Back in 1994, the FBI arrested a criminal group for drug trafficking, which included a policeman, a doctor, two rabbis and Lachezar “Lucky” Hristov – Honorary Consul General of Bulgaria in Los Angeles. According to investigators, the group laundered at least $100 million through Swiss accounts, according to media publications overseas (see here, here and here).
Even the writer of Ocean’s Gang may envy such a selection of the conspirators. But thanks to time, this contribution of Bulgarian honorary diplomacy to serious cross-border crime has been completely forgotten.
However, over the years, the Institute of Honorary Consuls in Bulgaria has given a lot of material about the media “wall of fame” of the Foreign Ministry.
Especially rich in events were the last two years, during which the spotlight of public attention marched the sex symbol Violeta Sechkova /Honorary Consul of Korea in Plovdiv/, the candidate Prime Minister Petar Iliev from Sofia (I repeat, from Sofia), a proven plagiarist and consul of Barbados, and our voodoo consul in the Congo Teodora Ignatova, which turned out to be the owner of a Bulgarian company for “clairvoyance and astro psychoanalysis” and has not set foot in the Congo for years.
Appointments of honorary consuls are not just anecdotal. An example of this is the scandal with Macedonian millionaire Orce Kamchev, nominated as Honorary Consul of Bulgaria in Ohrid by Borisov’s last government. In 2018, Kamchev was arrested on corruption and racketeering charges. He was released from custody on $11m bail. Euro at the beginning of this year.
The controversial honorary consuls are not only a Bulgarian specialty, reveals the global investigation “Shadow Diplomats” of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists ICIJ and ProPublica, which involved 160 journalists from 56 media outlets in 49 countries.
The investigation sheds light on one of the least studied roles in international diplomacy, that of the honorary consul. These volunteer diplomats work from their home countries to promote the interests of foreign governments, usually in places without an embassy or consulate. On the contrary, they represent their country abroad.
This first-of-its-kind global investigation identifies at least 500 current and former honorary consuls who have been implicated in scandals or criminal cases.
Some have been convicted of serious crimes or caught using their status for personal gain, others are being investigated for money laundering related to corruption and terrorism, and still others have been criticised for supporting authoritarian regimes.
Those numbers are almost certainly understated, as no international agency tracks honorary consuls and dozens of governments do not make their names public.
The investigation found that the system of honorary consuls was continually sabotaged by unverified appointees who had abused their status to enrich, evade law enforcement, or advance political goals.
Extreme from Hezbollah
Arriving in Ghana’s capital, the international arms broker, who called himself “Excellentz,” welcomed his buyers to the Golden Tulip Hotel and offered a secret sale: millions of dollars in missiles and grenades for use against U.S. forces.
“Excellentz” is a traditional address to an official diplomat, but in this case it is about something else.
The buyers were DEA informants posing as emissaries of an internationally known guerrilla group and drug cartel in Colombia aimed at toppling the government and striking U.S. forces stationed in the country.
“We are fighting against the Americans. they are invading my country,” one informant told Jaber, according to a transcription of the conversation obtained by ProPublica and ICIJ. “What we need exactly… He’s a good guy who can provide us with guns.”
“Hezbollah is selling,” Jaber said. “… What kind of weapons?”
“You know, M14, M16?” said the informant, referring to the rifles. — Grenades, pistols, rifles.
“Explosives,” Jaber said. “Dynamite and so on… Pau, Pau, Pau, Pau.”
“Who else knows I’m with Hezbollah?” asked Fawzi Jaber as night descended into the four-star hotel with a life-size giraffe sculpture in the lobby.
Jaber, who represented a senior agent of the Iranian-backed terrorist organization, offered to sweeten the deal. It will help buyers secure desirable positions such as special diplomats known as honorary consuls who can easily travel through airports and transport their bags without law enforcement control.
“I will make you consul in your country,” Jaber said. “All your friends will be consuls, because when we travel…”
His associate said, “You will have a diplomatic pass.”
At a second buyer meeting three months later, Jaber said: “We’re going to every country in Africa. We make you consul of Equatorial Guinea [or] Guinea-Bissau. … You pay $200,000. You are the consul of the country. And you have another passport.
Jaber, who promised to deliver surface-to-air missiles, assault rifles and grenades, move and store cocaine in West Africa, and launder the proceeds through bank accounts in New York, was eventually detained in Prague and extradited to the United States. He pleaded guilty in 2017 to conspiring to support the Colombian terrorist group and was sentenced to prison.
Jaber’s secret proposal in the fall of 2012, recorded and transcribed by U.S. federal investigators, promises protection through a little-known international program that gives large and small countries the ability to recruit citizens to volunteer diplomats around the world.
This case is an illustration of how the system of honorary consuls, designed to exploit the generosity of decent citizens, is becoming a dangerous form of deceptive diplomacy that threatens the rule of law in many states.
Nine honorary consuls identified by ProPublica and ICIJ are linked to terrorist groups. Most are affiliated with Hezbollah, a political party and militant group in Lebanon designated by the United States and other countries as a terrorist organization.
There are also numerous cases of corrupt, cruel and dangerous officials, including those accused of aiding terrorist regimes.
ProPublica and ICIJ found that convicted drug traffickers, arms dealers, murderers, sex offenders, and fraudsters served as honorary consuls. As well as aides to some of the world’s most corrupt governments, including North Korea, Syria and South Sudan.
What is an Honorary Consul?
Created thousands of years ago, the system of honorary consuls is an opportunity for diplomatic representation for countries that cannot afford the cost of foreign embassies by assigning representation to private individuals.
Honorary consuls date back at least to the fall of the Western Roman Empire, when Greece, China, India, and Middle Eastern countries appointed volunteers for foreign ties to expand trade. Subsequently, this model has spread as a mainstay of international relations adopted by most governments around the world.
Unlike ambassadors and official consuls, honorary consuls work abroad or in their home country, using connections and influence to promote the interests of the foreign governments that appoint them or their home country abroad. In return, consuls gain access to the lofty world of diplomacy and receive some of the same protections and advantages afforded career diplomats.
Under the international treaty, their archives and correspondence cannot be confiscated. Their consular luggage—bags, boxes and shipping containers of any weight and size—are protected from searches. Title and name, including special passports and car license plates, can open doors in industry and politics.
The U.S. government, however, stopped appointing its own honorary consuls abroad in 1924, choosing to rely exclusively on career diplomats. It was a forward-looking move: Three years later, an international panel warned that giving special advantages to private individuals allowed them to compete on an “unfair basis” with business rivals.
The panel said honorary consuls “should no longer exist,” adding that most “are much more preoccupied with their personal affairs than with those of the country that awarded them the title.”
Concerns about the exploitation of this statute fill hundreds of pages of notes and documents from UN archives. In 1960, a UN expert on the subject warned that honorary consuls were not subject to disciplinary control in the same way as career diplomats.
Yet, when dozens of governments gathered a few years later in Vienna, they enshrined in international law a valuable set of advantages that include several surveillance protocols.
Under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, honorary consuls are guaranteed “freedom of movement and travel” in the countries where they served. They can communicate without restriction, their documents and correspondence at the consulate are protected from searches, and their offices are protected from “any intrusion . . . or prejudice to … dignity.”
The consuls were granted legal immunity in matters relating to their work. Although the immunity was not extended to unrelated offenses, the treaty stipulated that honorary consuls would be entitled to criminal proceedings “with the minimum of delay” and “due respect . . . because of its official position.”
Some countries, concerned in part by the rules of secrecy for consular shipments that can be carried by plane, train, car, ship or courier, insisted they would not protect them. Other countries have renounced honorary consuls altogether, refusing to appoint or accept such.
Crimes and scandals
Thirty honorary consuls have been sanctioned by the United States and other governments, including 17, who have been sanctioned while in office. Some are members of President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle, blacklisted after Russia invaded Ukraine.
Former U.S. officials who investigated Hezbollah’s financial network said the terror group’s use of honorary consul status was deliberate, well-organized and unfortunately not well studied. In March, the Treasury imposed sanctions on a prominent businessman in Guinea, accusing him of funneling money to Hezbollah and using his status as honorary consul to get in and out of the country without attracting attention.
In North Macedonia, intelligence officials found that two consuls had allowed their offices to be used as a base for a Russian propaganda operation aimed at curbing the expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
In Myanmar, a consul sanctioned by the United States and other governments reportedly used his ties to help deliver weapons to the brutal military junta during its genocidal campaign against ethnic minorities.
Consuls invoke diplomatic credentials to avoid searches and arrests. Sometimes they invoke their immunity even to avoid taxes or parking fines. Some are accused of hiding money and smuggling in their offices and luggage.
One former consul in Egypt has been convicted of attempting to illegally smuggle more than 21,000 antiquities out of the country into a diplomatic container, including mummies masks and a wooden sarcophagus.
Once indicted, some consuls have tried, and sometimes successfully avoided, criminal investigations through false allegations of broad legal immunity that confused or obstructed the police and prosecutor’s office.
Lawlessness and claims of impunity have largely been met with silence: Few governments have publicly called for safeguards to be introduced, despite warnings from law enforcement.
“Consuls act completely autonomously and are not controlled by the state they represent. … The Spanish government has no chance of interfering in their affairs,” investigators in Spain wrote in a confidential 2019 report on three honorary consuls accused of money laundering for a suspected drug trafficker.
Honorary Consuls in Bulgaria and Bulgaria
The status of honorary consuls, regulated in the Vienna Convention, has been transposed in Bulgaria into the Diplomatic Service Act and the Ordinance on Honorary Consuls.
There is no competition for an honorary consul. An Honorary Consul of a foreign country in Bulgaria may become a person who is proposed by the respective country and approved by a decision of the Council of Ministers. Prior to the decision, there was also an inspection by various institutions such as the State Agency for National Security (DANS) and the Ministry of Justice.
Upon a positive decision by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the so-called exequatur – a document for taking office – is issued to the new honorary consul.
The opposite happens according to the same procedure, as the Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs proposes and the foreign state approves the Honorary Consul and issues him an exequatur.
“I remember that in 2000, when I became Honorary Consul of Malta, I was checked by many institutions. The inspection lasted a year and a half” – told the President of the Association of Honorary Consuls Borislav Boyanov.
According to the BRRD, the inspection of the honorary consuls goes through the State Agency for National Security and the Ministry of Justice.
In addition to having to finance his own activities in the country concerned, the status of honorary consul entails other expenses, as explained in an interview.
for the Banker newspaper the Honorary Consul of the Seychelles in Bulgaria Maxim Behar. He says that he paid for the education in Bulgaria of the first Seychelles citizen Marcus Bonte.
BIRD sent an inquiry under the Access to Public Information Act to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in order to receive the current lists of the Honorary Consuls of Bulgaria abroad and those of foreign countries in Bulgaria.
As a result, we received a document with bulk information, in which the names of honorary consuls are often incomplete and there is no systematic spelling in Latin. See the lists here.
The lists include famous businessmen, lawyers and public figures whose reputation is not unambiguous.
For example, the ex-wife next to Boyko Borisov Tsvetelina Borislavova He is the Honorary Consul of Iceland. She is alleged in US diplomatic reports to have helped Borissov’s money laundering from criminal activity through her bank.
13. (S/NF) Accusations in the past have linked Borisov to fuel drain scandals, illegal transactions in combination with Lukoil and serious methamphetamine smuggling. The information from SIMO is in confirmation of these accusations. Borissov is believed to have used his post as head of Bulgarian law enforcement to cover up his criminal acts, and the woman he cohabits with, Tsvetelina Borislavova, runs a large bank that has been accused of money laundering for criminal organizations, as well as participating in Borisov’s own illegal transactions. Borisov is said to have serious ties to some mafia figures, including Mladen Mihalev (also called Madzho), and his former organized crime partner Rumen Nikolov (also called “The Pasha”). – writes in a secret report of Ambassador Beyrle from Sofia, sent to Washington on May 9, 2006 and published by Wikileaks and Bivol.
Another honorary consul, known from the reports of the services, but now the Bulgarian ones, is Georgi Boyanov KrumovConsul of Chile. He appeared in the work of the former head of the General Directorate for Combatting Organized Crime (GDBOP) Vanyo Tanov against OCG for smuggling of fuels and excise goods, which together with him are mentioned “Big and Small Margini”, Plamen Galev, Georgi Samuilov, as well as the owners of the winery in “Peshtera” Atanas Petrov and Anton Shterev. A senior police chief is detected with SSDs to negotiate a bribe with them – a hunting rifle and a laptop Mac.
The Honorary Consul of Russia in Plovdiv Georgi Gergov also stands out, who began his career in business as a pig farm owner, then grew into an influential businessman involved in affairs with a strong corrupt smell such as the “hole in Varna” or cases with trading influence such as “Tsumgate”. At the height of the Russian aggression against Ukraine, he distinguished himself by inviting Russian Ambassador Eleonora Mitrofanova to Plovdiv for the celebrations of May 9.
Arms dealer Petar Mandjoukov He is also an honorary consul. It represents the Central Asian Republic of Uzbekistan in Bulgaria. Mandjoukov, close to the BSP, was the main protagonist in the “Petrolgate” scandal. His company participated in the trafficking of oil vouchers of the regime of Saddam Hussein, through which the BSP was financed. To investigate Petrolgate, a special parliamentary committee was set up. In more recent times, Petar Mandjoukov has been exposed with offshore companies in the Panama Papers investigation. He was an associate of the State Security under the pseudonym “Pamporov”.
Other famous honorary consuls with agent names are Maxim Behar – agent “Dimo” and the late Borislav Dionysiev, former honorary consul of the Maldives, alias “Hristov”.
In addition to the already mentioned Lachezar Hristov – Lucky, arrested for drug trafficking in the United States, among our honorary consuls overseas stands the name of Adam Portnoy, honorary consul in Boston. According to an investigation by Pro Publica , he is one of the wealthy Americans who have become even more enriched by former President Trump’s tax laws. Portnoy, who is the head of a large real estate trading company, saved $14 million. Taxes after Trump’s reform.
Consuls of Schrödinger
At the beginning of 2021, the public attention attracted the government decision to approve the sex symbol Violeta Sechkova for Honorary Consul of Korea in Plovdiv. Sechkova is known as the wife of businessman Alexander Staliyski, close to former Prime Minister Boyko Borisov.
After the collapse of CCB, it turned out that Staliyski had an account with the bank with BGN 20 million, and Sechkova with BGN 10 million, in the origin of which no law enforcement body had shown interest.
Both Staliyski and Sechkova saved their deposits with cessions. From the recordings Yaneva Gate it became clear that the Prime Minister’s friend had taken the Rubin glass factory, which was in the patrimony of CCB.
The former TV presenter and topless model for men’s magazines Violeta Sechkova showed an enviable flair for investment in real estate, as evidenced by the numerous companies in which she participates.
The problem with its consulate is that it is not included in the official list received under the APIA by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Her name is also missing on the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the Republic of Korea, where only the names of the honorary consuls of the Far Eastern country in Varna and Burgas are visible.
The website of the Council of Ministers does not find a government decision approving Sechkova as honorary consul, while the decision on the other two honorary consuls of Korea is available.
On the other hand, Violeta Sechkova herself has registered a domain and has made a website of the Honorary Consulate in Plovdiv, which lists an address and telephone number for communication. However, the link “About Us” leads to a page of the Foreign Ministry of Korea, which does not mention any honorary consulate in Bulgaria.
BRRD asked questions to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs whether Sechkova actually became an honorary consul and with which decision of the Council of Ministers. By the time the article was completed, no response had been received.
Adv. However, Borislav Boyanov confirmed that she is a member of the Association of Honorary Consuls and has presented a valid set of documents, including exequatur.
It is not clear how the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has issued an exequatur given that a decision of the Council of Ministers is not available.
Another such “Schrödinger consul”, who never became honorary consul, is the richest Macedonian Orce Kamchev.
He was arrested for racketeering and corruption in 2018 and then it became clear that he also holds a Bulgarian passport and that he was nominated by Bulgaria as honorary consul in Ohrid.
The then Minister Krasimir Karakachanov explained the nomination the case with Kamchev as follows: “Last year Kamchev was nominated for Bulgarian Honorary Consul with the argument that this is a man who is economically very wealthy, has his own authority in Macedonia. But when the Macedonian government does not support this idea, as you can see, Bulgaria has not raised this issue because it is a citizen of the Republic of Macedonia. Otherwise, Bulgaria nominated him, but when Macedonia said it was not acceptable, there was no problem, we take into account your opinion.”
Karakachanov, also known as Agent “Ivan” of the State Security, could not give a meaningful explanation who exactly submitted Kamchev’s nomination, which confirmed the feeling that the election of the honorary consuls is an opaque process, probably related to monetization.
Plagiarism Consul of Barbados…
The proposed by the party “There is such a people” candidate Prime Minister Petar Iliev is a consul in Bulgaria of the small Caribbean state of Barbados.
He was found guilty and subsequently officially recognized as a plagiarist after an investigation by Sofia University for his thesis.
In order to mask the gaffe, Iliev even republished his own thesis without the pages incriminating him in plagiarism and tried to replace the original edition.
Pre-trial proceedings were initiated in the case after a signal by DG BOETS to the Prosecutor’s Office. His fate is currently unknown.
Meanwhile, Barbados changed its status and became a republic independent of the British Crown.
… and voodoo-consul in Congo
Another case that has attracted attention in recent months is that of Teodora Ignatova, Honorary Consul of Bulgaria in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The African country is known for its vast territory and natural resources, and also as the ancestral homeland of voodoo magic.
While dealing with the problems of Bulgarian citizens in equatorial Africa, Teodora Ignatova has managed to develop a business in Bulgaria with clairvoyance and astropsychoanalysis, a check in the Commercial Register showed.
In the course of our investigation, we came across diplomatic notes that the Congolese government sent to the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry through our embassy in a third country. They demanded the closure of the honorary consulate in Lubumbashi. The reason is that Ignatova has not set foot in the Congo for years.
Ignatova herself gave up her position as honorary consul in July this year. Subsequently, the government decided to release her and close our consulate in the African country.
However, the case of Ignatova is also associated with paranormal phenomena.
The clairvoyant abilities of our former honorary consul in the homeland of voodoo apparently worked flawlessly. She asked the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to be released exactly one day before our media to send the same institution a request about its status in connection with diplomatic notes from Congo.
This supernaturally timely reaction of Ignatova also has rational explanations: coincidence in the timing of her volition and our request for information or falsification of the date of her request for release by employees of the Foreign Ministry.
It is extremely rare for a consul to relinquish his post or the receiving country refuses to accept it. In such a case, the honorary consulate shall be closed. In addition to the case of Ignatova, it should be noted a very fresh refusal to accept our honorary consul. On October 20 this year, the government closed our honorary consulate in Jordan because the Jordanian side refused to issue a consular exequatur to the appointed honorary consul of Bulgaria in the country eng. Walid Mohammed Al Qudah. Aman’s motives are unknown.
The cases listed above are publicly known, but the list of Bulgarian honorary consuls in Bulgaria and abroad reveals much more scandalous persons related to arms trafficking and money laundering. They will be discussed in the next materials on the topic “Shadow diplomats”
Partners of the Shadow Diplomats project are Espace FM in Guinea, Daraj in Lebanon, Ostro in Slovenia and Croatia, Investigative Reporting Lab in North Macedonia, Proceso in Mexico, El Periodico in Spain and Grupo Repretel in Costa Rica. BIRD is the Bulgarian partner in this project. The full list of partners can be found here.
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Менко Менков, адвокатът на Бойко Борисов, съди в Софийски градски съд Атанас Чобанов и Димитър Стоянов за статията "Досиетата Пандора: Адвокатът на Борисов и министрите му контролира сейшелска офшорка". Претенцията на Менко Менков е за 100 000 лв. за непозволено увреждане. Номерът на делото е 1761/2022 в СГС. Съдия по делото е Весела Офицерска.
Депутатът от ГЕРБ Лъчезар Иванов съди в Софийски градски съд Димитър Стоянов и Ангел Алексиев за статията Помощ или подкуп? Какво се крие зад акциите на Лъчезар Иванов, разследвани от прокуратурата? Претенцията на Лъчезар Иванов е за 10 000 лв. за непозволено увреждане. Номерът на делото е 3857/2021 в СГС. Съдия по делото е Гергана Кирова.
Ванина Колева, съдия от Административен съд София - Град е образувала наказателно дело за клевета срещу целия екип на BIRD, заради статията ни "Всички пътища на „Eвpoлaб 2011“ водят към съдия Ванина Колева". Делото се гледа в Перник, тъй като софийските съдии си направиха отвод.
Размиг Чакърян - Ами е завел общо пет дела - три срещу Атанас Чобанов и две срещу Димитър Стоянов, заради статиите ни за "Златния паркинг", "Златната локва" и "Златната лаборатория" на Капитан Андреево. Всяко от делата е с претенция за 10,000 лв. Съдиите по делата от Районен съд - София са Красен Вълев 2379/2023, Светлозар Димитров 9982/2023, Иванина Пастракова 9981/2023, Лилия Митева 2381/2023 и Деница Урумова 9980/2023.
Братът на зам.-председателя на парламента Росица Кирова е завел дело срещу Атанас Чобанов и Димитър Николов с материална претенция 26,000 лв. за статията ни "Таки и братът на зам.-председател на Парламента са разследвани за тероризъм". Гражданското дело с номер 606/2023 е образувано пред Софийски градски съд, а съдия е Екатерина Стоева.
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