As an organized crime group, TIM is involved in a wide range of criminal activities, including extortion and racketeering, intimidation, prostitution, gambling, narcotics trafficking, car theft, and trafficking in stolen automobiles. TIM’s home base of Varna has a large Russian population, and TIM is thought to have connections to Russian organized crime, including the notorious Russian crime figure, MICHAEL CHORNY (see RUSSIAN INFLUENCE). Tihomir Mitev oversees TIM’s industrial operations. His older brother, Marin, controls TIM’s core business interests in Varna and the surrounding region, while Ivo Georgiev oversees TIM’s Sofia operations and the group’s financial interests. Other notable members of the group include MIROSLAV PETROV NESTOROV (Bulgarian citizen born 12 March 1964), who is in charge of the group’s strategic planning and also is director of TIM’s large service sector subsidiary MUSTANG HOLDINGS; YORDAN DIMITROV YORDANOV (Bulgarian citizen born 24 November 1974), who oversees most of TIM’s media interests and also sits on Mustang’s board; and Nikolai Bozhidarov Nikolov (Bulgarian citizen born 28 August 1949), Mustang’s CEO and husband of Varna’s chief architect and city planner.
The cable, dispatched by Ambassador James Pardew on 7 July 2007, is classified CONFIDENTIAL and is posted online here.
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 09 SOFIA 001207
HOMELAND SECURITY PLEASE PASS TO SECRET SERVICE
E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/07/2015
TAGS: PINR KCRM PGOV EINV ECON KCOR BUSUBJECT: (U) BULGARIAN ORGANIZED CRIME (C-CN5-00054)
REF: A. A. STATE 99125 B. B. SOFIA 1046
Classified By: AMBASSADOR JAMES PARDEW, FOR REASON 1.4(C).
¶1. (U) This cable is in response to ref A request for information about organized crime in Bulgaria and the Balkans. Where direct sources are not cited, connections are largely based on information from operational contacts and open-source publications.
OVERVIEW AND ACTIVITIES
———————–¶2. (SBU) The strength and immunity from the law of organized crime (OC) groups is arguably the most serious problem in Bulgaria today. OC activities underlie corruption and the ineffectiveness of the legal system in Bulgaria, and inhibit the country’s economic development. Bulgarian OC is particularly involved in international money laundering, drug trafficking, and counterfeiting. OC groups range from local street thugs involved in extortion to sophisticated international narcotic dealers and money launderers. An estimated 118 organized crime groups were operating in Bulgaria at the end of 2004, according to the National Service for Combating Organized Crime (NSBOP) of the Bulgarian Ministry of Interior (MoI), though many of these groups are relatively small and the landscape is dominated by a handful of big players. Organized crime continues to be pervasive in many spheres of Bulgarian life, despite domestic and international efforts to combat it. To date, not a single major OC figure has been punished by the Bulgarian legal system, despite an on-going series of OC-related assassinations. U.S. law enforcement agencies with offices in Sofia are supporting the effort to reduce OC in Bulgaria. The Fraud Prevention Unit in Embassy Sofia’s Consular Section maintains a list of known and suspected major organized crime figures, and Embassy Sofia has an aggressive policy of preventing OC figures from traveling to the United States.
¶3. (SBU) OC groups are known to be involved in narcotics trafficking, prostitution, extortion and racketeering, various financial crimes, car theft, and trafficking in stolen automobiles. Human trafficking for sexual exploitation, counterfeiting, and debit and credit card fraud also are some of the most common criminal activities engaged in by Bulgarian organized crime. Crime groups involved in human trafficking are extremely mobile, and victims are often sold or traded amongst various groups. Many groups use a host of legitimate businesses domestically and abroad to launder the proceeds of their illegal activities. Several well-known businessmen linked to organized crime have parlayed their wealth into ownership of sports teams, property developments, and financial institutions. (An organized crime activity that received special attention due to its growth in 2004 was VAT (value-added tax) fraud. The Ministry of Finance estimated that VAT fraud cost the Bulgarian treasury over $700 million in losses annually.)
¶4. (SBU) Counterfeit currency — both U.S. dollar and, increasingly, Euro banknotes — is produced in Bulgaria and distributed primarily in France, Greece, Italy, and Spain by small groups of Bulgarians who return to Bulgaria immediately after making delivery. While there is thought to be cooperation between Bulgarian groups and other international organized crime groups, the couriers, middlemen and distributors are predominantly Bulgarian. The quality of counterfeit currency is continuously improving due to increasingly sophisticated printing facilities and the involvement of professional individuals with considerable printing skills. A June 2005 raid in northeast Bulgaria — part of a joint operation between Bulgarian law enforcement and the U.S. Secret Service — netted more than $3 million in high-quality counterfeit $100 banknotes (ref B). This was the second largest counterfeit seizure in European history.
¶5. (C) U.S.-based investigations of transnational crime groups have dismantled significant drug trafficking organizations run by Bulgarian nationals in Los Angeles and Tampa. These groups imported multi-kilo quantities of cocaine and multi-thousand doses of ecstasy into the United States. They had drug connections through Amsterdam and some financial backing of an Israeli national. While most members of these groups were convicted and imprisoned in the U.S., three who were charged in California and Florida are still wanted international fugitives who may have returned to Bulgaria to exploit the country’s current policy of not extraditing its citizens. The three fugitives are IVAYLO ANGELOV PETKOV (Bulgarian citizen born 18 May 1965), IVAN DOBREV (Bulgarian citizen born 25 May 1959), and STEFAN TZVETANOV STOYANOV (Bulgarian citizen born 9 January 1966).
¶6. (SBU) Other investigations in the U.S. have identified Bulgarian nationals manufacturing and selling false identity documents for use in organized bank fraud, mortgage fraud, credit card fraud, and alien smuggling.
WHO’S WHO IN BULGARIAN ORGANIZED CRIME
————————————–¶7. (C) Since the fall of Communism in 1989 and the turbulent 1990s, Bulgaria’s organized crime scene has undergone major changes, much like the rest of Bulgaria’s economic, political, and social landscape. Once the doyen of Bulgarian organized crime, MULTIGRUP’s (MG) prominence has dramatically declined following the assassination of its leader, Iliya Pavlov in 2003. MG has actively tried to transform some activities into a legitimate business group focused on managing the vast assets it acquired during its heyday. The group hired a U.S. lobbyist to focus on legitimate enterprises and to improve MG’s image. Former Multigrup operatives went on to found Bulgaria’s two other major organized crime groupings, VIS and SIC. Both have since disbanded, but their remnants are still actively involved in organized criminal activity. However, the presence and clout of their remnants/successors appears to be in decline as members continually switch allegiances between groupings, depending on their personal economic interests.
The up-and-coming star of Bulgarian organized crime, the Varna-based TIM group, is increasingly resembling MULTIGRUP in its successful efforts to permeate as many legal and illegal sectors as possible; currently, TIM and its subsidiary business empire is one of the largest and most serious economic concerns in Bulgaria.
¶A. (C) TIM — The New Leader in Bulgarian OC Founded in Varna in 1993, TIM is thought to have been set up by about ten former marines who had been part of an elite military unit before it was disbanded in the early 1990s. TIM has filled the vacuum created by MG’s decline following Iliya Pavlov’s killing in 2003. The name of the grouping is thought to be derived from the first initials of its three main figures: TIHOMIR IVANOV MITEV (Bulgarian citizen born 10 October 1958), IVO KAMENOV GEORGIEV (Bulgarian citizen born 22 September 1969), and MARIN VELIKOV MITEV (Bulgarian citizen born 5 October 1957). It is believed that 12 people control all of TIM’s companies — which in 2003 were estimated to number over 150 and include over 10,000 employees — with each of the 12 holding fixed shares in the assets and running separate sectors of the group’s business empire. Despite trying to portray itself as a purely legitimate business grouping, TIM remains very secretive about its corporate structure and ownership, and its companies and divisions are entangled in a complex set of relationships. As an organized crime group, TIM is involved in a wide range of criminal activities, including extortion and racketeering, intimidation, prostitution, gambling, narcotics trafficking, car theft, and trafficking in stolen automobiles. TIM’s home base of Varna has a large Russian population, and TIM is thought to have connections to Russian organized crime, including the notorious Russian crime figure, MICHAEL CHORNY (see RUSSIAN INFLUENCE). Tihomir Mitev oversees TIM’s industrial operations. His older brother, Marin, controls TIM’s core business interests in Varna and the surrounding region, while Ivo Georgiev oversees TIM’s Sofia operations and the group’s financial interests. Other notable members of the group include MIROSLAV PETROV NESTOROV (Bulgarian citizen born 12 March 1964), who is in charge of the group’s strategic planning and also is director of TIM’s large service sector subsidiary MUSTANG HOLDINGS; YORDAN DIMITROV YORDANOV (Bulgarian citizen born 24 November 1974), who oversees most of TIM’s media interests and also sits on Mustang’s board; and Nikolai Bozhidarov Nikolov (Bulgarian citizen born 28 August 1949), Mustang’s CEO and husband of Varna’s chief architect and city planner. TIM’s initial activities involved collecting bad debts — a line of business that has contributed to the group’s negative public image but which still remains one of its main activities — and providing security services in the Varna region. In the mid-1990s, the group branched out to agriculture and foodstuffs, and its current interests include grain storage and poultry farming, as well as the SUHINDOL winery (through the SEVERCO-GAMZA company), which predominantly produces red wines for both domestic consumption and export. In Varna, TIM’s presence is seen and felt everywhere. Its media interests include M-SAT television (a Varna-based broadcaster available nationally by cable and satellite), five other cable television stations, two cable television operators, Alpha Radio (also available nationally), “Cherno More” newspaper (the largest circulation newspaper in Varna and its surrounding region), and the advertising agency servicing these media interests. TIM also owns a chain of restaurants, cinemas, video rental shops, sports clubs, Internet gaming clubs, and bingo halls. The recently-launched, large-scale ALLEY ONE project plans to build seven hotels, 500 eating and entertainment facilities, and 300 shops on a 250-acre tract on the Black Sea coast near Varna. TIM controls some of the largest quarries of inert materials in Bulgaria, and through its trading company, CHIMIMPORT, it also has a significant share of the production and trade in fertilizers, petroleum products, and chemicals. TIM’s takeover of CENTRAL COOPERATIVE BANK (CCB), the group’s largest acquisition to date, was facilitated through Chimimport. After acquiring CCB, TIM continued to expand its financial sector operations by acquiring specialized financial service companies, including the insurance company ARMEETS. Again going through Chimimport, in 2002, TIM acquired a majority stake in Newton Financial Management BG, owner of the Bulgarian pension insurance company SILA. Newton Financial Management BG has since been renamed CCB GROUP ASSETS MANAGEMENT. TIM has used its substantial financial sector presence to offer one-stop shopping of combined banking, insurance, and pension services. In 2003, Chimimport bought 49 percent of Bulgaria’s second-largest air carrier, HEMUS AIR, later taking over 100 percent ownership of Hemus. In 2004, Chimimport also acquired 100 percent of a smaller airline, VIAGGIO; the takeover was approved by Viaggio’s largest shareholder, TODOR BATKOV (see RUSSIAN INFLUENCE), Michael Chorny’s lawyer and personal representative. With its combined interests in Hemus and Viaggio, TIM is thought to have its sights set on Bulgaria’s soon-to-be-privatized flag carrier, BULGARIA AIR.
¶B. (C) VAI HOLDINGS (formerly VIS and VIS 2) Founded in 1991 by a former wrestler, Vasil Iliev, the group’s initial name, VIS, was an acronym for Vasil Iliev Security. After the group’s license to carry out security services was revoked, the group was renamed VIS 2. In 1994, Iliev set up the IMPERIAL brokerage company in Vratsa. In 1995, Iliev was shot dead, and his younger brother, GEORGI ANDREEV ILIEV (Bulgarian citizen born 22 July 1966, also known as “JORO”), took over the leadership of VIS 2, which has since been renamed VAI HOLDINGS. While “Joro” Iliev is the recognized leader of VAI, his lieutenant, NIKOLAI MIRCHOV TSVETIN (Bulgarian citizen born 27 February 1965, also known as “THE TWIN” and “KOKO”), is thought to be in charge of most of the group’s companies and activities. Other high-ranking members of VAI include ANTON BOYANOV and PLAMEN VASILEV TIMEV (Bulgarian citizen born 2 March 1952, also known as “GANDI”). In November 2003, another high-ranking member of VAI, METODI ZLATANOV METODIEV (Bulgarian citizen born 12 October 1965, also known as “METO ILIYANSKI”), disappeared; while police believe he was kidnapped and possibly killed, it is also possible he is in hiding. Before he was shot dead in Amsterdam in December 2003, KONSTANTIN DIMITROV (Bulgarian citizen born 21 November 1970, also known as “SAMOKOVETSA”) was one of the biggest smugglers in Bulgaria and the country’s top drug lord. Georgi Iliev, a relative of Dimitrov’s, was also his best man. After Dimitrov’s murder, VAI retained control of the drug market through ANTON PETROV MILTENOV (Bulgarian citizen born 28 October 1973, also known as “THE BEAK”), who is thought to have inherited Dimitrov’s smuggling and drugs operations. Another of Georgi Iliev’s close friends, DIMITAR ILIEV DZHAMOV (Bulgarian citizen born 15 July 1960), is involved in local drug dealing in central and southern Bulgaria. Dzhamov, an importer of Russian natural gas, is also thought to be involved in money laundering and to have ties to Turkish organized crime through the Turkish businessman YAMAN HAKI NAMLY. A former wrestler, Dzhamov started out in organized crime as the driver of the late ILIYA PAVLOV (see MULTIGRUP). As the largest player in the drugs market, VAI controls trafficking routes, production facilities, and distribution networks. The group is also involved in trafficking stolen automobiles from Western Europe to the former Soviet Union. Its other criminal activities include extortion and racketeering, illegal arms trading, gambling, prostitution, and smuggling.
VAI has extensive business interests in tourism, finance, entertainment, and manufacturing. It controls JUPITER insurance company, as well as SUNNY BEACH, one of Bulgaria’s largest resorts on the Black Sea coast north of Burgas. The group also owns a number of local soccer teams, and the XGROUND MODELING AGENCY is controlled by VAI through Georgi Iliev’s wife, MARIA DELCHEVA ILIEVA (Bulgarian citizen born 25 May 1973, also known as MARIA DELCHEVA PENELOVA).
¶C. (C) INTERGROUP (formerly SIC) KRASIMIR ANDREEV MARINOV (Bulgarian citizen born 6 May 1964, also known as “THE BIG MARGIN”), the group’s current president and another former wrestler, founded SIC (and later INTERGROUP) with MLADEN MIHALEV (Bulgarian citizen born 13 October 1964, also known as “MADJO”), also a former wrestler, and RUMEN GOTZOV NIKOLOV (Bulgarian citizen born 26 May 1962, also known as “THE PASHA”). Nikolov is also connected to the UNION OF FORMER COMMANDOS (see below). The reported mastermind behind the group’s operations is VENTSISLAV DIMITROV STEFANOV (Bulgarian citizen born 28 November 1949). In April 2004, his son, DIMITAR VENTSISLAVOV DIMITROV (Bulgarian citizen born 15 September 1980) was kidnapped and has not been recovered. 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. The group’s narcotics interests are handled mostly through its connections with IVAN TODOROV (see AMIGOS), who is thought to be one of the largest drug traffickers in the Balkans. KIRIL SOTIROV KIROV (Bulgarian citizen born 10 December 1953, also known as “THE JAPANESE”), known as the Roma drug baron, is connected to INTERGROUP and is also closely connected to IVAN TODOROV (see AMIGOS). Kirov, who is also involved in human trafficking and alien smuggling, barely survived a second assassination attempt in April 2005. Intergroup’s legal business interests range from sport teams (SLAVIA) to banking (FIRST EAST INTERNATIONAL BANK) and insurance to petroleum and metals trading to construction and real estate (SOFISKI IMOTI) to modeling (VISAGES). Ventsislav is the manager of the Slavia soccer team in Sofia. GEORGI LIALEV also serves on Slavia’s managing board. Lialev’s father, Traian Lialev, is Dean of the Law Faculty of Southwestern University in Blagoevgrad; through Lialev, Rumen Nikolov and Mladen Mihalev received law degrees. Georgi Lialev is also a business partner with RUMEN GAITANSKI (Bulgarian citizen, also known as “THE WOLF”), whose company, WOLF 96, also has connections with Intergroup. The Visages modeling agency was founded in 1994 by EVGENIYA GEORGIEVA KALKANDZHIEVA (Bulgarian citizen born 20 February 1975); she is believed to have close ties to Krasimir Marinov. The group’s insurance company, BUL INS, is the largest insurer in Bulgaria. One area where the group’s legal and illegal activities coalesced is in car theft and automobile insurance. Automobiles insured by Bul Ins display special identity stickers meant to protect them from being stolen; cars not insured by Bul Ins are considered fair game. Intergroup also controls UNION INSURANCE.
¶D. (C) MULTIGRUP (also known as Multigroup and MG) MG’s founder and president, ILIYA PAVLOV (Bulgarian-born, naturalized American citizen born 6 August 1960) was shot dead in Sofia on 7 March 2003. Once the largest organized crime group in Bulgaria, Pavlov started to move MG into legitimate businesses, comprised of hundreds of subsidiary companies with interests in natural resources and mining, finance, tourism, manufacturing, and food commodities. In 2001, Pavlov and his deputy, BOYANA GEORGIEVA POPOVA (Bulgarian citizen born 17 October 1960) established MG ASSET MANAGEMENT COMPANY (MG AM) to take over all of MG’s assets and adopt a legitimate, internationally-acceptable management structure. MG AM’s parent company, MG VENTURES (registered and headquartered in Delaware) was owned in equal parts by Pavlov and Popova. Following Pavlov’s murder, Popova became the group’s CEO and Pavlov’s 50 percent stake in MG Ventures was transferred to his widow, DARINA PAVLOVA (Bulgarian-born, naturalized American citizen), and children through the Pavlovi Trust. Pavlov’s father, PAVEL NAYDENOV (Bulgarian citizen born 16 June 1936), was once very active in MG’s management. However, following his son’s death and subsequent disputes with Popova and Pavlova, Naydenov resigned from his positions in MG and set up his own holding company, KREPOST 2002. In 2004, Popova announced that MG would start selling a large number of its assets in order to focus primarily on investment projects and tourism. There were also reports that Popova preferred to re-direct the group’s efforts from the Balkans to U.S.-based activities. While MG’s activities in the Balkans have significantly declined, one of its highest profile subsidiaries remains BALKANTOURIST, the largest tour operator in Bulgaria, catering especially to tourists from Western Europe. DIMITAR HRISTOV IVANOV (Bulgarian citizen born 19 April 1951) was the president of MG’s first subsidiary (MULTIART) in the early 1990s before becoming a vice president of MG under Pavlov. Since leaving MG, Ivanov is now the director of EVROPA HOLDINGS. Another former MG employee, SASHO GEORGIEV DONCHEV (Bulgarian citizen born 7 September 1953), is the executive director of OVERGAS (also known as OVERGAZ). Overgas was established in 1992 as a joint venture between MG and the Russian state-owned GAZPROM; the company quickly became the largest private importer and provider of natural gas in Bulgaria. Overgas is also involved in constructing and managing gas pipelines and other infrastructure. The company has links to VAI HOLDINGS through JUPITER INSURANCE, of which Overgas has a 35 percent stake; Jupiter’s activities include insurance for financial risk, cargo, and gas pipelines. YURI VYAKHIREV, the son of a former Gazprom director, REM VYAKHIREV, is a close associate of Donchev and also a partner in Overgas.
¶E. (C) UNION OF FORMER COMMANDOS (also known as SPARTAK) ALEXEI ILIEV PETROV (Bulgarian citizen born 23 April 1962) is a former officer in the elite special unit for combating terrorism. He and his grouping of former military commandos (also known as “berets”) are most actively involved in the insurance sector through LEVSKI SPARTAK INSURANCE (previously known as “APOLLO & BOLKAN” and “SPARTAK”). Petrov also owns the largest taxi company in Sofia, TAXI S EXPRESS, which has more than 3500 cars. It is believed that Petrov’s involvement in Taxi S Express, Levski Spartak, and other companies bearing the Spartak name have been disguised as Israeli investment; Petrov is closely linked to former Israeli ambassador to Sofia, DAVID KOEN. Another member of the group, ZLATOMIR IVANOV (Bulgarian citizen, also known as “THE BERET”) was a former director of APOLLO & BOLKAN and is currently director of ARKUS SECURITY. Ivanov oversees the group’s smuggling, extortion, and racketeering activities, among other illegal activities. The group is thought to have the largest share in Sofia’s escort and intimate services businesses, which are used as fronts for prostitution and trafficking in women for sexual exploitation.
¶F. (C) NOVE HOLDINGS VASIL KRUMOV BOZHKOV (Bulgarian citizen born 29 July 1956, also known as “THE SKULL”) founded his first company in 1990, before expanding to his current business empire, NOVE HOLDINGS, comprising over 30 companies and numerous subsidiaries. NOVE’s primary legal business interests include gambling (bingo halls, casinos, and the popular EUROFOOTBALL lottery) and duty free shops. Bozhkov also owns the CSKA soccer team in Sofia and the J MODELS modeling agency. He is also believed to control RISK ENGINEERING, which was originally part of the MG empire. Bozhkov’s numerous media connections include TOSHO TOSHEV (chief editor and managing director of TRUD, the largest-circulation daily newspaper in Bulgaria), KEVORK KEVORKIAN (popular television show host on state-owned BNT), and RADOSVET RADEV (owner of DARIK RADIO). In 2002, NOVE sold the majority share of Eurofootball lottery to the Greek billionaire SOKRATIS KOKALIS, reducing the holding’s share to 49 percent. Bozhkov publicly thanked prominent businessman SPAS RUSEV for facilitating the deal. Rusev is closely linked to the NMSS; as a close friend and personal advisor of Prime Minister Simeon Saxe-Coburg Gotha, Rusev is credited with putting together the NMSS economic team, including Milen Velchev (Finance Minister) and Nikolai Vassilev (Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Transportation). NOVE’s casinos include the LONDON CASINO at the Radisson SAS Hotel in Sofia and the RILA CASINO at the Rila Hotel, also in Sofia. Bozhkov is thought to control the Rila Hotel, both through IRENA MARINOVA (director of the hotel’s owner, RIEL 99, and board member of the hotel’s management company), and through ANTONI NAUMOV (director of the hotel’s management company). Marinova is also a shareholder in BUL INS (see INTERGROUP), along with Bozhkov (through NOVE). Naumov and Bozhkov are partners in several companies, including CSKA basketball team. Bozhkov has used his influence to block the transfer of the approximately 49 percent of the Rila Hotel, subject of long-running property restitution case, claimed by Bulgaria’s Jewish community. Bozhkov’s illegal activities include money laundering, privatization fraud, intimidation, and extortion and racketeering. Bozhkov is also connected to INTERGROUP (through the company IGM, which he owns jointly with MLADEN MIHALEV, and NOVE’s shares in BUL INS) and to IVAN TODOROV (see INTERGROUP and AMIGOS).
¶G. (C) DZI (formerly Rosexim Bank) EMIL ALEXANDROV KYULEV (Bulgarian citizen born 5 June 1957) made his fortune through Tourist Sports Bank (also known as TS Bank), which went bankrupt under his leadership. In 1995, SIPDIS he founded the BULGARIAN-RUSSIAN INVESTMENT BANK (also known as BRI BANK), and, after leaving BRI Bank in 1997, Kyulev joined the board of directors of BULSTRAD INSURANCE. In 1998, Kyulev bought the Plovdiv-based Trakia Bank, which he re-registered as ROSEXIM BANK. Rosexim Bank’s largest client is the Bulgarian government, which channels all tax, customs, and excise payments through the bank. The bank also provides financial services to Russia’s LUKOIL and MOBILTEL (the largest mobile telephone operator in Bulgaria, also known as MTEL). In addition to Kyulev’s connections to MICHAEL CHORNY (see RUSSIAN INFLUENCE) through MTEL, TODOR BATKOV (Michael Chorny’s lawyer and personal representative), served on Rosexim Bank’s board of directors until 2003. In 2004, Rosexim Bank was renamed DZI BANK, finalizing the merger between Rosexim Bank and DZI, the former state-owned insurance company, which Kyulev acquired in 2002. Kyulev’s criminal activities include fraud and money laundering. Kyulev has recently employed a U.S. lobby group and public relations agency to clean up and manage his image. As part of his campaign to gain credibility and legitimacy, he has also recently established the DZI Foundation to combat human trafficking; Kyulev is suspected of using the foundation as a channel to launder money.
¶H. (C) LITEX COMMERCE Again a former wrestler and current member of the Bulgarian Wrestling Federation, GRISHNA DANAELOV GANCHEV (Bulgarian citizen born 10 December 1962) owns a chain of gas stations and is one of the top three petroleum importers in Bulgaria. His company, LITEX COMMERCE, also owns the QUEEN brand of fruit juices. Ganchev was one of the first organized crime leaders to use a sports team to launder money, through the LITEX soccer team in Lovech. Litex also owns the Lovech-based VINAL winery, which produces wine for domestic consumption and export to Europe, as well as vodka for export. Litex’s illegal activities include petroleum smuggling, financial fraud and money laundering, and extortion and racketeering.
¶I. (C) MIG GROUP (also known as COOL PASS) The MIG GROUP, headed by SLAVCHO PENCHEV BINEV (Bulgarian citizen born 10 December 1965, also known as “SLAVY”), owns more than 30 nightclubs, bars, and restaurants in Sofia, including the popular nightclubs BIAD, DALI, and BIBLIOTEKA. GEORGI STOYANOV (Bulgarian citizen) and MIHAIL STEFANOV (Bulgarian citizen) are “Slavy” Binev’s two deputies. The group’s business interests also include construction and tourism; it operates a travel agency as part of its COOL PLACE entertainment complex. The group’s criminal activities include prostitution, narcotics, and trafficking stolen automobiles.
¶J. (C) AMIGOS IVAN TODOROV (Bulgarian citizen born 27 December 1964, also known as “THE DOCTOR”) is no longer part of Amigos but still maintains close ties to group, especially for money laundering and other financial services. PETAR HRISTOV PETROV (Bulgarian citizen born 15 September 1969), a cousin of MLADEN MIHALEV (see INTERGROUP), is a close associate of Todorov, and is also actively involved in money laundering and other financial crimes.
¶K. (C) VUZRAZHDANE BUSINESS CLUB VUZRAZHDANE Business Club was founded in 2001 jointly by VASIL BOZHKOV (see NOVE HOLDINGS), EMIL KYULEV (see DZI), ILIYA PAVLOV (see MULTIGRUP), BORISLAV DIONISIEV, DOBROMIR GUSHTEROV, PETIO BLASKEV (owner of the weekly newspaper 168 HOURS), TOSHO TOSHEV (chief editor and managing director of TRUD, the largest-circulation daily newspaper in Bulgaria), and RADOSVET RADEV (owner of DARIK RADIO). With Pavlov’s death in 2003, and the departure of Gushterov and Dionosiev in 2004, the business club does not maintain the same importance it once did, but it still serves as a forum for cooperation between a number of economic interests. Gushterov, the owner of OREL G insurance company, and Dionisiev left the club in 2004 when Gushterov and PETAR MANDJUKOV founded a rival club of entrepreneurs, also called Vuzrazhdane. Mandjukov, an arms trader, owns PM GROUP, the parent company of INFOMEDIA, PM PRESS (the publisher of the Socialist daily newspaper DUMA), and BALKAN BULGARIAN TELEVISION (BBT). MACHINEXPORT, a company owned by Mandjukov and Dionisiev, was named in the Duelfer Report for its connections to Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq.
¶L. (C) RUSSIAN INFLUENCE Russia continues to exercise significant influence over the Bulgarian economy through energy imports, including crude oil, natural gas and nuclear fuel. When Bulgaria’s only retail gas distributor, PETROL AD, was privatized, it came under the control of Russian businessman DENIS ERSHOV. ERSHOV was banned from entering Bulgaria in August 2000, having been cited as a threat to the country’s national security; however the ban was lifted in 2004 on Ershov’s appeal. Ershov, once vice president of one of the biggest exporters of Russian crude oil, established the NAFTEX group in 1991, of which PETROL AD became a part. Ershov was a member of the NAFTEX BULGARIA HOLDING (now PETROL HOLDING), and is a member of the PETROL AD Supervisory Board. Despite the fact that he is no longer the owner of Bulgarian telephone operator MOBILTEL (MTEL), Russian mobster MICHAEL CHORNY is thought to retain influence over the company through his ties to members of Austrian Mobiltel Holding. Acquired from Chorny by Austrian Mobiltel Holding and Austrian Bank BAWAG in 2002, MTEL was sold in July 2004 in the largest-ever leveraged buy-out in Central and Eastern Europe. The takeover was engineered through the Bulgarian joint stock company BIDCO. BIDCO shares the same office building with Chorny’s lawyer, TODOR BATKOV, who is still a member of MTEL’s board. Batkov and other representatives of Chorny allegedly put pressure on the Bulgarian Government to delay the issuing of the third GSM license to BTC in July 2004. Indeed, the Supreme Administrative Court decided 15 July 15 2004 to postpone the launch of the BTC GSM license. The court decision suggests that Chorny is still in control of MTEL, as the judge presiding over the Supreme Administrative Court panel for the BTC case also revoked the Government’s decision banning Chorny from entering the country. In addition, Chorny has connections to EMIL KYULEV (see DZI) through his interests in DZI BANK (formerly Rosexim Bank), which is owned by Kyulev. Todor Batkov served on Rosexim’s board of directors until 2003. CHORNY has also maintained influence over a number of companies by transferring ownership to Batkov. These entities include the LEVSKI football team, STANDARDT newspaper, and BANKYA PALACE hotel. LUKOIL’s representative in Bulgaria is VALENTIN ZLATEV. The Russian petroleum company is estimated to be the largest corporate taxpayer in Bulgaria. It also controls Russian oil exports to Bulgaria. Lukoil’s Bulgarian operations, through Zlatev, are suspected of strong ties to Russian intelligence and organized crime.
¶M. (C) AKB CORPORATION. The AKB CORPORATION, headed by NIKOLAI YORDANOV BANEV (Bulgarian citizen born 16 August 1959), was involved mainly in privatizing state-owned industries. Its primary illegal activities include privatization fraud and corruption.
POLITICS: THE NEXUS WITH ORGANIZED CRIME
—————————————-¶8. (C) Organized crime has a corrupting influence on all Bulgarian institutions, including the government, parliament and judiciary. In an attempt to maintain their influence regardless of who is in power, OC figures donate to all the major political parties. As these figures have expanded into legitimate businesses, they have attempted — with some success — to buy their way into the corridors of power. During the 2001 general elections, a number of influential “businessmen,” including VASIL BOZHKOV and EMIL KYULEV, heavily financed and otherwise supported the NMSS campaign. At the beginning of his term in office in 2001, Prime Minister Simeon Saxe-Coburg Gotha held a high-profile meeting with members of Vuzrazhdane in which he invited Iliya Pavlov, Vasil Bozhkov, et al, to become part of a “business consultative council” advising the government. Later that year, Kyulev helped finance the successful presidential campaign of BSP leader Georgi Purvanov.
¶9. (C) Ahmed Dogan, the leader of the government’s junior coalition partner, attended Iliya Pavlov’s funeral in 2003, making no attempt to conceal his close relationship with the slain Multigrup chairman. During the 2005 election campaign, business interests with connections to OC (including LUKOIL and Sasho Donchev’s OVERGAS), Bozhkov, Kyulev, and others spread their support and money across the political spectrum, focusing primarily on the NMSS and the BSP, in an effort to ensure that their interests were protected whatever the outcome of the vote.
¶10. (C) Below the level of the national government and the leadership of the major political parties, OC “owns” a number of municipalities and individual members of parliament. This direct participation in politics — as opposed to bribery — is a relatively new development for Bulgarian OC. DOBROMIR GUSHTEROV, a founding member of Vuzrazhdane a major BSP sponsor, won a seat in parliament on the BSP ticket this year. Gushterov’s was one of several “insurance” companies engaged in extortion and racketeering in the years immediately following the collapse of communism. At the municipal level, a by-election earlier this year in the town of Svilingrad, on the Bulgarian-Turkish border, resulted in the complete takeover of the municipal government by figures who have made little attempt to conceal their links to powerful smuggling interests. Similarly in the regional center of Velingrad, OC figures control the municipal council and the mayor’s office. Nearly identical scenarios have played out in half a dozen smaller towns and villages across Bulgaria.
——-¶11. (C) Despite continuing pressure from the U.S. and the EU, past Bulgarian governments have done little to reduce the presence of organized crime. As a result, OC has increased its influence and is able to operate with virtual impunity. The Bulgarian public recognizes OC’s corrupting influence, and people are clearly frustrated by the government’s inability or unwillingness to deal with the problem. We continue to provide technical assistance to reform-minded elements of the Bulgarian government and judiciary — and to speak out on the need to fight corruption and organized crime — but real political leverage on this issue lies with the EU. A delay in Bulgaria’s accession would be politically disastrous for the incoming government. If the EU uses this leverage to demand not only far-reaching judicial reform but effective implementation as well, there is reason to hope that the tide will slowly begin to turn against organized crime in the coming years.
Source: cable 05SOFIA1207