monika-brendo

The Swiss Network of the “Cocaine King” Friday, April 4, 2014

Mario Togni, Le Courrier, Geneve, 04.04.2014·

Money Laundering; the clan of Bulgarian Evelin Banev, sentenced in 2013 in his country, had put millions in Swiss banks and had apartments in Montreux.

On May 23, two quaint apartments in downtown Montreux will be auctioned by the Prosecution Office of the Riviera in Vaud (the canton Vaud or Vaud county – editor’s note). For several years now, their owners – two Bulgarian sisters residing in Sofia – have not paid condominium fees and various taxes for their property. A forced sale procedure (foreclosure – editor’s note) was set in motion, as is done regularly. At the residence of Fine Cedars, this epilogue is long overdue.

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In fact, behind this banal administrative act hides a fantastic story resembling a Hollywood movie. A scenario that combines large scale drug trafficking between South America and Europe, money laundering in various countries, including Switzerland, questionable real estate on the shores of Lake Geneva … Not to mention the assassination in 2005 of a protagonist in the case in Bulgaria.

At the head of this vast network is a key figure: Bulgarian Evelin Banev AKA Brendo, also known as the “Cocaine King.” In February 2013, the 50-year-old man was sentenced by the Court of Sofia to seven and a half years in prison for laundering money derived from drug trafficking. He was extradited to Italy soon after, and there he was also sentenced to twenty years. The two discrete Montreux owners were part of the clan. As accomplices, they were sentenced to three years probation. One of them is none other than the ex-wife of the “boss.”

Without making waves, this case occupies the Public Prosecutor’s Office of the Swiss Confederation (MPC) since February 2008, following a request for assistance from Bulgaria: “The MPC is conducting a criminal investigation on suspicion of aggravated money laundering and membership in a criminal organization,” says Jeannette Balmer, an MPC spokeswoman. A total of about 15 million francs, invested in Swiss banks, was seized along with the apartments in Montreux, she says. The investigations are ongoing.

Twelve defendants

Currently, twelve people are listed as suspects in Switzerland, said the MPC. In recent years, various actors have been sentenced by the Federal Criminal Court (TPF), while appealing their detention. We learn some details about their alleged activities, including of a Bulgarian extradited by Slovenia in 2011: “A. is suspected to be the right hand of B. (Brendo – Swiss editor’s note); he is primarily responsible for the implementation and the management of the economic and financial structure serving as a vehicle for money laundering activities.

The henchman had managed in Switzerland many bank accounts, but also anonymous companies and real estate, says the court order. The defendant appears to be a beneficiary with rights on one of the accounts opened by Brendo and his ex-wife, whose money was specifically used as collateral for the purchase of the apartments in Montreux. The acquisition of a villa in Geneva for 3 million euro is also mentioned. The “right hand”, however, was acquitted in 2012, reports the MPC.

The judicial “literature” exposes the deeds of the clan. Such as the attempt, in 2005, to deposit 1 million euro in small bills at the counter of a Swiss bank, “which employees have refused.” Another example: in 2006, a member of the network was trying to transfer 2.5 million euro from Spain. “The money, hidden in a vehicle, was seized by the Franco-Spanish Customs; it should have been sent to Zurich to be placed in a bank,” wrote the TPF. On several occasions, falsified documents were used to justify the origin of funds.

Unoccupied housing

Do people in Montreux know about the suspicions against this criminal network? Of those we talked to – all requiring anonymity – some admit to have vaguely suspected something. The administrator of the floor property of the residence (PPE) was not going to tell us anything on grounds he was not interested in the private life of the owners. What is certain, however, is that none of the neighbors has ever seen the Bulgarian sisters. According to our sources, the apartments are empty and have never been occupied.

“It does not surprise me so much, is how an active lawyer in the management of PPE reacted. “When foreign customers pay in cash and never set foot inside the property, we can imagine some things … But in this highly rated tourist area, it is also common for wealthy foreigners to buy second homes and to visit them only a few days or weeks a year. Thus, it is difficult to sort things out.”

Anyway, with the auction, the condominium community hopes to recover the tens of thousands of francs in unpaid fees. The larger of the two apartments (five rooms with balcony) is estimated at 920000 francs by the Prosecution Office, the small (one room) – at 190000 francs. “This is an amount below their market value,” says a local real estate expert. “We should easily be able to get 10-15% more.”

Interview of MTI with Olivier Longchamp

Responsible for finance and taxation of Berne, Olivier Longchamp has often focused on cases of money laundering in Switzerland.

Is the real estate market of the Swiss Riviera conducive to money laundering?

There is nothing to indicate this. But we can say that wherever the real estate market is dynamic, where the properties have value and sell easily, a higher risk exists. This is the case in Geneva and in Montreux too. 

Are the controls sufficient?

The property is not subject to the Money Laundering Act (LBA). This is a loophole that even the Swiss industry professionals recognize. If the money for buying real estate comes from a Swiss bank, it is the bank that must apply the LBA. This law requires to know the beneficiary of these accounts, the economic background justifying the means and to report suspicions of criminal activity. 

What does this case make you think?

I am more struck by its financial component. The Public Prosecutor of the Confederation (MPC) refers to 15 million sequestered francs, which is not pocket change. One may wonder if the banks have applied their due diligence obligations under the MLA. Financial intermediaries are rarely prosecuted by the MPC in such cases; their lawyers are tenacious. But they are primarily responsible for the correct application of the LBA.

Translation by Bivol

Editorial Note from Bivol

Bivol reminds that Evelyn Banev AKA Brendo was released by the Bulgarian Court and is currently under house arrest.

An investigation of the Bulgarian Capital daily, with the help of Bivol and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), revealed some previously unknown connections in Brendo’s network. It turned out that financial intermediaries of Evelyn Banev in Austria are the same as those of Monica Stanisheva, wife of the leader of the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) and of the Party of European Socialists (PES), Sergei Stanishev and of Aneliya Krushkova, former head of the State Agency for Tourism.

See the English translation of the article from Capital HERE:

https://www.bivol.bg/monika-brendo-english.html

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