barceno restaurant on Catalunya Square in Barcelona. Iliyan Penev (left in the headline picture) was photographed at the glamorous opening next to Bulgarian football stars Hristo Stoichkov and Lachezar Tanev. The Tenev Agency, engaged with the event’s PR coverage, said the following: “The co-owners of the chic culinary oasis are the owners of the famous chain “Happy” Iliyan Penev and Orlin Popov in association with our football legends Hristo Stoichkov and Lachezar Tanev”.

Official registers list Iliyan Ratchev Penev’s involvement in at least eight companies with a restaurant activity, and Hristo Stoichkov is an administrator of only one company with another business activity. Public registers in Spain contain data only for company managers. Bivol is in the process of examining whether Penev is a formal partner of Stoichkov as unofficial information claims.

Scervino – from Yovchev to Penev

Changes happened following the publication of the anonymous video footage of the Barcelona house managed by Ema BGS S.L.. First, Georgi Yovchev and Sylvia Nikolova, the wife of Yordan Hristov, were deleted as managers of the company on July 25, 2019, and replaced by Sancho Jose Sergi as manager.

A person with the same name is a representative of Catbug 15 SL since 2015, with Iliyan Penev managing the same company.

Two weeks later, Miglena Hristolova Nikolova, the mother of Iliyan Penev’s son, also named Iliyan, was listed as a representative of Ema Bgs S.L..

Miglena Nikolova maintained until two days ago an active Instagram account with numerous photos from the Ermanno Scervino store in Barcelona.

Персоналът на Ermanno Scervino Barcelona с шефката Миглена Николова – жената до Мацола

Another curious photo posted by Nikolova reveals her closeness with model Tsetsi Krasimirova, who was injured during the murder of infamous Bulgarian drug lord Konstantin Dimitrov in Amsterdam.

According to Nikolova, Tsetsi Krasimirova is her “dear friend, guru, soul sister, mentor and example for countless things”.

Цеци Красимирова и Миглена Николова

These business relationships lead to the conclusion that Yordan Hristov, “investor” in the mysteriously luxurious life of the model linked to Boyko Borisov, has the support of a local Bulgarian business network connected with persons from the Bulgarian underground.

This evidence also broadens the number of suspects the Catalan police can investigate in the course of establishing the truth about the alleged laundering of more than EUR 5 million. Through Iliyan “Matsola” Penev, one can clearly see the connection with suspicious SIC assets, also linked to the Bulgarian “El Leader” Boyko Borisov.

The whole story is related to a not so distant past. It would be enough for the Spanish investigators to request information from Bulgaria about the anti-mafia police operation in Ruse, led by Vanyo Tanov in 2004, when he hunted SIC’s Senor Penev as a racketeer and smuggler at a time when the latter had been investing in restaurants and bars in Barcelona, demonstrating his closeness with Hristo Stoichkov.

In the headline photo from left to right: Iliyan Penev, co-owner of the restaurant chain “Happy” and football legends Hristo Stoichkov and Lachezar Tanev, credit BULFOTO

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