Irena Krasteva has acquired two offshore companies in the British Virgin Islands (BVI) in 2009. Their registration has been ordered by a Swiss bank. The purpose of the operation – to open bank accounts in the name of a legal entity and conceal Krasteva as their real owner. Krasteva is the mother of infamous former Bulgarian lawmaker and media mogul Delyan Peevski.
These two companies are named Hintas Holding & Finance SA and Sarit Partners Corp. and are pre-registered by the offshore service provider Triden Trust. RBS Coutts Bank in Zurich turned to the Trident Trust on April 9, 2009 and tasked it with registering Irena Angelova Krasteva as the owner of the companies. The explicitly stated purpose of the acquisition of both companies is “to hold an account with RBS Coutts Bank Ltd., Zurich”. Trident Trust invoiced its services to the bank in the amount of $1,700, while the annual cost to keep the registration active was $550.
The set of documents includes information about the subscriber of shares of the companies. Irena Angelova Krasteva is this subscriber for both of them. A copy of her passport is also attached.
The name of banker Fortunat Huber, who certified the copy of Krasteva’s passport, is indicative. He emerges from earlier revelations by the investigative site Bivol as the person from the same bank who has registered offshores for Bulgarian labor union leader Konstantin Trenchev. Huber also appears in Capital weekly’s investigation into the offshore holdings of banker, Tsvetan Vassilev, the former majority shareholder in the collapsed Corporate Commercial Bank (CCB). He is most likely Vassilev’s personal Swiss banker while at that time Vassilev had excellent relations with Delyan Peevski and financed his mother’s media.
The Pandora Papers do not contain specific details about the accounts of these offshore companies and their amount. But without a doubt, this is a financial operation that aims to hide the real owner of the money in Switzerland. In fact, the Bank is committed to the entire process of acquiring the offshore company, registering it in the name of the client as a beneficiary and opening an account in the name of an undetectable company from the BVI.
This type of offshore banking service raises many questions about compatibility with anti-money laundering legislation, but data from the Pandora Papers, and earlier from the Panama Papers, show that it has been a common practice in Switzerland and other tax havens.
RBS Coutts is a Swiss subsidiary of the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), one of the oldest and most respected financial institutions in the world, which manages the accounts of the British Royal Family. Its Swiss branch that provided wealth management services to rich clients was involved in scandals and investigated in the United States and Germany for assisting money laundering and tax evasion activities. In 2015, RBS sold Coutts to the Swiss bank Union Bancaire Privée (UBP).
BIRD sent questions to UBP and RBS whether the accounts of these companies are active and which bank currently holds them. We also asked whether these companies and accounts are related to the financial operations of Delyan Peevski, who was sanctioned in June 2021 by the United States Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) under the Magnitsky Act for his extensive role in corruption in Bulgaria. In our letter we also pointed out that Peevski’s mother Irena Krasteva is blacklisted in Bulgaria for her business ties with her son over the Magnitsky sanctions.
RBS replied that it does not provide information about their customers. The UBP press service replied that it had no comment on the specific case, but had been in strict compliance with all regulatory requirements. It clarified that only part of Coutts International’s customer base had been acquired in the transaction without answering the specific question of whether Krasteva’s offshore accounts are currently in UBP.
Irena Krasteva is known as the former boss of the state lottery. In 2007 she acquired the largest Bulgarian press group with a multimillion-dollar loan from the CCB, and later bought other print media, the Rodina printing house and a number of press distribution companies. The profits are estimated at BGN tens of millions. For many years, Delyan Peevski was not an official media owner but his personal control of the content of the newspapers was a public secret. These newspapers were the mouthpiece of the country’s rulers and at the same time were used for smear campaigns against opposition figures, civil activists and critical journalists.
It was not until 2014 that Peevski spoke about “my family’s media”, while a year later Irena Krasteva partially transferred the property to him. After that, Krasteva gradually withdrew from the companies, and Delyan Peevski’s media empire grew as he acquired unofficial control over Channel 3 TV and several tabloids. As a result of this media takeover, Bulgaria plummeted in the rankings for media freedom and Peevski was explicitly mentioned by Reporters Without Borders as the main culprit for this collapse. A year ago, he lost ownership of his media in a dubious deal with United Group, which bought the Vivacom telecom, Nova TV and without any clear reason, some of Peevski’s newspapers.
The Pandora Papers also reveal Peevski’s ownership of three offshores, which he has failed to declare despite being required to as a lawmaker. In a statement to the media, Peevski denied any wrongdoing, but the revelations provoked a reaction by the National Revenue Agency (NRA) and the Committee for Combatting Corruption and the withdrawal of illegally acquired property (KPKONPI) (sic), which launched probes. On October 6, Peevski was also summoned for questioning by the National Security Agency (DANS). He refused to answer any questions by reporters about his offshore companies.
So far, Peevski has been repeatedly checked by the prosecutor’s office on various tipoffs, but without any consequences. After the Magnitsky sanctions, the Bulgarian authorities created a national “Magnitsky list”, which includes Peevski’s associates and relatives such as his mother Irena Krasteva, but not his trusted lawyer Alexander Angelov, who had received offshore ownership from him. The former lawmaker is challenging the sanctions, and his party, the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS), which largely represents the Bulgarian Muslim minority, continues to defend him publicly in front of Bulgarian and European institutions, claiming that there is no evidence that he is involved in corruption.
The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) placed Delyan Peevski on the list of the 300 most influential people included in the Pandora Papers. According to his “Pandora” profile, he is an oligarch, a one-time media mogul, and a former member of the Bulgarian Parliament sanctioned in June 2021 by the US Treasury Department. The ICIJ cites Bivol’s investigation showing that Peevski is considered the symbol and embodiment of the “deep state” in Bulgaria for being a frontman of former officers and agents from the Communist secret services (the State Security), close to the DPS and the BSP, who represent the backstage rule of Bulgaria and control huge assets.
The Pandora Papers contain confidential information from 14 offshore service providers, the so-called Secrecy Brokers, enterprises that set up and manage shell companies and trusts in tax havens around the globe. Trident Trust and Alfa Consulting, which registered Felina and Verum respectively, are among them. But the data show that other companies also work with Bulgarian clients. The previous major leak, known as the Panama Papers, contained files from only one company – the now-liquidated Mossack Fonseca & Co.
ICIJ has obtained more than 11.9 million financial records, containing 2.94 terabytes of leaked confidential information from these offshore service providers. For nearly two years, ICIJ organized and led an investigation that grew to encompass more than 600 journalists in 117 countries and territories. This is the ICIJ’s largest ever investigation on the offshore world unlocks financial secrets of politicians, billionaires and the global elite
ICIJ shared the files with 150 media partners, launching the broadest collaboration in journalism history. Their publications began on October 3. They reveal the secret deals and hidden assets of more than 330 politicians and high-level public officials in more than 90 countries and territories, including 35 country leaders.
Current and former leaders who have owned secret companies and trusts, as revealed by the Pandora Papers investigation, include King Abdullah II of Jordan, the prime ministers of Côte d’Ivoire and the Czech Republic, the presidents of Ecuador, Kenya and Gabon and the former presidents of El Salvador, Panama, Paraguay and Honduras, the former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and many others.
BIRD.BG is a partner of ICIJ in the investigation and combs through the information about nearly 200 persons with Bulgarian citizenship or living in Bulgaria, who appear in the Pandora Papers. They include two politicians, one of whom is Peevski, big financiers, lawyers, people involved in multimillion-dollar fraud schemes, but also entrepreneurs with legitimate business and no visible political protections, who have registered offshore companies and have declared them before the Bulgarian authorities.
Globally, the amounts hidden in offshore destinations, for which data are available in the Pandora Papers, are estimated at several trillion US dollars. In the Bulgarian segment there are data for large-scale damage to Bulgarian taxpayers worth at least BGN 1 billion.
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