2011-03-18 Bulgarian Organized Crime Uncensored


Bulgarian translation here.

As described in an article on WL Central yesterday, 2011-03-17 Unredacted cable from Sofia shows the total invasion of the state by organized crime, a cable which had 3/4 of its text redacted by the Guardian has now been published in full. This WL Central writer is also a member of the web site Bivol which published the unredacted cable.

Why did The Guardian and Le Monde Conceal Information about Crime in Bulgaria?

The stated policy of Wikileaks is to not publish the original texts of the cables, but rather censored versions, edited by the teams of their partner media, after the latter have examined the content of the documents. This way media, known for their professionalism and good reputation, offer a guarantee the names of informers and third parties and their identities would not be revealed.

Wikileaks have chosen this model in order to not endanger the lives of intelligence agents and informers as it happened after the publication of documents about the US and its allies’ military operation in Afghanistan. At the time, even staunch supporters of freedom of speech, such as “Reporters without Borders,” voiced strong and grounded criticism of Julian Assange.

One cannot help it, but note that in the published cable from July 7, 2005, the section “Who Is Who in Bulgarian Organized Crime” abounds with censored paragraphs. We can only guess the reason of the Guardian journalists to conceal individuals and businesses the Embassy believes are part of organized crime. The names of these individuals and businesses, along with information about alleged ties with organized crime, are nothing new for the Bulgarian and international audience.

The cable further talks about financing of the election campaign of a certain political party in 2001; but the party’s name is deleted. So are names of cities and towns, the cable lists as being controlled by organized crime. It is unclear what would the exact danger be for the alleged organized crime personalities and politicians connected to them if their names are published. Obviously, in order to receive such protection, they have been, themselves, informers of Pardew. It is even more difficult to understand the Le Monde reasons to conceal an entire cable.

The cover-up of this information does not help the effort for more transparency and civil intolerance for connections between the underworld and the power. This contradicts Wikileaks’ main idea – to make public documents, concealing from society the ulcers of organized crime, corruption, the dirty deals of those in power, and ties of political figures with them.

It will be real pity if it turns out journalists from reputed international media use information, provided by Wikileaks as merchandise, whose value depends on the selection of the precise moment to offer it on the market. It is a fact that recently, a special envoy of the Le Monde, Petr Smolar, emerged in Sofia and met with journalists from the Galeria weekly, interviewed Alexey Petrov while he was still under house arrest and wrote an extensive article about the conflict between Prime Minister, Boyko Borisov and Petrov, with details about the wiretap scandal surrounding the use of special surveillance devices (SRS).

Why Are We Publishing This Text?

Bivol received the uncensored text of James Pardew’s cable, dated July 7, 2005. It was provided for us by the magazine “Russkiy Reporter” (Russian Reporter), which is preparing a publication about the influence of Russian mafia in Bulgaria. The magazine asked us to verify the authenticity of the names and the events, and to prepare comments on the faith of the emblematic organized crime bosses, cited in the cable.

We must note that we have no contract or financial relations with “Russkiy Reporter,” its owners and its sources of information. Our professional contacts end with the work on this particular case: summarizing and offering factual information and our editorial analysis of the cable.

The cable’s authenticity was confirmed by another source – the Norwegian paper Aftenposten, which has independent access to all diplomatic cables leaked through Wikileaks.

We examined in detail the entire text and did not find in it a single name of a person that must be concealed for safety reasons, because they have provided information about organized crime to the American Embassy.

We cannot sign under claims of involvement of the quoted individuals and companies with organized crime, like Ambassador Pardew did – he had available sources and methods of collecting information way beyond the possibilities of journalism.

But, as the readers will see for themselves, the cable talks about the total invasion of the State by organized crime – no more and no less.

The mafia, on its part, has a direct connection with the remnants of the Communist Secret Services (DS) and the Russian ones (KGB); a connection which we can say, without falling in the trap of conspiracy theories, is alive today.

Bulgarians must further know this now, because the signing, with Russian monopolists, of some very controversial from economic and strategic point of view contracts for energy projects is pending: South Stream and the “Belene” Nuclear Power Plant.

These projects were supported by NDSV (the decision to build “Belene” was made personally by Simeon Saxe-Coburg in the beginning of his term), by BSP and the President Parvanov.

In 2005, Ambassador Pardew writes that individuals connected to both Bulgarian organized crime and Russian financial and economic interests in the energy sector have finances political campaigns of NDSV, BSP and President Parvanov in order to maintain their positions. Their names are spelled out in the cable.

We also learn that oligarchs, close to now Prime Minister Borisov are considered by our American partners to be close to Russian intelligence.

It is obvious, the financial influence of these circles is not an isolated occurrence, but rather an event that is reproduced in the political cycle. There is a real threat that it would become a factor during the forthcoming local and presidential elections as well. The voters have the right to know how, by whom, and for what reasons their trust is being transformed.

Assessing the information from the point of view of public interest, we believe the only right thing to do is to publish the full, uncensored text of the cable.

Ambassador Pardew’s Analysis

As it has been said many times already – there is nothing new in the information provided by the secret American diplomatic cables. But the well-known old is offered in detail and systematically. The new, in this case, is that we can find out how one of the most successful American diplomats analyses the situation of organized crime in Bulgaria.

Maybe the most important deduction is that the cable outlines in detail the reproduction cycle of the Mafia, coinciding with the political one: dirty money – political campaigns – managing the political institutions after the elections – establishment of rules favorable for money laundering and legalizing and expansion of criminal business.

The cable quotes concrete names of individuals and companies, which still own and manage significant assets in Bulgaria. It examines the symbiosis of crime and power by the financing of election campaigns - NDSV by Vassil Bozhkov and Emil Kyulev in 2001; Georgi Parvanov this same year by Kyulev again, NDSV and BSP in 2005 by Bozhkov, Kyulev, and Sasho Donchev (Banker Kuylev had strong ties with Russian financial interests. Donchev is the Head of Overgaz, a GAZPROM intermediary selling Russian natural gas on the Bulgarian market).

The cable further notes the trend of individuals coming from the organized crime circles to directly enter national-level politics or to directly control local power. A trend that, as we all know, became more and more pronounced in the years to follow. Maybe the climax of this cynicism would be the likely run of Alexey Petrov, an individual indicted for racket and blackmail, for President.

The cable stresses on the legacy of the criminal Communist repressive apparatus for the figures of Bulgarian organized crime. In the beginning of the transition period, in addition to the now-notorious wrestlers, rowers and other sports competitors from the Communists training schools, former “blades” of the repressive system also entered organized crime groups – berets, navy seals and other special task forces, brought up and trained not to fight some external enemy, but to safeguard the favorites of the regime from the anger of the Bulgarian people. The above-mentioned, Alexey Petrov, and his associate Zlatomir Ivanov AKA Baretata (The Beret) are just two of the many examples.

TIM – The Number One of Organized Crime, According to Pardew

Under number one in “Who Is Who in Bulgarian Organized Crime,” Pardew lists the TIM group, which, similarly to the former Multigroup, is attempting to permeate all sectors of legal and illegal business. Today, Pardew’s words that the “up-and-coming star” of the TIM business empire is the most serious economic concern in Bulgaria sound particularly true.

Under the GERB rule, companies connected to TIM impose, undisturbed, cartel prices on grain and consequently on bread and cooking oil, which is, in reality, a daylight robbery, affecting every single Bulgarian. The money from the “Saglasie” and “Sila” retirement funds, controlled by TIM, are redirected to another business of the group, while the authorities discretely close their eyes for these illegal transfers.

On the backdrop of all this, the outrageous TIM project for Alley One, mentioned in the cable, appears to be an almost innocent business endeavor, but focuses the public attention on the attitude of GERB towards the Varna-based group. It is a fact that Boyko Borisov and Tsvetan Tsvetanov stubbornly refuse to comment on anything related to TIM; it is also a fact the GERB Member of the Parliament, Emil Radev, is a former navy seal, from the secret navy unit “Tihina,” famous for being the place of military service for the TIM bosses. This same Radev is lobbying to limit access to the Business Registry for investigative reporters seeking information about the crime groups and their legal business activities.

Indeed, in 2005, Ambassador Pardew had no way of knowing TIM will acquire its greatest power under the GERB rule all while GERB ran its election campaign on promises to sever ties between political power and organized crime. These ties date from a long time ago. Documents from the Business Registry, show Prime Minister, Boyko Borisov, had been a co-owner, along with Rumen Nikolov aka The Pasha, from SIK, and Ivo Kamenov, from TIM, of a factory, producing contraband cigarettes in 1995.

The Dead-Lock of the Fight against Organized Crime

In November, 2010, the New York Times noted the dead-lock of organized crime after the not-guilty verdicts of the Galevi Brothers and The Beret’s release from jail.

At that time, we still did not know that “The Octopus,” Alexey Petrov, would also be let walk free mainly over the inability of the prosecution to make their charges hold water in court. So, the most advertised police operation, the symbol of the resolve of the government to fight the mafia, began turning into a farce. This dead-lock has several causes:

A Helpless Court System

This feeling of impasse is becoming stronger by the impression of helplessness of the prosecution. As if on purpose, prosecutors make grave mistakes in the indictments in high-profile cases; delay and doom to failure trials while ties between prosecutors and people from the underworld are public knowledge. Here is a concrete example – one early morning, a wanted by the police gangster was arrested in the home of prosecutor Parvoleta Nikova, who had worked on the Galevi case. The Supreme Judicial Council (VSS), however, does not see this cohabitation as reproachable and as a problem for the image of the judicial power. The case with the lobbyist, known as “Krasio the Black,” reveals the ugly interdependence of magistrates, the business and politicians, but there had been no probe and charges of trading influence. Despite the endless appeals in Brussels’ reports, the true reform of the judicial system looks more and more problematic and impossible.

State Security Everywhere

Another demoralizing moment is the mass presence of former collaborators of the Communist State Security (DS) in the now Security Services, surviving every government over the lack of political will for full lustration.

Under the Communist regime precisely the State Security (DS) agents were the individuals organizing and protecting criminal activities such as the manufacturing and distribution of illegal drugs, support of terrorist organizations and physical extermination of opponents of the regime. DS employess were the executors of the State policy of patronizing criminal activities.

After President Parvanov took office, a person who had also been a DS agent, many former DS employees were reinstated in the Security Services.

This odd restoration continued with Rumen Petkov becoming Interior Minister. He resigned after it was revealed he held a meeting with the “persons of interest,” the Galevi Brothers, organized through the intercession of Alexey Petrov. In 2008 – 2009, Petrov was appointed Special Advisor to the Director of the State Agency for National Security (DANS), Petko Sertov, and, as many experts believe, Petrov actually ran the most powerful secret service in the country.

Currently hundreds of former DS agents and collaborators are employed in the structures of the Interior Ministry and DANS, some at high-ranking positions. Despite the show-off rhetoric of GERB, they failed to undertake a serious lustration move in these law enforecement instituions.

The “Unhealthy” Ties between Politics and Business

Let’s remind that the owner of DZI Bank, Emil Kyulev, a former Interior Ministry employee, is among the advisors of President Parvanov, mentioned in the cable. Kyulev was gunned down in October, 2005, on “Bulgaria” boulevard in Sofia; together with the other shooting victim from 2007, Manol Velev (still in coma), they were members of the notorious “Vazrazhdane” club along with Vassil Bozhkov AKA The Scull, Dimitar Gushterov, Tosho Toshev, Radosvet Radev, and the also murdered, Iliya Pavlov.

In the most current scandal, revolving around leaked taped phone conversations between Bulgarian Prime Minister Borisov and the Director of the Customs Agency, Tanov, where Borisov can be heard insisting on halting a probe against the owner of the “Ledenika” brewery, Mihail Mihov, intimately called by the PM “Misho The Beer,” it suddenly emerged that “The Beer” attorney was Sacho Penov, the same Penov who was the Chair of the President’s Legal Counsel.

The EU funds were frozen over another connection of the President – Lyudmil Stoykov, former representative of VIS-2 in Pernik. Despite OLAF’s revelations of criminal abuse of the SAPARD funds in the amount of EUR 7 M, Lyudmil Stoykov was never sentenced. According to OLAF, Stoykov has been provided a political cover-up from the highest place.

The economic influence of individuals, listed in the cable as having ties with organized crime, continued to expand over the year with the active collaboration of the State, which in reality subsidized their business.

Todor Batkov, attorney for Michael Chorny, received a land swap for hundreds of decares near the sea and was bestowed by the President with the “Stara Planina” order.

Businesses and people connected to Vassil Bozhkov AKA The Scull, and Grisha Ganchev, also obtained priceless plots through scandalous land swaps.

Instead of annulling the contracts and seeking responsibility, the new GERB cabinet temporarily limited construction on plots acquired through land swaps… until a more favorable time.

Can the EU Rescue Bulgaria from the Mafia?

The notorious saying that “in Bulgaria the mafia has a State,” becomes alive by what Pardew has written. The Ambassador bitterly notes the society’s frustration from its helpless situation. Pardew believes the tools of influence of the EU are crucial. “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,” the Ambassador concludes.

In Bulgaria, six years later, three of which as an EU Member State, many of the figures of organized crime, listed by Pardew in 2005, are no longer living. Some, like the Marguin Brothers were arrested and charged, but were exonerated after a long and grotesque court saga. Petar Petrov AKA The Amigos is the only one sentenced at first instance. Currently, none of the emblematic crime bosses has an effective sentence.

Hellas, it becomes more and more clear, the citizens in this dead-lock cannot count on an effective external interference. The Wikileaks information is yet another proof the US understand the seriousness of this situation; offer logistics support, and lead an “aggressive policy” of denying entry visas to scandalous individuals (the latest case is the former Interior Minister, Rumen Petkov). The rest is up to Europe, because the Bulgarian mafia problem is now a problem for the citizens of all European countries.

The question here is – do James Pardew and Bulgarians overrate the EU potential? Even more: judging by the reaction of the leading European newspapers, which concealed the real state of the matters, and reading the “soft” wording in the Brussels’ reports, we have doubts about the will and the capacity of Europe to change the situation in Bulgaria.

There is lots of talk about pressure to fight organized crime, but at the same time, politicians with ties to DS and organized crime are serving as Members of the European Parliament while leading European companies do business with firms managed by people intelligence services suspect of criminal deals.

Not long ago, Finance Minister, Simeon Djankov, commented economic problems in the country stem mostly from the fact that “wrestlers, Communists and Komsomol members” have invaded the business and it was “difficult” to work with them. They will be pushed out in a natural way, Djankov believes.

It would be even more natural for the EU to announce a particular lustration for these “wrestlers, Communists and Komsomol members” by preparing a public list of the companies and individuals which are not suitable for doing business with. Pardew’s cable can be used as a helping tool, because it is, most likely, a copy of the list of the Fraud Prevention Unit in Sofia Embassy’s Consular Section.

The full uncensored text of the diplomatic cable about Bulgarian Organized Crime from 2005.

The Guardian doesn't have any

The Guardian doesn't have any earthly reason to protect the Bulgarian mafia from exposure. The process our writers went through in publishing information from the cables, was to write articles drawing attention to e.g. the Russian criminal mafia. We did this to such an extent that our Moscow correspondent, Luke Harding, was thrown out with his family. We also published the text of supporting cables where we were able to: these were vetted by our libel lawyers, and where there were allegations against individuals that couldn't be proved, these had to be redacted. The Guardian can be sued for what it publishes in the UK. WIkileaks on the other hand, can publish what it likes. We're not stopping them. It's a fair point that we could, and perhaps should, have explained all this. But no-one at the Guardian imagined we were going to be accused of conspiring with Bulgarian organised crime!

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