It has become a tradition to look back at the end of the year at what Bivol (*Bull/Buffalo) has accomplished. 2015 was a year of challenges for our site, which turned five years old. We have done a lot of things. And we were subjected to unprecedented institutional and media attacks that we see as an acknowledgment of the quality of our work.
This year our most important investigations were related to the model #WHO. We made significant progress in identifying the dependencies that have entangled controversial lawmaker Delyan Peevski, the honorary lifetime Chairman of the party Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS), Ahmed Dogan and Prime Minister Boyko Borisov in the privatization of tobacco manufacturer Bulgartabac (see here, here, here and here). We showed in black and white how the “bad apple” First Investment Bank (FIB) is being drained (see here, here and here). In 2015, this bank established itself as the new financial donor of the criminal-oligarchic business structure of #WHO. This donor is funded with taxpayers’ money and enjoys immunity from prosecution despite the obvious evidence of complicity in criminal schemes for theft of EU funds, exposed by the Romanian Prosecutor’s Office and OLAF (see here, here, here and here). Our forecast is that 2016 will be the last year for this structure masquerading as a bank. We hope that its owners will not escape justice by hiding on a tropical island with hundreds of millions stolen from gullible depositors. And if you have doubt in our forecasts, you may refer to what we wrote about the now-collapsed Corporate Commercial Bank (CCB) in 2013 and early 2014.
January 2015 began with new disclosures (see here) about theft of companies under the scheme known as “Belvedere”, sharply criticized in statements of the French Ambassador who pointed out the “bad apples” in the Bulgarian judicial system. We revealed the huge credit cards limits of the boss of the Financial Supervision Commission (FSC) Stoyan Mavrodiev (see here and here). The National Security Agency (DANS) and the prosecution have been investigating these facts for almost a year now, but Mavrodiev continues to occupy the post. The reason for this impunity is probably his past, when Mavrodiev was registering offshore companies for the drug mafia and his relationship with Rumen Nikolov “The Pasha”, one of the people closest to Boyko Borisov from the times of one of the two allegedly largest mafia structures in Bulgaria in the 1990s – SIC. Also in January, with threats and record fines, the FSC made another attempt (see here) to silence our and other media that wrote about FIB. This attempt was interpreted unanimously as an attack on freedom of speech (see here). The insolent attack against the few remaining free Bulgarian media came just days after the deadly attack on Charlie Hebdo.
This pressure did not prevent us from finishing and publishing our largest to date documentary investigation in the draining of FIB. After examining the loans that the Bank has granted to hundreds of companies in Bulgaria, we found out that they all lead to a few dozen offshore companies in Cyprus and the British Virgin Islands, which in turn are owned by destitute persons in Cyprus – destitute, but closely associated with the owners and majority shareholders of the bank – multimillionaires Tseko Minev and Ivaylo Mutafchiev. In a country with effective supervisory authorities and prosecution, the bank would have long been nationalized and its owners would have been investigated and charged. Alas, such statehood features are not observed on Bulgarian territory and so much the worse for the depositors who are feeding the mafia scheme with their money.
In early 2015, we published a detailed investigation in how CCB stole “Petrol”, a case that reveals the essence of the schemes with raider operations through connected companies credited by the now-collapsed bank that used to the darling of the people in power.
In February and March, on the backdrop of a hysterical campaign to build a second ski lift in the Bansko winter resort, we exposed Tseko Minev’s scheme for Ulen and Vitosha Ski – financing megalomaniacal ventures related to the destruction of nature by draining the money of depositors in FIB through Cypriot offshore companies and dummies (see here and here and here). The topic of preservation of nature has been in our spotlight since the beginning of the year with reports on felling in Strandzha Mountain and on outrages committed by forestry chiefs. See here what Bivol has written about them long before the eruption of the scandal with their expensive SUVs.
We continued the “bad apples” theme by revealing with mathematical tools the fraud in the random allocation of cases and jurors in the Sofia City Court (see here). This prompted the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) to launch a probe and all of our claims were confirmed.
Bivol was the first to report on the intentions of Russian pro-Putin oligarch Malofeev, hiding behind Belgian businessman Pierre Luvrier and other impostors, to acquire the assets of CCB majority shareholder Tsvetan Vasilev: the telecom BTC, TV7 and the factories Dunarit and Avionams (see here, here and here). “Plan B” was put in motion after these revelations. The strategic telecom ended in the hands of controversial businessman Spas Russev, financed by VTB bank – another avatar of Putin’s hybrid strategy for acquiring key assets, a strategy that those tasked with defending Bulgarian national interests keep watching like a bunny watching a python.
In March 2015, top investigative journalist Mladen Dotchev passed away and his death was surrounded by suspicious circumstances. Though sporadic, he was one of our very valuable authors. Dotchev’s investigations were not completed (see here, here and here), but we will not stop working on them despite the threats that our team received.
April was marked by yet another “Dunes Gate” scandal to whose unraveling Bivol was the main contributor (see here, here and here). Entangled in lies and under the pressure of media and civil society, the government was forced to publish special maps of the sand dunes. Thus, the attempts to build on the last remaining wild beaches were blocked for a long time.
A series of strong international investigations, in which Bivol participated as a partner of the most prestigious European and global centers for investigative journalism, also began in April. The investigation in the former Communist State Security (DS), Omani money, the Bulgarian “bad apple” Investbank and the bloody business of Cosa Nostra revealed the links between former DS agents, traffickers of captagon and the modern Italian mafia. Our story on a Bulgarian expert who has discovered a security hole in electronic locks attracted the interest of the most prominent experts in the industry. Publications on the subject are forthcoming in major global media. We later discovered, together with colleagues from the Belgrade-based center for investigative journalism KRIK that the mayor of Belgrade Sinisa Mali had bought 24 apartments in Bulgaria in a resort near the Black Sea town of Chernomorets (see here and here) and Mali’s Bulgarian ties lead to beneficiaries from the privatization of Lukoil. Another important international partnership with our colleagues from the Romanian Rise Project exposed the scheme of plundering European aid for the poor with the complicity of FIB (see below).
May was the month of new “notebook” revelations – these of the visitors in the CCB office of Tsvetan Vasilev (see here and here). Yet another portion of lies of the main beneficiaries from extras granted by the bank also gained publicity (see here). It became clear as well that the best man of notorious DPS MP Yordan Tsonev is among the most privileged holders of CCB-issued credit cards (see here).
In June, Bivol published once again revelations about the endemic petty corruption that makes our country the subject of ridicule among its neighbors and the world. The tapes showing an inspector from the State Automotive Inspection asking money from a Turkish truck driver “maavi, karmaza yok” and the border police forcing the orchestra of the city of Edirne to perform for them at the border crossing point became hits in international media. Because of these proverbial cases, some Western correspondents asked whether corrupt Bulgarian border guards and customs officers might be complicit in illegal trafficking schemes used by jihadists.
An Israeli MP, exposed in running prostitution and drug rings, managing a hotel of the mafia in the Sunny Beach resort was another important headline of Bivol in the beginning of the summer when we revealed details about the Bulgarian business of the Knesset MP Oren Hazan. Bivol’s evidence was quoted in detail by the biggest Israeli media.
In July and August, while the world was staring at the Greek crisis, Bivol worked intensely on the findings about the privatization of Bulgartabac that set the foundation for the financial strength of the model WHO. Contracts between offshore companies (see here and here) and suspicions of the involvement of Dogan, Borisov and businessman Alexander Staliyski emerged behind the screen of a bogus investment from the Russian bank VTB. The three man allegedly received commissions for the unfavorable privatization, approved by Borisov’s Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria party (GERB) and DPS in 2011. As result of this deal, offshore companies associated with Delyan Peevski and the owners of the alcoholic beverages maker “Peshtera” eventually acquired the largest cigarette factory in Southeastern Europe and the smuggling channels to Middle Eastern countries, including to regions controlled by Islamist groups (see here and here). However, operations of the Turkish authorities have caused a severe blow to the smuggling scheme (see here), and new setbacks for the criminal channels that feed the mafia-oligarchic model reigning in Bulgaria are forthcoming in 2016.
Some readers might ask what DANS and the services are doing about all this. How come journalists can reveal that Bulgartabac has secretly changed its owner (see here) while law enforcement know nothing and remain silent? The answer is not just in the revelations about their incompetence that came from Wikileaks (see here) to which Bivol has no contribution. “The services belong to DPS,” this admission would pop up months later in the leaked conversations known as # Yaneva Gate. The prosecution and the services are complicit, instead of reacting. This was demonstrated once again by their actions in the case of the “French unemployed” Ivan Danov terminated by prosecutor Betsova on grounds of expiry of the limitation period.
Besides being a tool for camouflaging the crimes of those in power, this year the prosecution emerged as a tool for “finishing” someone’s career. After crushing the investigation against Ivan Danov, it turned against Bivol’s editor-in-chief and launched pre-trial proceedings against him (see here). The institutional intimidation attempt failed, but a fierce smear campaign against Bivol was launched by tabloid newspapers and websites controlled by Delyan Peevski. We lived through this unprecedented campaign that caused outrage among our colleagues abroad and international human rights organizations (see here, here and here).
There is double reason for this rancor. On one hand, Bivol was the only one to give names and documents to several European prosecutors’ offices and to ask investigations in the facts about cigarette smuggling and money laundering by Peevski’s company with the secret participation of Dogan, Borisov and Staliyski.
The revelation of the true ownership of Bulgartabac is the key to destroying the criminal model #WHO!
The subject, however, is an absolute taboo for Bulgarian media, even for those with opposition leanings, and for the self-proclaimed “fighters against the Mafia” among the politicians who were, and some are remaining, in a coalition with one of the main beneficiaries from this model.
The second reason for the dirty smear campaign is our investigations in First Investment Bank (FIB or FIBANK) being an accomplice in the theft of 20 million euro from the food for the poor in Romania. The scheme was proven by the Romanian prosecutors (see here). Bivol sought and interviewed the dummy used by the bank and the clan of “The Killers” to commit the theft (see here), and found the Cypriot proxy, who has opened the accounts through which the stolen money passed. OLAF has been informed and is investigating the case (see here).
Besides being under fire in a media war, our reporters are subjected to physical pressure and threats (see here and here). Their mission at this point is extremely important because FIB is now the new CCB – a crucial financial donor to Peevski in which funds from the budget, and not only, are being pumped. Other dodgers emerged as waiting in line to steal EU funds as well. The notorious in the recent past Mario Nikolov is also drawing on the taxpayers’ financial resources poured in FIB in order to organize yet another one of his stings (see here).
We decided not to recap the scandal #Yaneva Gate for now, as the topic will see new developments in 2016. It suffices to say that the publications of the “bad apples” revelations shed light on all open and hidden guardians of the mafia establishment.
Unfortunately, the best we can wish for ourselves in 2016 is not constructive, but destructive – the model #WHO and the Mafia that are holding hostage our State and the future of our children must be destroyed. However, this will not happen with empty wishes for health, happiness and good luck. Action is need.
Let’s raise glasses, dear readers, to combat. To the victory! After it, we will start building!
To yours and ours full, final and inevitable victory in 2016!
PS Bivol’s year in numbers:
In 2015 Bivol published 295 articles.
Bivol maintains a regular English edition with translations of all articles in the language of Shakespeare.
Fans of our Facebook page exceeded 140 000 people.
Donations, which are our primary source of financing, exceeded 23 000 levs
This post is also available in: Bulgarian