In the last 7-8 years, the prosecutor’s office and the State Criminal Investigation Department have had several occasions to initiate a criminal prosecution or at least an investigation against Vasil Bozhkov for crimes with cultural property, but this has not happened. The Specialized Prosecutor’s Office decides to open an investigation against Bozhkov for trafficking in cultural property only when the state prosecution is placed in a situation where it itself, albeit indirectly, is the subject of scrutiny.The Prosecutor’s Office, however, does not investigate those who may have “covered up” the evidence of crimes committed in the “Trakiya” Foundation, but brings charges against persons who have the potential to reveal evidence of crimes committed by the Prosecutor’s Office itself.
Apparently nervous about the revision of the SSAs against protesters in 2020, Geshev began to “maul” the inspectors. The serious blow was dealt to Angel Papalezov – head of the KIC sector in the DGCPO. The charges against him were brought in an “emergency order” after he became part of the commission to check the DGCC and the DHS. The order convening the Commission was issued on 26 May 2021. On 27 May, the PIK news agency published a text which defines the commission as “a spitz command of Boyko Rashkov and Plamen Uzunov”. Papalezov and Stefan Dzholev, a former deputy director of the DGCOP, are characterised as the new “executioners” – the heads of the unit that was supposed to fabricate evidence against Geshev. On May 31, the interior minister removed Papalezov and Djolev from the commission because the prosecutor’s office, probably on the basis of the ARC publication, launched an investigation against them and requested information from the Interior Ministry about the two. Then Rashkov explained to bird.bg that he removed the two as a precautionary measure so as not to compromise the work of the entire committee. On June 1, investigators from the Sofia Investigation Service, under the direction of the Specialized Prosecutor’s Office, searched and seized Papalezov’s office and home. Stefan Jolev has also been summoned for questioning at the National Security Service. Many more members of the commission were summoned for interrogation by the investigative authorities, but after the publication of bird.bg the interrogations were cancelled.
Papalezov’s choice is logical. He is engaged in countering crimes with cultural property, and Vasil Bozhkov is the largest collector of archaeology in Bulgaria. And in this “operation” of the Specialized Prosecutor’s Office, which looks more like an active event, the state prosecution unit does not betray itself. Traditionally, in implementations under the “methodological” supervision of Spec. prosecutor’s office, first the suspects are arrested, then charges are brought, and only finally evidence is collected. If you can. If there are none, let him think special. court!
In the decree for Papalezov’s arrest there are two names – his and Vasil Krumov Bozhkov’s. The two of them and more than a dozen other persons of currently unclear identity, according to the decree, had functioned as an organized criminal group from the beginning of 2010 until the time of the search in Papalezov’s office. Usually, in the decrees of the Specialized Prosecutor’s Office we read that Ivancho, Dragancho and Petkancho, let’s say, on an unspecified date, committed in a criminal conspiracy some executive act that realizes the composition of an article of the Criminal Code. In this case, however, no executive act is specified, only articles of the Criminal Code. The prosecution not only does not bother to specify how the crime was committed – by action or inaction, it does not specify the crimes. It just lists lineups that are probably hollow.
Today Vasil Bozhkov is in an extremely unenviable position. But not because of the numerous accusations of the prosecution. They are worded in such a way as to give a possible indulgence to guilty high-ranking officials in the executive branch. It is not clear to anyone exactly how Finance Minister Vladislav Goranov missed the fact that Bozhkov “keeps the Gambling Commission on salary”, as a result of which huge damage to the fisc has occurred. If the prosecutor’s office worked objectively, the connection between Cherepa, Goranov and Borissov’s PR known as “Sheherazade” would be thoroughly checked, but this is not happening for the moment. The trouble for Bozhkov comes from the Magnitsky Act sanctions. According to several sources, a serious part of the testimonies and evidence of corruption in the activities of Delyan Peevski and Ilko Zhelyazkov were provided to the Americans by the same Bozhkov. But these same reports implicated Bozhkov himself.
Everyone loves Bozhkov, but in the past tense.
There was a time when Vasil Bozhkov, with the assistance of the state, managed to monopolize the gambling business. With the coming to power of GERB, he took up the construction of the Trakia highway, but then gave up infrastructure projects and continued to develop a successful gambling business with the assistance of the GERB governments. Investigator Boyko Atanasov has repeatedly reported that in investigations related to crimes against the fisc, which were assigned to him, a potential subject of crime were companies related to Vasil Bozhkov. One of the magistrates named as being particularly close to Bozhkov is the investigator and former member of the SJC Yassen Todorov. He was one of the pillars of Sotir Tsatsarov’s power as prosecutor general. At that moment Bozhkov was far from being among those dissatisfied with the work of the prosecution. He was considered to be one of the people able to cadre the judiciary.
Shortly before the clouds “thickened” over Bozhkov’s skyline, several popular MPs, including GERB’s legal stalwart Danail Kirillov, introduced a bill to amend the Cultural Heritage Act. The proposed changes served entirely the interests of Vasil Bozhkov. Among the other petitioners are Diana Dimova Savateva, a native of Tsarevo and elected by GERB Burgas. Later she became deputy mayor of Burgas. Stanislav Stanilov from the United Patriots is also among the sponsors. His presence is logical because he is from the then ruling coalition. Among the contributors is Boryana Lyubenova Georgieva. She is from the group of the “Bulgarian Navalny” – Mareshki. In 2018, Volya is among the informal participants in the GERB coalition. Nothing illogical so far. Among the names of the petitioners stands out that of Spas Panchev from BSP, a party claiming to be a parliamentary opposition. To top it off, Velislava Ivanova Krasteva from the MRF is among the petitioners. She is the only one who is supposed to have expertise on the topic of “cultural heritage” because she is the Deputy Minister of Culture with the portfolio of “Cultural Heritage, Museums and Galleries” in Plamen Oresharski’s cabinet.
The contributors are practically a representative sample of the whole Parliament. There are some very key points in the amendment bill. First, private museums are given the opportunity to carry out identification of cultural heritage objects. Until 2018, the identification was carried out only by the NIM and regional history museums. With the new regulations, private museums are caught in a conflict situation. They have an interest in identifying as originals objects that are at least of dubious provenance if, for example, their owner is the museum owner. Once legalized in this way, they can be displayed and offered at auctions, for example, or simply introduced into the antiquities and numismatics trade. With the changes, owners of private collections can transfer their identification from one museum to another. For example, if the regional history museum in Vratsa, Kyustendil or Ruse is overloaded or does not have the capacity to carry out the identification of the objects from the X collection, the doors of the Thrace Foundation, Vasil Bojkov Museum are open. Until the change of the law, the identification and passporting of movable cultural monuments was a monopoly for the scientists of the state museums. Presumably the scrutiny is at a higher level there, and they are more impartial as experts. At least because their salary is not paid by some stakeholder. They are financed from the budget, however scarce it may be, and through European projects.
There is no life logic for experts on salary at collectors to be arbiters of the authenticity of the objects of these same collectors, but the legislator in the face of GERB and company successfully pushed through this change. The third extremely disturbing point is that cultural property with documents of origin issued outside the country, which subsequently become the property of Bulgarian collectors, are not subject to re-identification by the NIM, for example, as was the legal regulation before the changes. They can enter and leave the country unhindered with the documents in question. This opens up the possibility of extremely easy “washing” of antiques. For decades, there has been a practice of “laundering” the finds of imamurists by making up a “legend” that they were part of the collection of a Western nobleman while they were still buried in the ground. Today the prosecution accuses Vasil Krumov Bozhkov of being the organizer of a criminal group specializing in antiquities trafficking, without any evidence in this direction. However, while Danail Kirilov was pushing through legal changes that would make such criminal activity immeasurably easier, the same prosecutor’s office took no action. The only ones who are trying to prevent the adoption of these texts in the parliamentary committee on culture are the experts of the cultural department and the employees of the General Directorate of National Heritage, including Angel Papalezov. Probably the prosecution will not give a reasonable explanation why he worked against Bozhkov’s interests, but is allegedly in the same OCG with him.
Checks at the Trakia Foundation in 2015
Many questions arise from the inspections that have been made of the Vasil Bojkov Museum, which is part of the Trakia Foundation. The last one in 2015 was carried out by the Inspectorate General Directorate of the Ministry of Culture, but in the presence of officials from the Cultural Property Trafficking Sector of the State Agency for National Security. At that time the SANS unit was headed by Chief Inspector Andrei Mladenov. One of the reasons for the probe is the detention in Greece of Dobromir Tsankov Petrov – a major construction contractor, considered to be particularly close to Bozhkov.
According to information from officials from the cultural department, Andrei Mladenov was present, along with other SANS officials, during the inspection. He is supposed to be the main witness of special. the prosecution in the case of trafficking in cultural property against Bozhkov.
According to the inspection report, the employees of the cultural department found 11 violations. Some of them are sufficient to justify the hypothesis of a criminal offence, which the SANS officers present should have accepted as a sufficient condition for initiating actions provided for under the Code of Criminal Procedure. The next step was precisely to suspend the inspection of the Inspectorate of the Ministry of Culture and initiate the investigation of a crime. In point 2 of the inspection report it is mentioned that during the inspection the museum did not provide documents from which it is clear how the objects were received in the museum. The inspection committee was not provided with documents on the origin and identification of the objects in the museum. In other words, the examiners find some antiquities in the museum, no one can provide documentary evidence of their provenance, but nothing comes of it.
During the inspection of the objects there were no traces of inventory numbers, which casts doubt on the belonging of the inspected cultural property to the museum collection, as well as their origin. The committee was also not granted access to the museum’s holdings. They are even obstructed (whatever that means), which raises questions about the actions, integrity and legal training of the SANS officers who are on the ground. On inspection of the laboratory premises, the objects found there were also without accompanying documents and inventory numbers to show their origin. Dozens of objects and numerous fragments of unknown origin were found in the laboratory, which again raises questions about the actions of the SANS officers and their head Andrei Mladenov. The laboratory has also identified numerous cultural property items undergoing restoration, which are owned by state museums. According to bird.bg’s sources, even at the time of the search of the Vasil Bozhkov Museum in February 2020, dozens of NIM and NAIM-BAS objects were found in the laboratory. During the inspection of the Vasil Bozhkov Museum it was found that there were no inventory books to clarify the origin and method of acquisition of the cultural property in the museum.
The silence in the DGBP
The inspection of the Vasil Bojkov Museum was carried out in January 2015., the fact-finding protocol itself was prepared on 26 February 2015 and was sent to the “Trafficking in Cultural Property” sector of the DGCOP, the successor of the one in SANS, in March 2015. After that date, no action was taken by the DGCDP or the Specialized Prosecutor’s Office with regard to the evidence of crimes collected in the framework of the investigation.
Former employees of the DGCOP claim that checks of the Trakia Foundation, sponsored entirely by Bozhkov, were carried out in 2008 on the orders of Prosecutor General Boris Velchev, and in 2011, again by the DGCOP, on specific signals that resulted in findings of no crimes and violations. At the time of both inspections, the head of the sector in the GDBOP was Volodya Velkov, who was a former subordinate of the late Kiril Hristoskov – director of the Trakia Foundation. While the prosecutor’s office and the DGCDP are carrying out the above three checks, the one who is close to Bozhkov, Dobromir Petrov – Bai Dobri, is trying to assist the prosecutor’s office in returning to Bulgaria the so-called “Alanian Treasure” – a collective find of medieval silver vessels with gilding that belonged to a vassal of the Bulgarian crown. The objects were discovered during an excavation by Nayden Blangiev, they were exported from Bulgaria, a “legend” of their origin was created and they were acquired (at least some of them) from the Benaki Museum in Thessaloniki. Several independent sources claim that in this case, Bai Dobri acted as an agent of the prosecution. Our team was unable to reach Dobromir Petrov for comment, but according to unconfirmed information, after more than a year in Greece, where he is under house arrest, the investigation against him has ended there without charges.
Today, the defendant in the case is not Andrei Mladenov or any of the other employees of the State Antiquities Police, in whose functions the legislator has assigned to counteract the international and domestic trafficking of antiquities, but Angel Paplezov, who has the bad luck to be included in the committee for checking the SSAs. On the one hand, such an action undoubtedly bears the marks of self-dealing with the Ministry of Interior without legal basis. On the other hand, however, such behaviour of the prosecutor’s office shows that there is no intention to check whether crimes have been committed with cultural values in the “Thrace” Foundation and whether the checks have not been crushed over the years.
Cover photo: Situla with Pan’s head, second sex. V century BC. Hr. Trakia Foundation website
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