Oligarchs strike against Delyan Peevski and their enemies with an elevator fantasyTelegraph Media , Sofia
Do you know what namedropping is? This term is used to refer to someone mentioning famous people in order to make good impression. In the Bulgarian reality, though, namedropping is an instrument in the hands of a criminal group of oligarchs and their mainstream media machine, who are stirring up a hodge-podge of their enemies’ names, enemies who prevent them from carrying out their shady deals, in an absurd and completely baseless conspiracy theory.
What is more, the whole thing is rooted in a family drama, and more specifically – the war between the elevator king Ilia Zlatanov, on the one hand, and his wife, Yulia, his kids, Yavor and Proletina, and his son-in-law Mahmud Bedir, on the other hand, over the family-run empire Izamet, the country’s largest producer of elevators.
Family feuds have always been sticky stuff. The best-case scenario involves family members airing out each other’s dirty laundry for everyone to see. In the worst-case scenario they start framing each other for things before the investigative authorities and in no small number of the instances one of the warring parties ends up in custody. That is exactly the case with the war of the Zlatanov family.
A bit of backstory
Having started in the autumn of 2017, the feud escalated last summer, when it exploded onto the public scene. And the reason was that after two years of scandals and his family framing each other for various things through reports to the authorities in their fighting over millions in business assets and bank accounts in Bulgaria and Switzerland, Yavor Zlatanov, who was a business partner of his father, usurped the family business and the elevator plant in Sofia. Shortly after that, following a report filed by the father with the Specialised Prosecutor’s Office, Yavor was arrested as were his mother, his sister, his sister’s husband and two more individuals. They were apprehended under suspicion of running an organised extortion and money laundering group. The story was well-publicised as it featured all sorts of tabloid-worthy nuggets. Yavor’s ex-wife is a famous TV host. The family has tens of millions of levs and is the biggest player on the elevator market. Any parvenu would be envious of their carpark. In addition to expensive cars, 35 kg (77 lbs) of gold coins worth over €4,565,000 were seized during the police raids. As a result of what transpired in the summer of 2019, four members of the family were charged with various crimes, the father fled abroad in the spring of 2020 and an international warrant for his arrest has been issued since then. But all in all, the story started to die down.
Only to be dusted off again on 24 June by the united front of indicted and charged oligarchs, who have joined forces against the state and anyone who stands in their way of avoiding justice for their crimes.
And so in the latest so-called investigation conducted by the supposedly independent journalist Nikolay Staykov, a former employee of oligarch Ivo Prokopiev and a current one of the Anti-Corruption Fund, which is a part of the network of NGOs serving the Capital circle, the shadowy leaders and the mainstream media machine of outlets funded either openly or secretly by them used the family feud of the Zlatanovs to throw in there the names of their main enemies. Chief among them is lawmaker and Telegraph Media publisher Delyan Peevski, who has brought to light dozens of those same shadowy players’ schemes through his legislative initiatives and the revelations made by his publications.
According to the so-called journalistic investigation, entirely reliant on claims made by the fugitive Ilia Zlatanov in an interview, the operation against his son, which was triggered by the father’s own report to authorities, was “organised” so that the father would be divested of his business (already usurped by his son) and so money and gold can be seized during the searches. In a 10-minute video filmed in an unspecified country, the senior Zlatanov namedrops his way to a poorly patched-up story, without offering any evidence to support his allegations – former investigator and now an attorney Petar Petrov (whom Zlatanov says he personally contacted); the anti-oligarchy protests; Sotir Tsatsarov, former prosecutor general and current head of the Anti-Corruption Commission for Illegal Assets Forfeiture (ACCIAF); the incumbent Prosecutor General Ivan Geshev; and Minister of Interior Mladen Marinov. Zlatanov garnered that with names featured in other scandals that have been engineered by that same oligarchic mainstream. To make the story even more colourful, he throws in a small but popular dining establishment in the capital with the curious name The Eight Dwarfs, which he claims was the scene of his meetings with Petrov. And as he was stirring up this conspiracy concoction, enough to drive even the sturdiest of viewers to reach for anti-anxiety medication, he unsurprisingly dragged the name of Delyan Peevski into it. Using the principle “some woman said”, he claimed that the entire scheme, which was allegedly organised by Petrov, was meant to benefit Peevski, who wanted to go into the business of replacing old elevators, as “there was talk that €4bn was going to be allocated by the EU” for that purpose. No facts supporting these claims were offered. None of the mentioned people’s positions were presented. They were never sought for a reaction either. Petrov is the only one who was claimed to have been contacted and allegedly refused to comment. None of the institutions dragged into Zlatanov’s story, which is worthy of a screenplay for a low-budget Hollywood fantasy, were asked to comment either. What little specific facts were contained in the elevator king’s pathetic story did not hold up to further inspection. For example, no one in the elevator business has even heard of EU funding expected to come down the pike for replacement of old elevators, let alone €4bn! But the directors of this cheap fantasy rely on the power of namedropping in the hope that viewers will just take the conspiracy theory at face value, no questions asked.
El Chapo and fugitive banker Tsvetan Vassilev
There are a lot of unanswered questions and they are not limited to the obvious lack of evidence in support of any of the allegations. For starters, how come the “investigation” in question popped up mere hours after none other than gambling tzar Vasil Bozhkov, who has been charged with 18 crimes, called on all of the shadowy players and oligarchs being investigated by the Prosecutor’s Office, including the fugitive ones, to unite against the state? Is this a coincidence? Decidedly no, especially considering the fact that the short video – the first of many, if the authors are to be believed – ends with a remark mentioning Bozhkov. And what of the fact that the Bulgarian El Chapo himself posted a photo of the aforementioned restaurant on an Instagram account with his name?
Why, instead of testifying for the Bulgarian authorities, did Zlatanov make “revelations” from his hiding place abroad and in an interview with a journalist who could be trusted not to ask him any inconvenient questions or press him for evidence in support of his allegations? Was it not because of the fact that if he ever told these baseless things to the institutions he would be liable for slander? It is more convenient for him to follow in the footsteps of another fugitive oligarch – Tsvetan Vassilev, who regularly accuses his enemies, some of those same names dragged into poorly-concocted fantasy stores, of carrying out a “corporate raid”. However, Vassilev was shut down by every single one of the foreign institutions he turned to, including the international arbitrage in Washington (the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes), namely because his story reeks of fabrications, just like that of Zlatanov.
The questions do not stop here and one does not need to be a professional journalist to think of them. And yet, the conspiracy fantasy was immediately picked up by the entire mainstream media machine of the oligarchy, with the (anti)Bulgarian desk of Radio Free Europe, which has been occupied by former employees of Ivo Prokopiev, leading the way. The outlet even presents the supposedly independent Nikolay Staykov as one of its authors. Minutes later, the story appeared on the rest of the cogs in the united oligarchic front’s machine for manipulations – starting with the news website Mediapool, ran by Stoyana Georgieva, who was once a spokesperson for former PM Ivan Kostov. There is also Tsvetan Vassilev’s unofficial press office – Frognews, which added to the absurd conspiracy theory with an interview with Boyko Atanasov, the shadowy circles’ eternal candidate for prosecutor general. There is also the evening TV show hosted by Lyuba Kulezich, who has been receiving money directly from Tsvetan Vassilev, which announced it was going to have Staykov as its guest. As you can imagine, none of the enthusiastic copy-paste efforts of the behind-the-scenes clique’s minions contain even a hint of critical thinking when it comes to Zlatanov’s transparent story. This is by design. The oligarchy’s goal is not to get to the truth, but to string together the names of their enemies and tie them to some manipulation or other in the hope of muzzling them and dissuading them from seeking justice.