Bulgarian brand of surrealism: the helplessness of thieves

Vassilev and Gebrev’s crazy insinuations hit rock bottom

Tsvetan Vassilev

In the beginning was the greed

"The world has enough for everyone's needs, but not everyone's greed," Mahatma Gandhi famously said and his words could not be any more applicable to the Bulgarian reality.

What is more, this one sentence perfectly describes the whole depravity of the country’s so-called transition to democracy, a period stretching over 30 years and counting. The newly minted businessmen of its early days, who grew up during the socialist years and who, to the last man, were raised to believe in the communist ideas, in the aftermath if 10 November 1989 suddenly turned out to be capitalists (wolves in sheep’s clothing) and hurried to plunder what had been built by the Bulgarian people for decades. Factories, plants, companies, banks, public real estate, farm land, beaches, hotels and resorts – everything was taken, stripped of its flesh, sold.

While the figures in office changed, and the regular people could not afford food and heating with their severely reduced income and pensions, the former Komsomol members, who had quickly turned into privatisation investors, gobbled everything up with the blessing of both rightwing and leftwing politicians. They then turned their newfound riches into gaudy mansions, gold-plated furniture, endless feasts, luxury yachts and customised Mercedes vehicles. Some of the main characters in the transition period have survived to this day and are trying to preach from the pulpit of the media, whilst continuing to steal, and others fell victims to capitalism.

However, they all still have something in common – greed. They have always wanted everything for themselves and viewed the means to get it as a minor and insignificant detail. However, this is a detail, for which they have shown themselves capable of anything – cheating and lying to society, throwing unsubstantiated accusations against public institutions for doing their job and seeking justice, concocting all sorts of tales and crossing all boundaries of what is normal. 

 

Tsvetan Vassilev and Emiliyan Gebrev are two sides of the same (thieving) coin

The history of both is well-known and needs no detailed recounting. Vassilev acquired CorpBank in a murky way with the help of offshore companies during the cabinet of former Prime Minister Ivan Kostov, generated huge financial resources by attracting depositors with the bank’s offers of artificially high interest rates and eventually syphoned off the lender through over 200 shell companies controlled by him. Billions of levs sank into the scheme, while most of the assets bought with CorpBank depositors’ money that are not directly tied to the lender or pledged as collateral in its favour are still under the control of Tsvetan Vassilev and his puppets. Of course, the former banker is singing a completely different tune and his media cheerleaders and paid journalists have been trying to present him as a victim for the past five years. At the end of the day, the Deposit Insurance Fund, i.e. the entire Bulgarian people, was left to foot the bill, while Vassilev fled to Serbia and, from there, continued to wage his war against the Prosecutor’s Office, the Commission for Illegal Assets Forfeiture and the other public bodies. In this war, he uses the money stolen through the pyramid scheme to finance media outlets and journalists tasked with manipulating the public opinion in his favour. Meanwhile, Vassilev is keeping up his fraudulent schemes, for which he is currently being investigated by the prosecutors in Serbia as well.

Gebrev, also a product of the communist era, worked for a long time in the state-owned military company Kintex and then, with the blessing of former PM Andrey Lukanov, incorporated the firm Scirrio in Lichtenstein. Over the years, there have been many journalistic investigations into the protection provided to Gebrev by politicians, including former Union of Democratic Forces lawmaker Edvin Sugarev. Funds of the companies Arsenal, VMZ and Dunarit were kept in Scirrio accounts in Austrian and Swiss banks at the time. Later, Gebrev bought the companies in the privatisation process and also created his company EMKO, with which he is working to this day. The list of the scandals he has been involved in is quite long – the “Nicaraguan affair” involving 30 million AK-47 cartridges caught by the US customs officials, the “Macedonian scheme” in which three trucks were stopped because of lack of documents and found to carry mine-throwers and machine-guns, the blast in Gebrev’s ammunition storage facility near the village of Lovni Dol, etc.

Because of his shady arms deals and mainly because of the Nicaraguan fiasco, Gebrev’s licence for arms dealing was terminated at one point. Later, then-Minister of Defence Boyko Noev (part of the Ivan Kostov Cabinet) renewed his licence. The move gave rise to rumours that Gebrev bribed Noev with $400,000 for the favour, but an investigation into the case was never launched (however, remember the name Boyko Noev because he would return to the stage 17 years later as a major partner in Gebrev’s media campaigns with the fable that he is an expert “closely following the arms industry”). In 2017 it emerged that EMKO is once again on the US black list, making it the only Bulgarian arms company that the American companies are banned from trading with.

In 2016, Vassilev and Gebrev, who claim to not know each other despite sharing the same lawyer in Lazar Karadaliev and despite the fact that Boyko Noev was a frequent visitor of Vassilev before the collapse of CorpBank, suddenly joined forces to steal Dunarit from the state and thus sabotage the payment of nearly BGN 190m to defrauded CorpBank depositors. On one side of the coin was the fugitive banker Vassilev, and on the other – Gebrev, who took on the role of publicly posing as owner of Dunarit and, much like Vassilev, as a victim of the system. In reality, it all comes down to a lot of greed and piles of money. One can hardly expect anything different from people used to treating other people’s property as their own.             

 

Seizure of Dunarit

Tsvetan Vassilev got control over Dunarit as early as 2005, after one of his “safety fuse” firms, namely Dival 59, privatised the company (until then state-owned) for a ridiculous sum of BGN 2m. Later on, another company controlled by Vassilev, Kemira, became the owner.  

Before the CorpBank went bankrupt in 2014, Vassilev used Dunarit as a “marshalling yard” for the bank’s credits which the defence plant absorbed and then the money flows were channeled to other firms within Vassilev’s orbit. The sum has reached tremendous BGN 86m while the main driving force for managing this money flow diverted from CorpBank was Nikola Kirov whom Vassilev appointed to sit on the directors’ board of the Ruse enterprise to keep an eye on the cash movements.

After the collapse of the financial pyramid, Dunarit became the key source of Vassilev’s private funds, along with part of the assets which Vassilev promised to share with Russian oligarch Konstantin Malofeev. At a noisily advertised news conference in March 2015, NURTS, GARB, First Digital, BTC, Avionams and Dunarit Vassilev passed over to a Belgian national with Russian passport Pierre Louvrier for the price of 1 euro. Louvrier, however, proved to be a figurehead of Malofeev and a close friend of Igor Girkin-Strelkov, commander of separatist troops in Ukraine.

After the ties of Louvrier with Malofeev were exposed the Belgian was forced to withdraw from the “deal”.  Several months later, another Russian, Dmitry Kosarev appeared on the scene and the scandalous contract between him and Vassilev leaked to the internet. By virtue of this contract many companies, Dunarit among them, were promised to Kosarev in exchange for the latter’s obligation to protect Vassilev and his family. More than that – the two of them agreed to sell the assets and divide the proceeds in 80:20 ratio. Kosarev, however, also proved to belong to Malofeev’s close circle although he posed as a big businessman, for this reason this deal was also frustrated.   

Of course, after this failure in 2015 Vassilev did not sit on his thumbs. At the beginning of 2016, he started the implementation of his new plan for Dunarit management and it was then that Emilian Gebrev for the first time entered the scene. We can only guess if this time too it had something to do with the Russians’ interest to the Bulgarian defence plants. The fact is though that Gebrev’s name is on the arms trade black list in the US which clearly shows that this assumption is not beyond the reach of logics. And the consistency Vassilev shows in his hitherto attempts to pass Dunarit into the orbit of Russian interests also supports this conclusion.

What did the criminal tandem of Vassilev and Gebrev make up to deprive CorpBank and Guarantee Fund for deposits of the debts of the Dunarit group to the amount of nearly BGN 190m? By 2016, Kemira was the owner of Dunarit and this company, in turn, was totally controlled by Hedge Investment Bulgaria. The key offshore firm of Vassilev, EFV stands behind Hedge Investment Bulgaria.

The first “problem” which the two have to resolve, and urgently at that, are the immediate obligations of Hedge Investment Bulgaria to CorpBank to the amount of EUR 53m. Vassilev and Gebrev are pressed for time, because in the meanwhile bankruptcy administrators of CorpBank have already taken steps trying to find this money and launched a lawsuit in order to shut down Kemira and thus be able to enforce their ruling on the final asset – Dunarit. They have also filed a claim for the cancellation of debts worth of BGN 86m in direct credits of Dunarit to CorpBank which were  set off with unreal cessions.

The infernal plan of Vassilev and Gebrev is meant to work in several directions (to be on the safe side, probably): first, as a partner of Kemira with 90% share comes TMN company, ownership of Ivan Ezerski, close friend of Vassilev. So, without paying anything at all for Dunarit, Ezerski in practice becomes its sole owner, although it is clear that he acts on behalf of Vassilev. To let Gebrev lay hands on Dunarit, first the stocks of Dunarit were transferred from Kemira to TMN, and from TMN to EMKO, i.e. to Gebrev.

In the words of Gebrev himself, this happened in the summer of 2016. Meanwhile, already in February the Commission for Protection of Competition filed a claim concerning the increase of capital of Dunarit by BGN 60m, as all fresh stocks had to be registered in the name of EMKO. To make the guarantee full Gebrev provides a EUR 10m “loan” to Dunarit (most probably fictitiously) and makes an attempt to make the trade firm of the defence plant appraised at nearly EUR 200m a collateral.

The plan, however, was foiled. The increase of capital was appealed before the Supreme Administrative Court by Viafot and the Trade Register refused to enter the pledge over the plant. Dozens of other new or repeated attempts at registration were challenged by Viafot and cancelled by court.

There is one more problem – the stocks of Kemira in Dutarit are distrained by the Anti-Corruption Commission for Illegal Assets Forfeiture and any attempt at their management is unlawful. Gebrev himself does not own plant’s stock either and the transfer was not registered in the Shareholders’ book but he tried to pose as owner before mass media providing only a statement of findings from a notary which he waved in front of the camera.  Despite the fact that Gebrev was asked many times to present his title deed to the Trade Register he never did it, nor presented his stock and the shareholders book.     

It is true because Vassilev would not part with the originals of these stocks until the whole scheme is not finalized and Gebrev has paid him the promised price. Why Gebrev until now did not answer the question from whom he actually bought the defence plant but only pulls out the names of some stooges like Babanski or Ezerski who allegedly invited him to “save” them? Because he will have to confess that he bought the plant from Tsvetan Vassilev, he made an agreement with him (there is no one else) despite the claims that he has never known the man.

So, what does come out? Gebrev poses as the owner of Dunarit, but in practice it is impossible and he really did not pay anything for this piece of property neither did he pay off the debts of the Dunarit group to CorpBank worth of nearly BGN 190m. Within almost two years, he only managed to register his directors’ board of the company (the registration was initially denied to him by Trade Register but the Ruse court readily allowed it) via which he now de-facto manages the plant.

(To be continued)

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