Ivan Todorov‘s law firm in Bulgaria has advised dozens of foreigners, candidates for golden passports granted against investments in the country. Todorov is the owner of the Ciela publishing house and, according to the YanevaGate recordings, he is close to the controversial businessman, former media mogul and lawmaker from the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS, the party largely representing the Bulgarian Muslim minority) Delyan Peevski . Among the newly-hatched Bulgarians consulted by the office is the Russian national Roman Savushkin, an influential businessman close to his country’s government, as evidenced by his photos with former Russian President and former Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.
In addition to Russians, Ivan Todorov’s office advises Chinese, Iranians, Jordanians, Kuwaitis, Lebanese, Libyans, Pakistanis and Egyptians. Todorov’s passport services are not incidental but systematic. This is indicated by the documents available to BIRD which include dozens of files.
The closeness of Todorov and Peevski is discussed in the YanevaGate conversations between former judge Vladimira Yaneva and lawyer Momchil Mondeshki: “He goes upstairs all the time, to see Delyan, Delyan,” Mondeshki says, quoting the specific case of telecom BTC in which Todorov had protected the interests of the lawmaker. ” I have talked to Delyan, I know they know each other,” Yaneva agrees.
These data confirm the statement of the Minister of Justice Nadezhda Yordanova, who told the media that an intermediary close to the DPS is involved in the scheme with the golden passports. The party reacted harshly and asked the prosecutor’s office to question Yordanova. Earlier, DPS itself filed a report on abuse of citizenship for investment. According to it, there was no investment, but “passing back and forth the same money through a bank.” This topic is not new and there is an investigation file on it, which was terminated in 2019, as the Specialized Prosecutor’s Office did not see any evidence of a crime at that time.
Among the names of the lawyers from Todorov’s law firm authorized by Roman Savushkin to represent him is that of Boyan Novanski, who is not from this law firm. Novanski is now a member of the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) from the majority supporting Prosecutor General Ivan Geshev. Mediapool reported earlier that Novansky had consulted two Russians who had been subsequently granted Bulgarian citizenship.
The law firm Georgiev, Todorov & Co sent the following answer to our question of how many golden passports clients they have had over the years, what nationalities they are from and how many cases had been brought to a successful conclusion.
“For about five years we have not been engaged in consulting such activities. The colleague who has worked on this has also not been part of our team for years and we are not able to give you specific and up-to-date information.”
However, not all clients of Todorov’s office had been granted citizenship to date. BIRD is researching the biographies and assets of these new Bulgarians, which will be presented in a follow-up investigation.
A Bulgarian heads a key Russian company
When he received his Bulgarian passport, Roman Savushkin was the general director of the United Wagon Company, a strategically important enterprise in Russia. He became a Bulgarian citizen by Decree 181 of December 18, 2019. It is noteworthy that his casefile had been registered only a year earlier under number 462/2018. But before submitting his citizenship documents, on May 4, 2017, Savushkin authorized the law firm Georgiev, Todorov and Co. to represent him in the procedure for acquiring citizenship for investment. The power of attorney was signed in Moscow and certified by the Bulgarian consul general there.
A check in the Trade Register showed that Savushkin did not own or manage companies, i.e. he did not invest in the real economy, but probably bought government securities or deposited money in a Bulgarian bank, as provided by the law on Bulgarian citizenship.
After becoming a citizen, at the end of 2021 and the beginning of 2022, Savushkin nevertheless invested in Bulgaria, but in his own property on the Black Sea coast. He spent over BGN 800,000 for two apartments with garages in the sea city of Burgas, according to a reference in the Property Register.
The company run by Savushkin is Russia’s leading and one of the world’s biggest manufacturers of freight cars through the Tikhvin Wagon Building Plant. Its majority shareholder is the IST group, linked to billionaire Alexander Nesis. IST has a joint venture with Rostech, a group led by Sergey Chemezov, a member of Putin’s inner circle. An investigation by BIRD and iStories showed that Chemezov and his relatives had also acquired property on the Bulgarian Black Sea coast.
The shadow of Delyan
The Yanevagate scandal, a series of recordings of conversations between former senior judges Vladimira Yaneva and Rumyana Chenalova and lawyer Momchil Mondeshki, was published by Bivol in 2015. The relations between lawyer Ivan Todorov and lawmaker Delyan Peevski were one of its many revelations.
Yaneva: … that Ivan, you will see him?
Chenalova: Why him?
M: You can now easily meet Maria, Mladen’s… The lawyer you saw two or three times downstairs with Katya. To explain to you what, what she is talking about with all her impudence, about you. Before, you still had to be careful with her, but now, you can just see her. (sighs) He has no shame. Goes upstairs all the time.
Ya: To see whom?
M: Delyan, Delyan.
Ch: How in the world did he get there?
M: Mm. Some time ago, when the case with BTC was pending, for the dismissed 114 thousand people. It was part of the privatization deal for them not to be fired for two years. They were fired and the amount was about 30 million in compensation that Delyan had to pay to the company. Then, Kamburov defended the Agency for Post-Privatization Control, Ivan Todorov – BTC. Then Yavor Kamburov lost intentionally.
M: Yeah, so… He was working back then, that was six years ago. They know each other.
Ya: I talked to Delyan, I know they know each other.
M: They work… Ivan Todorov is so bold that when one shows him the door, he enters through the window. Nothing remains hidden, so it will come out.
Ivan Todorov, himself, categorically denied before Bivol the allegations that he was close and had worked with Peevski.
“All of Peevski’s media launched a total and mass slander campaign against me. In this situation, how do you imagine I can have a relationship with him? I have also sued Peevski. Any allegations of such arrangements are absurd,” he said in a statement sent to our media.
Loans for “golden passports”, pressure from Europe and Magnitsky
In 2016, the investigative news site Bivol published a report on First Investment Bank (FIB) by the central bank (the Bulgarian National Bank, BNB), which describes the so-called citizenship loans. It clearly shows that foreigners can take a loan from FIB without actually depositing money in Bulgaria, present it as an investment and repay the loan in five years, consequently their citizenship costs only interest. This had worked at least until 2011, when the report was prepared.
By December 31, 2011, the Bank has issued to the Ministry of Finance of the Republic of Bulgaria letters of guarantee for 36 foreign individuals (there were six foreign individuals during the previous Inspection) that these citizens dispose of a sum of 511,292 thousand euro in a personal deposit account with First Investment Bank. The availability of these deposits, according to the Inspection, is maintained on the basis of loans granted by the Bank to those persons. These loans are with the same contractual parameters – in the amount of 511,292 euro, 4% interest for a period of five years, with a cash deposit, equal to the amount of the loan and in the same currency, as collateral, is written in the report, while the footnote reads the following: These loans are the Bank’s standard product for loans to foreign customers. They are granted to foreign citizens for investments in Bulgarian government securities in order to apply for Bulgarian citizenship. According to information from the Bank, it had reported each of these foreigners to the National Security Agency and had received confirmation that they do not participate in criminal activities.
At the tipoff by Bivol, the Committee for Combatting Corruption and the withdrawal of illegally acquired property (KPKONPI) (sic) and the Specialized Prosecutor’s Office launched an investigation into these loans, which was terminated in 2019. Prosecutor Hr. Hristova from the Specialized Prosecutor’s Office did not see any evidence of a crime in the scheme.
However, this is not what the European Commission thinks. Following an investigation by the Global Anti-Corruption Consortium, a partnership between the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) and Transparency International entitled Bulgaria’s Golden Visas: Missed Targets and a Banking Loophole a report was prepared. The report – European Gateway: Inside the Murky World of Golden Visas – was presented to the European institutions in 2018. It explicitly mentions the case of citizenship loans granted by FIB.
Since then, the European Commission has regularly recalled the problem of golden passports and has pressured the Bulgarian state to change the law. Over the years, resistance has been shown mostly by the DPS.
In June 2021, the United States Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sanctioned Delyan Peevski under the Magnitsky Act for his extensive role in corruption in Bulgaria, mentioning among others a scheme for granting citizenship.
In an attempt to clear Peevski’s name, the DPS submitted a bill banning golden passports and a report to the prosecutor’s office on abuses in issuing investment certificates. According to the party, the investments are simply “passing back and forth the same money through a bank.” This benefits foreigners with dubious biographies, probably related to foreign services.
So far, there is evidence only about FIB being involved in the citizenship scheme. The Bank’s loyal client is the very same Delyan Peevski, it became clear from the Pandora Papers.
And if three years ago the Prosecutor’s Office did not see a problem with the scheme with loans for citizenship, now it is becoming more active following the DPS report and has launched searches in the relevant institutions.
Following in the footsteps of the scandal, the Minister of Justice Nadezhda Yordanova told the media that an intermediary close to the DPS is involved in the scheme with the golden passports. The party denied these allegations and asked the Prosecutor’s Office to question her.
In fact, the Prosecutor’s Office has all the necessary information in connection with the terminated probe by the Specialized Prosecutor’s Office in 2019. It could also question Yaneva, Chenalova and Mondeshki to confirm who “goes up there to see Delyan”.
There were no probes and interrogations after the YanevaGate scandal, probably because of evidence in the conversations of trading in influence by former Prosecutor General Sotir Tsatsarov on the orders of former Prime Minister Boyko Borisov to crush cases and burry documents and files.
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