Spectacular skyscrapers, luxurious lifestyles and sunny beaches – this attracts Dubai, the Middle East financial center known as a playground for the global rich. More than 240 Bulgarian citizens and residents own more than $160 million worth of property in the glamorous emirate, the international investigation #UncoveredDubai reveals. Among them are the mother of MP Delyan Peevski, the construction boss Veliko Zhelev and the sister of the Deputy Prosecutor General Borislav Sarafov, as well as many other publicly known personalities.
Beyond its glamorous fame, Dubai also has a darker reputation as a tax haven, a top destination for illicit cash and a preferred hub for money laundering, often through real estate. A new leak of property data in Dubai reveals how many foreigners poured their money into apartments and villas there.
Data on over 800,000 records from Dubai’s land registry date back to 2020 and were obtained from the Centre for Advanced Defence Studies (C4ADS), a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit that studies international crime and conflict. They were shared with Norwegian financial centre E24, which coordinates the real estate investigation together with 20 investigative media, including Le Monde, Süddeutsche Zeitung, Danish broadcaster TV2 and OCCRP. As part of the OCCRP network, BIRD is the Bulgarian partner in the project.
This leak is the first detailed public review of individuals who have purchased properties in Dubai. In the initial phase of the project, reporters focused on the European names on the list.
Many of them are residents or legitimate investors. But reporters identified multiple real estate owners in Dubai who have been charged or convicted of crimes or are under international sanctions. Others are civil servants or their relatives, whose ownership of expensive properties is difficult to compare with their known income.
The list includes more than 100 members of Russia’s political elite, civil servants or businessmen close to the Kremlin, as well as dozens of Europeans involved in money laundering and corruption. Several European officials and lawmakers accused of misusing public funds are also among the listed owners and some have not officially declared their properties in Dubai.
Peevski, of course!
The information that lawmaker Delyan Peevski often resides in Dubai is not new and was officially announced by former Prime Minister Boyko Borisov back in 2016. In practice, however, Peevski not only did not go away, but remained a member of the National Assembly, where he never appeared, but used security from the NSO.
Based on information about Peevski’s flights, the investigative website Bivol found that the MP spends most of his working time in Dubai. This did not prevent the MP from receiving his salary from parliament, where GERB regularly excused his absences.
Peevski is said to own a large luxury mansion in the Emirate Hills neighborhood, but nothing in his name was found in the data leak. However, his mother, Irena Krasteva, owns a villa in Emirate Hills with total built-up area. 242.57 sq.m. The property was valued in 2020 at $570,000. Judging by passport data, Krasteva acquired the villa after 2016.
Krasteva owned six of the largest Bulgarian newspapers and television TV7, acquired with loans from CCB. In 2015, she transferred ownership of the newspapers to her son Delyan Peevski, who sold them in 2021.
A few months ago, the Pandora Files investigation revealed that Peevski is the owner of several offshore companies that he has registered as a permanent resident in Dubai. Then he was summoned to the State Agency for National Security (DANS), where he explained that the offshore companies were owned by another company that he had declared. Peevski’s mother, Irena Krasteva, turned out to be the holder of Swiss accounts through secret offshore companies.
Subsequently, the State Agency for National Security and the National Revenue Agency (NRA) dusted Peevski, but the Finance Ministry ordered a new tax inspection, the result of which is unknown. There is no movement under the Bulgarian law “Magnitsky”, promised by the new coalition in power. It was supposed to implement the sanctions the US imposed against Peevski in June 2021, accusing him of “significant corruption”.
Delyan Peevski has not yet declared ownership or use of property in Dubai. Our attempts to find him for comment through the press center of the MRF and on the official e-mail of the MP were not successful.
“Great and tough” with 10 apartments in Dubai
Construction boss Veliko Zhelev has purchased as many as ten apartments in Dubai, nine of which are in Liv Residence, in the expensive Dubai Marina district, and the largest apartment with 268.09 SqM is on Serenia Residence, on the artificial island in the form of a palm Jumeira for nearly $ 800,000. The total value of Zhelev’s real estate is over $ 4 million.
Zhelev is a former deputy head of RIA, who subsequently developed as a construction businessman. His company “Hydrostroy” was among the serial winners of infrastructure construction projects during the time of GERB. In total, Hydrostroy AD participates individually or in consortia in contracts for nearly BGN 1.2 billion in public procurement.
In 2016, Hydrostroy acquired the company Vodstroy 98, which was allegedly controlled by Delyan Peevski. “Vodstroy 98” was officially owned by Ivan Mirinski.
Interior Minister Boyko Rashkov accused the owner of Hydrostroy (without directly naming him) of siphoning money from road constructions.
On October 25, 2021, Rashkov participated in the “Face to Face” talk show on bTV and said that an unnamed businessman had sent 21m euros to the European Union. Lv. in the OAE, linking the origin of the money to a multimillion-dollar road construction scam known as the “Hemus Gate.”
Asked who the businessman Rashkov was talking about, he said: “I can say that this man is “Great” and “Tough”.
Recently it became clear that Bulgaria will lose European money because of a flawed tender for the repair of the Sofia tram line to Knyazhevo, won by VDH AD, as is the new name of “Vodstroy 98”.
Until the editorial end of the article, “Hydrostroy” did not respond to our request for contact with Veliko Zhelev, sent to the official contact email.
Sister of a senior magistrate with a million-dollar apartment
Bilyana Bobby Stoyanova, née Sarafova, is the sister of the Deputy Prosecutor General and Head of the National Investigation Service Borislav Sarafov. She is the owner of an apartment of 143.22 sq.m. in the neighborhood of Al Hebiah 3. The property was valued at more than $420,000 in 2020, but its price has since soared.
It is not known with what means Stoyanova has acquired this property, as she has no business in Bulgaria, but also has no business in Dubai, where she has not received the right of permanent residence. From passport data it can be concluded that the property was acquired after 2015.
At the height of the “Apartmentgate” scandal, the investigative site Bivol revealed that the young son of Borislav Sarafov had acquired two expensive apartments in Sofia. A probe was launched in the case, which “laundered” Sarafov.
Stoyanova did not respond to our numerous calls on her mobile phone. Contacted by phone, Borislav Sarafov replied that he did not want to comment on the personal affairs of his sister.
After the publication in the editorial office, the following right of reply was received from Stoyanova:
The following media #DubaiUncovered participate in the investigation: VG (Norway), Süddeutsche Zeitung (Germany), TV2 (Denmark), Knack (Belgium), iStories (Russia), SVT (Sweden), Le Monde (France), De Tijd (Belgium), Fundacja Reporterow (Poland), Atlatszo (Hungary), Investigace.cz (Czech Republic), Frontstory.pl (Poland), Direkt 36 (Hungary), MANS (Montenegro), BIRD.bg (Bulgaria), CIN (Bosnia and Herzegovina), Ostro (Slovenia), RISE Project (Romania), Eesti Päevaleht (Estonia), KRIK (Serbia), Investigative Reporting Project (Italy), Context Investigative Reporting Project (Romania), and Ostro (Croatia).
Leading photos: Irena Krasteva / Tsvetelina Belutova, Capital / Veliko Zhelev / Nadezhda Chipeva, Capital /, Borislav Sarafov / PRB website / © ©
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