An offshore bank with a Hungarian owner has helped to launder the millions of euro stolen from Romania. This is the reason why accounts of Bulgarian private lender FIB were frozen a few days ago. The money has been used by the Bulgarian organized crime group for contract killings “The Killers” – Georgi and Ivaylo “The Tennis Players” Bozhilov and Mila Georgieva – reveal reporters of Bivol, the Romanian Center for Investigative Journalism RiseProject and the Hungarian investigative site Atlastzo.
In the course of this investigation, Bivol also exposed FIB as the mastermind of the robbery. Documents prove that the Bank is connected to offshore companies on the money trail. FIB’s majority shareholders, Tseko Minev and Ivaylo Mutafchiev, have business relations with the end owners of offshore companies. FIB has even issued letters of guarantee to one of these dummy individuals that have served to open an account through which the millions were syphoned off.
The homeless who stole the food of the poor
In October 2012, 19 million euro of Romania’s Agency for Payments and Intervention in Agriculture (APIA) disappeared. The money was intended as social assistance by the European Commission to buy and deliver food for the poorest Romanian citizens. It was transferred to the winning bidder, the Bulgarian company “VM Corporation”, under a contract for the supply of said food. The company is fictitious and is owned by a homeless Bulgarian man. Nevertheless, it has managed to win the tender for millions. Bank letters of guarantee, issued by FIB, played a key role in this success.
It turns out that FIB has guaranteed the amount of 33 million euro on behalf of the destitute Valeri Miloradov from Sofia. The poor man has no idea that on paper he is a millionaire and that he has absorbed such amounts. The Slumdog Millionaire admitted on camera before a reporter of Bivol that he had sold his identity to a lawyer and all his signatures were forged. Documents and the seals of his company, “VM Corporation”, were kept in the Bank’s headquarters in Sofia. He had been taken there at times by the same lawyer to arrange some “formalities”, while his company seal had been brought from some “upper floor”. According to Mr. Miloradov, FIB is the “most fraudulent bank”.
Valeri Miloradov gave a power of attorney to Bivol to access the accounts of his company in FIB. Our reporter accompanied him, however, bank officials denied him such access. Their action is contrary to all banking rules and regulations and was deemed wrong by the central bank (the Bulgarian National Bank, BNB). It can be further interpreted as a sign of guilty conscience and connections with the shadowy company that stole the millions from Romania.
“Because there is no oil…”
It became clear quickly that the money had been wired to a shell company that never delivered the food. The Romanian poor ended up without flour and cooking oil in the cold winter of 2013. However, FIB refused to pay the guarantee as it was required, and challenged the Romanian claims in a Bulgarian court. In the end, after the final ruling of the Supreme Court of Cassations (SCC), Romania managed to freeze FIB accounts in Bulgaria in the amount of 44 million levs.
In Bulgaria, the case is basically squished and there is no real investigation into the affair, although the institutions in charge, such as the Prosecutor’s Office, the anti-mafia police, and the National Security Agency (DANS), are well aware of it. The Bulgarian authorities are not cooperating very much with the European anti-fraud office OLAF either, in solving the crime and returning the stolen money.
In Romania, the case is being investigated by the anti-corruption Prosecutor’s Office, DNA, according to which the theft was orchestrated by an organized crime group and its members – Ivan Tanev, Mila Georgieva, Stefka Stoeva, Vesselin Lafchiev, Nikolay Hristov and lawyer Snezhinka Stoykova. The former heads of APIA, who ordered the transfer of the money, were arrested at the end of 2015. In case 35899/3/2015, on the docket of the Criminal Court in Bucharest which Bivol published a year ago, it is expressly stated that the Bank was complicit in this sting.
At that time, FIB responded with a statement that it had become a victim of fraud in early 2013 and has alerted DANS, the prosecution and OLAF about this abuse of European funds. The same press release was quoted in the media recently, after the news about the frozen accounts.
The joint journalistic investigation of Bivol and its partners from the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) – Atlastzo Hungary and Rise Romania, however, confirms the evidence of complicity by FIB and in particular by its majority shareholders, Tseko Minev and Ivaylo Mutafchiev.
The facts and the documents categorically reveal that the Bank had detailed information about the offshore companies and the entities on the stolen money trail.
Transfers from FIB to the offshore companies that stole the money
As early as last year, sources of Romanian investigative journalists from Rise reported that the money has been transferred from the account of VM Corporation in Cyprus first to the accounts of the offshore companies Beach Enterprises in the Seychelles (14.5 million) and Grand Ocean Services in the British Virgin Islands (3.6 million), and from there, to four companies in Hong Kong.
According to sources of Rise Romania, one of these companies is Sun Power Industrial.
A check in the Hong Kong register, conducted by Bivol, established that Sun Power Industrial is owned by the Cypriot Orsha Ltd., which is in turn owned by the infamously known to us Cypriot lawyer Orestis Shambartas (see documents here and here).
In October last year, our team visited Cyprus and found that the accounts of VM Corporation in the Bank of Cyprus, where the money from Romania was wired, have been opened and closed precisely by lawyer Orestis Shambartas. Our team met with him, but Shambartas declined comment, citing attorney-client privileged information.
Nevertheless, Shambartas’ law office has received transfers from an account in FIB, listed to the shell company BRANDEL SENT 2000, as payment for “legal services”.
Several transfers from this same account had been also made to the offshore Grand Ocean Services, where the stolen Romanian money transited as well.
There is more. Large sums have been transferred from the same account to Balkan Holidays Ltd., a company owned jointly by Tseko Minev’s wife – Radka Mineva and the brother of his partner Ivaylo Mutafchiev.
Millions have been paid to the offshore Santa Fe Trading, which on paper is owned by a dummy person, connected with the owners of FIB – Evdokia Maklamuzi (see here). The same woman is a partner of the infamous Georgios Georgiou in a number of companies that have received loans amounting to over one billion levs from FIB. Santa Fe appears in the classified reports of the regulator (BNB) on FIB, as having received large loans that have not been listed as loans to connected parties, which is a violation. The loans have been listed as non-performing.
Payments from the same BRANDEL SENT 2000 account also went to the offshore Zorgane Asia, linked to Mila Georgieva. Zorgane Asia owns the Bulgarian company “Genesis Laboratory” whose director was Mila Georgieva.
So it turns out that BRANDEL SENT 2000 is something of a distribution hub for money of unknown origin. This money is flowing to companies associated with Tseko Minev, Ivaylo Mutafchiev, Mila Georgieva, but also to companies that have laundered the stolen millions from Romania – Grand Ocean Services and attorney Shambartas, the on-paper owner of Sun Power Industrial.
Therefore, the following questions arise: Who and for what reason is giving money to the owners of the Bank, to “The Killers” and the on-paper owner of the company where part of the Romanian millions have disappeared? What is the origin of this money?
Surely, the money has not been earned from a business activity. BRANDEL SENT 2000 is a shell company that is not even registered under VAT and has never imported or exported anything. Its account in FIB is padded with cash by some Dimitar Georgiev Simeonov who brings huge amounts to the bank teller counter – 50 000, 100 000, 200 000 euro in cash…
There is obvious evidence of money laundering through accounts of a shell company. By law, when there are transfers of such huge sums in cash from a bank counter, it is mandatory to report them to the financial intelligence at DANS. At that time, however, the head of the financial intelligence, Polina Kavrakova, had been granted a generous consumer loan by FIB, in the amount of 100 000 levs.
The proof of complicity of the Bank and “The Killers” in “the Romanian sting” does not end with this.
Credit cards from Sun Power Industrial for “The Killers”
Last week, Atlastzo Hungary published information on a bank account of Sun Power Industrial in the offshore bank Loyal Bank in the St. Vincent and Grenadine Islands. The leak, known as The Panama Papers, brought to light the owner of that bank – Hungarian entrepreneur Otto Hujber, who has a reputation of a “businessman” associated with the Hungarian Socialist Party in the early years of the transition period.
The document, cited by Atlastzo, is a request to issue bank cards to Ivaylo “The Little Tennis” Bozhilov and Georgi “The Big Tennis” Bozhilov. Georgi “The Big Tennis” Bozhilov is one of the arrested members of the organized crime group in the case “The Killers 6”, together with Mila Georgieva.
The document, which Bivol has obtained, shows the signature of the holder of the bank account. This signature bears a strong resemblance to the signature of the stepdaughter of the former Customs Chief, Hristo Kulishev – Mila Georgieva. Any qualified expert can prove whether the signatures have been laid by the same person, i.e. that the account in the bank has been opened precisely by Georgieva.
Signature of Mila Georgieva on a document in the Bulgarian Trade Register (left). Signature of the holder of the account of Sun Power Industrial (right)
In addition, on June 12, 2013, 200000 euro were transferred from the account of the Sun Power to the account of a company in the Seychelles – Villa Overseas.
Transfer of 200 000 euro from the account of Sun Power Industrial to Villa Overseas
Until June this year, Villa Overseas was the owner of the Bulgarian company “MIM Corporation” of which Georgi Bozhilov was manager. Mila Georgieva’s son Martin (wanted after the arrests of “The Killers”) and her mother, Valentina Georgieva, were proxies of Villa Overseas.
Power of attorney for Villa Overseas in the name of Martin Georgiev
Power of attorney of Villa Overseas in the name Valentina Georgieva
On August 9, two months after the transfer, “MIM Corporation” acquired a property of 750 square meters on 33 “Vladimir Dimitrov The Master” street in the affluent Sofia suburb of Boyana. At the then-price of 160 euro per square meter, the value of this property is around 120 000 euro. The neighboring property belongs to Mila Georgieva’s son Martin.
Property acquired by MIM Corporation in Boyana
This closes the circle of the money stolen from Romania. There is overwhelming evidence that after Hong Kong and Saint Vincent, some of this money has come back to “The Killers”. The Hungarian colleagues from Atlastzo have concluded that this was an operation to launder the stolen money through the dubious Loyal Bank, whose operations have been already suspended in many European countries because of its shady operations and customers, many of whom are Russians.
Bivol and Rise Romania managed to get in touch with Ivan Tanev, believed to be the mastermind of the scam. In a video interview, he denied receiving any money from the millions that disappeared in Hong Kong. Tanev said that this mastermind had been Mila Georgieva with the complicity of FIB. Our attempts to contact her and other members of the group “The Killers” remain fruitless so far, but we are not giving up.
References for Grand Ocean Services – another proof of complicity of FIB
Let’s go back to the role of FIB. The second company on the money trail from Romania to Hong Kong and then to Bulgaria is Grand Ocean Services, registered in the British Virgin Islands. As already mentioned, bank statements of BRANDEL SENT 2000 show transfers in the amount of 215 000 euro to this company.
Apart from the transfers to Grand Ocean Services, there is another proof that FIB was involved in the scheme and knew perfectly where the money went after it left Romania.
The Romanian investigators are keenly interested in someone named Ivan Karatsanov because he is a proxy of Grand Ocean Services. They have requested from the Bulgarian investigation a bank reference letter issued by FIB to Karatsanov. The letter is filed under number 11-7017 and is signed by the directors of the bank Dimitar Kostov and Vasil Hristov. All documents that were used as grounds for issuing the letter have been requested as well.
Such references are issued by a bank to certify that the bearer is a good client in whom it has full confidence. They usually serve to open a bank account abroad.
At the same time, Karatsanov is also a proxy of VM Corporation – the company owned by the homeless Valeri Miloradov Petrov. Here, the circle closes as well. It turns out that
FIB knew very well who controls Grand Ocean Services and how it is related to VM Corporation.
In the presence of all these facts, it is laughable to claim that the Bank has been defrauded. Certain persons in FIB obviously know very well the end owners of the companies through which they syphoned the money wired by the Romanian agency. It remains to be seen whether the Bank has reported all this to DANS, the Prosecutor’s Office, OLAF and the DNA.
Currently, there is no public information about the fate of the lion’s share of the booty – 14.5 million euro that have sunk into the Seychelles offshore Beach Enterprises, before reaching Hong Kong. But according to sources of Rise Romania, the investigation into this particularly brutal and large-scale theft of EU funds is definitely headed to a successful closure.
This post is also available in: Bulgarian