Who Is the Bulgarian Accomplice in Arms Manufacturer’s Poisoning?

Atanas Tchobanov

“It is important to clarify the forgery contained in official correspondence by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Bulgaria, part of which is diplomatic note KO 194-45-1/April 30, 2015 and other documents coinciding with the dates surrounding the crime.” The arms manufacturing company Emco of businessman Emiliyan Gebrev made this announcement after the Prosecutor’s Office accused three unnamed Russians of trying to kill Gebrev in 2015.

The Bellingcat investigative site published the document in question in its large-scale investigation that revealed the presence of Russian military intelligence officers from GRU in Bulgaria and their alleged link to the poisoning of Gebrev and people from his closest circle with the Novichok substance.

The note cites arms trading companies Transmobile and Alguns as the actual Bulgarian exporters. The latter clarification is important because, according to Bellingcat, the document initially included Emco’s name. It had been subsequently replaced with the names of the two companies, as they had been the real exporters. The date of the diplomatic note coincides with the time of the first attack on Gebrev.

Bellingcat does not provide documentary confirmation of the forgery and details of what it had been exactly but stresses that “it is unlikely that there is a direct causal relationship” between the note and the attack as the GRU officers began to logistically organize their trip months earlier and had booked hotels and planned flights.
However, Emco now claims that they have “good reason” to believe that the trail leads precisely to probable motives and accomplices, revolving specifically around this note.

If there had been forgery to frame Emco, the Prosecutor’s Office should easily prove it by examining documents preceding the note from April 30, 2015, available in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Letters of application and approvals must accompany any permit for a plane flight to carry arms from another country. These files cannot be switched or tampered with.

Genuine or phony arms supplier companies that collide with Emco are also of key importance. Bivol investigated the ownership of Transmobile and Alguns. These companies are associated with not so random people who are close to the government and to notorious organized crime figures.

Alguns – “making a killing” by a partner of the Baron

The note from April 30, 2015 is actually part of official correspondence between Azerbaijan and Bulgaria for the supply of weapons purchased by the Pentagon for the moderate rebels in Syria. The program, called” Train and Equip”, was initially worth USD 500 million, but has since grown to USD 1.2 billion. A series of investigations in 2016 by the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) titled “Making a Killing” showed that Bulgaria’s participation in this program had been crucial, with the Bulgarian arms-industrial complex winning bids in the amount of hundreds of millions.

US brokerage companies had negotiated with Bulgarian companies to purchase weapons paid for by the Pentagon. Among them is the company Alguns, listed in the cited by Emco Foreign Ministry’s note. An investigation by Buzzfeed’s Aram Roston proved that Alguns belongs to Alexander Dimitrov, a former partner of the infamous gangster Boyan “The Baron” Petrakiev.

In an interview for Buzzfeed in Sofia in 2015, Petrakiev, himself, said that “he introduced Dimitrov to “powerful people” and that it was his connections that helped Dimitrov grow into the success he is today. Before he helped him, he boasted, Dimitrov “was nothing.”

However, Alguns supplies not only newly produced Bulgarian weapons but also buys and sells Soviet-made weapons and ammunition from third countries such as Albania. Francis Norwillo, a US Navy veteran and an expert armorer died in 2015 while firing an old 1984-grenade at a rented arms range near the village of Anevo in southern Bulgaria.

The Transmobile and Alguns delivery from the Foreign Ministry note from April 2015 had been for the Ministry of Defense of Azerbaijan. The Caspian country is used as a facilitator for the subsequent transfer of arms to Syria. There is no information what the contents of the shipment had been.

Transmobile – the owner of TV Evropa and Peervski’s frontman

A check by Bivol shows that Transmobile is currently co-owned by Dobrin Ivanov (with a majority stake of 4,500 shares) and Plamen Simeonov, a former director at Gebrev’s manufacturing company and factory Dunarit (with 500 shares). The two have been co-owners since 2012, while the Georgian national Levan Alyokhin and Ivanov’s company DP EOOD, have previously owned it.

Since 2017, Dobrin Ivanov, through DP and in his personal capacity, is the owner of the Bulgarian TV channel TV Evropa, dubbed in Bulgaria “the TV and mouthpiece of the ruling party”(Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria, GERB). Its previous owner was GERB MEP Emil Stoyanov, brother of former Bulgarian President Petar Stoyanov.

A curious coincidence is the unsuccessful attempt in 2009 by the Austrian company Stevia Communications, represented by Karl von Habsburg-Löttingen and Hristo Grozev, to acquire a share in TV Evropa. Grozen is a co-author in the Bellingcat’s investigation into Gebrev’s poisoning.

Moreover, DP is also known for is coordinated “raider” effort and attack, together with the Viafot offshore, to take away from Gebrev the ownership of the arms factory Dunarit. After the break-up in 2014 between controversial Bulgarian lawmaker and media mogul Delyan Peevski and banker Tsvetan Vassilev, followed by the collapse of Vassilev’s Corporate Commercial Bank (CCB), Dunarit remained under the influence of the banker. Meanwhile, the circles around Peevski have been trying for years with the help of institutions to get hold of this valuable asset.

As Bivol’s investigation based on the “Panama Papers” showed, Delyan Peevski’s lawyer, Sasho Angelov is Viafot’s owner. Angelov is the son of an ex high-ranking officer of the State Security (the Communist regime’s secret services – “Darzhavna Sigurnost” or DS, also known as the “Bulgarian KGB”) Paraskev Paraskevov. Paraskevov is representing Peevski in the United States after Vassilev, the former CCB majority shareholder, filed a complaint with the US Department of Justice, seeking protection under the “Global Magnitsky Act“.

In the past, Paraskevov had been close to the SIK/Intergroup group, an alleged powerful organized crime group in the 1990s. Current Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov has also been associated with this group in the past.

Paraskevov, a former Socialist-nominated Deputy Interior Minister, is now a key figure in the narrow circle of former State Security officers considered to be at the core of what is known as the “backstage rule in Bulgaria”. This refers to the shadowy parallel authority in the country, which by taking control of the judicial system, the media and strategic assets, works for business and political interests in line with the Kremlin’s one’s.

Stepping on political and backstage pillars, Dobrin Ivanov’s arms business is doing well. According to Capital weekly, it had a turnover of 100 million in 2017. In 2019, Dobrin Ivanov acquired yet another arms trading company, Transmarmory. His partner in the latter is Stancho Petkov, a former director of the state-owned arms holding Terem.

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