Bobokov brothers' Italian factory exports hazardous waste to Bulgaria
Before getting acquired by them, the facility had gone into liquidation for causing gross damages to the environmentRumen Mihaylov , Rome
For residents of the Italian city of Brescia, the local car battery recycling factory Piombifera Italiana, which several years ago was acquired by the Bobokov brothers, who were recently indicted for illegal hazardous waste disposal in Bulgaria, was a true scourge of the environment for decades.
In the city's southern industrial area of Maclodio, where the smelt-house facility is located, the concentration of the extremely harmful to human health lead fumes used to hover around levels 55 times above the limit allowed under the law. At the same time, the factory's chimneys would pump sulphur dioxide, an extremely toxic gas, into the atmosphere around the clock, leading to numerous health problems for the locals. An immense amount of pollutants would be discharged into the groundwater of the thriving agricultural valley through wastewater, turning those reservoirs toxic. Naturally, that infuriated the locals; environmentalists would constantly pressure the owners of Piombifera Italiana to close down their facility. About five years ago, their efforts yielded results - the joint-stock company went into liquidation. On 22 April 2016, the local newspaper announced that in a matter of days the country's third largest factory for car battery recycling and secondary production of lead and tin would be shuttered, leaving about 30 people out of work.
However, this journalistic forecast never came to fruition - Piombifera Italiana not only did not close down, but rose from the lead ashes like a phoenix a year and a half later, in November 2017. Despite having gone into liquidation, it got a new owner and kept on chugging along. It became less conspicuous, though, no longer making air unbreathable, no longer angering the environmentalists. Downsizing its production operations to about 10 workers was far from the only reason for this development. “The factory is not the toxic waste monster that it once was, but not because the new owners bought and implemented high-tech waste treatment installations,” Gabriele Pellegrini, a Brescia representative of the environmentalist association Legambiente, told Monitor's Italian correspondent. “It is just that the new owners are quick to outsource the most hazardous operations of recycling car batteries to their homeland, Bulgaria.”
Trying to uncover the identity of the aforementioned new Piombifera Italiana owners who outsource the hazardous recycling of car batteries from the Apennine Peninsula to Bulgaria, however, turned out to be a real chore. Even though under Italian law all joint-stock companies are obligated to have their own website, the new Bulgarian acquisition outside of Brescia lacks one. A Google search of the name Piombifera Italiana showed the company's headquarters at two different addresses - 26 Molino Emili St. in Maclodio, just outside of Brescia, and 75 Europa Blvd. in Monteccio Maggiore, a town located 125km (77 miles) to the east. One could be excused for thinking those are two different enterprises with the same name - which is practically impossible.
A webpage listing business information about Brescia enterprises contains only a phone number for Piombifera Italiana. If you try the number, a curt female voice explains to you that the factory takes in car batteries for recycling, but only if you drive them there yourself. It is impossible to find even the most basic type of information - ownership, management, capital, contacts, an overview of the production operations or any other useful details that a legitimate business enterprise would make public. As for the other enterprise with the same name, the one based in Monteccio Maggiore, there is a website featuring the photos and names of three Italian citizens - a lady and two gentlemen - who are not presented as owners of or people in leadership positions at the company, but as its experts in… environmental conservation.
Naturally, if an enterprise has official carte blanche to operate in Italy, it cannot remain in complete secrecy. Whatever masking shield the owners employ, it can be overcome by expert accountants, who can use their official access codes to scour every commercial and company registry from the Alps to Sicily.
Monitor turned to auditor and retired former member of the Financial Guard (Guardia di Finanza) Antonino Galtieri for assistance. It took only six hours for this expert, who has dealt with thousands of financial crimes in his 20 years with the Yellow Flames, as the Italian financial police are known, to uncover that Piombifera Italiana is owned by Monbat Italy EOOD, registered at 52 Paolo Emilio Taviani St. in the city of La Spezia. The acquisition deal was certified by a local notary on 14 November 2017 - in other words, pretty far from Brescia, although there is nothing wrong with that. Auditor Galtieri's next finding proves that the owners are Bulgarians - Monbat Italy EOOD was registered in La Spezia on 21 March 2017 by a notary named Rosario Patane. The document created by Patane explicitly notes that the sole shareholder and owner of this limited liability company is Monbat Recycling EAD, owned by the brothers Atanas Bobokov and Plamen Bobokov - currently investigated by the prosecutor's offices of three countries, including Italy's, in relation to illegal toxic waste dumps in Bulgaria. The two gave power of attorney to their old friend Alberto Chilese to represent them during the registration process. Chilese, who is one of the heads of a major Italian car battery production and recycling company called FIAMM, happened to own Piombifera Italiana at the time of its sale. It is his address that is listed as the factory's seat at 75 Europa Blvd., Monteccio Maggiore, in some business information pages. There is evidence that this particular entrepreneur plays a significant role in polluting the Bulgarian environment, a circumstance deserving of a separate and even deeper investigation.
According to Galtieri, the owners of Piombifera Italiana cannot be accused of unconscientious reporting, murky accounting, unpaid taxes or other criminal deeds. The management of the joint-stock company, as represented by Managing Director Paolo Pofferi, has filed two flawless annual financial reports attested by one of the most reputable international auditors. It is an altogether different matter that the first report, the one for 2018, shows the company ending that year at a €918,704 loss, while the one for 2019 shows a profit of €68,206. Galtieri believes that the acquisition of Piombifera Italiana features a number of suspicious elements such as the fact that an industrial enterprise that had gone into liquidation was restored to its operational status in order to be sold. Not that such a move is impossible, but the expert auditor says it requires serious connections in high places of government and maybe even bribery. There is no available information on the price that the company fetched. Another mystery for the expert is why the owners of the Bulgarian-based Monbat Recycling EAD saw it necessary to register a solely-owned limited liability company to acquire a joint-stock company. The auditor describes this practice as Chinese boxes - the creation of figurative pyramids of companies, in which businesses with smaller capital acquire ones with much larger capital.
Something is rotten in the lead smelt-house outside of Brescia (as is the literal translation of Piombifera). According to local ecologists, a great number of car batteries are transported to Bulgaria for recycling and secondary production of lead. They are collected from all over the Apennine Peninsula by the said joint-stock company located just outside of Brescia. If this is true, it constitutes activity that is illegal both in Italy and Bulgaria.