Another heinous scandal has erupted in Bulgaria. Will anyone notice?

It’s Ilchovski-gate this time. A very typical story from Bulgaria during the reign of Boyko Borissov. It’s about blackmail, racketeering, feuds between oligarchs, escort girls, gold bars, stock speculation, and businessmen – some loyal to Borissov and others attempting to dissent. Get this and a lot more of the cheap gangsterism that has become the blueprint for Bulgaria’s current reality, 30 years after “democracy,” “freedom,” and “human rights” allegedly triumphed in 1989.

It all started on May 5th this year, when Svetoslav Ilchovski, a wealthy Bulgarian farmer and landowner, was summoned to testify before the temporary parliamentary committee investigating the wrongdoings of the Borissov cabinet. Svetoslav Ilchovski was invited to speak about his experiences with Borissov’s government over the last decade by the committee’s chairwoman, Maya Manolova. Ilchovski, who is not a new figure on the Bulgarian scene and is not speaking out for the first time, lived up to the hype and caused a massive scandal. His testimony shocked the public by revealing numerous allegations about the heinous, criminal, and abhorrent actions committed by Borissov’s thugs.

What we know so far

Svetoslav Ilchovski spoke on a variety of topics, including public scandals involving Bulgaria’s Prime Minister, to which he added some rather spicy details. Everyone was taken aback when the agrarian businessman claimed to know the identity of the woman who photographed Boyko Borissov sleeping naked at his residence with a gun and stacks of Euros and gold bars on his bedside cabinet. The Barricade ran a lengthy piece on the subject. The scandal occurred last year and was one of the primary causes of the massive anti-government protests that began in the summer of 2020. He refused to reveal her name, but claimed she was an escort woman paid 5,000 leva (about 2,500 euros) to provide sexual entertainment for the Prime Minister. The gun, money, and gold bars in Borissov’s bedside drawer, the gang-rape of businessman Minyu Staykov while he was in police custody, and other recent incidents and events were also discussed. According to Ilchovski, the gold in the photos was a birthday gift from a filthy-rich business duo named Ivan “Pileto” and “Tzolo.”

According to Ilchovski, such behaviour is the norm, the “everyday scheme,” as he put it. He also confirmed what Bulgarians have long suspected: that every sector of the economy is divided and controlled by businessmen close to the government, and that they are all under the heavy thumb of Boyko Borissov, and that all ministers “are puppets on strings.”

Ilchovski stated that the reason he had sent an official signal to the parliamentary commission now was because “everything has been controlled” thus far and that “it would have had no effect” if his report had been submitted earlier. He spoke fairly freely, but in hazy and incomplete sentences. He told the commission about several schemes and threats. He described being handed over “to our prosecutors” and suffering the same fate as another “famous businessman from Karnobat who is currently detained.”

Ilchovski testified that one of the owners of the poultry producer company Gradus, Ivan Angelov (nicknamed “Pileto,” in Bulgarian: chicken), had asked him to create a fictitious turnover for his company. He also stated this in his written report, which prompted the committee to call him in for a hearing.

According to Ilchovski, Angelov presented himself as “the hidden head of the Ministry of Agriculture and the Food Agency” during their meeting. Ilchovski claims that in 2014, he was forced to start selling grain to Angelov’s companies at prices far below market value in order to avoid “problems.” The pressure grew until, in the middle of 2020, he revolted. According to the report, he was then ordered to sell the grain at up to twice the market rate, which he vehemently refused to do.

In his story to the MPs, Ilchovski mentioned Ivan “Pileto,” who was close to Prime Minister Boyko Borissov and from whom Ilchovski learned a lot. Ilchovski claims that this same Ivan “Pileto” invited him to Monaco in 2017 and offered him a role in a phony increase in a company’s turnover before it was listed on the stock exchange. “The sole purpose of this operation was to collect some money from private pension funds by selling worthless shares [their value would have been artificially inflated by the fictitious turnover – ed.],” Ilchovski stated.

During the time period mentioned by Ilchovski, a large company involved in the processing and sale of chicken meat did indeed go public, with the intention of raising approximately 100 million leva (approximately 50 million euros) through the sale of shares. And, as many media outlets discovered, the price was significantly lower a year before the stock’s debut, in the second half of 2018.

In order to participate in the fictitious turnover scheme, the businessman was also asked to contact other “colleagues.” He claimed to be aware that this was done “on behalf of the Prime Minister.”

“I’ve had informal meetings with people who make important decisions in Bulgaria but aren’t members of parliament (…) Ivan Angelov, the Prime Minister, and a slew of you-know-what [shady characters – ed.] who you’d think had been kicked out! They have not been evicted in any way (…) They showed me videos of a well-known businessman being gang-raped in prison while other inmates filmed him being abused by a few men.” Minyu Staykov was the businessman in question.

As previously stated, Ilchovski testified that the pressure on him increased in 2020, explaining that Regional Minister Petya Avramova threatened him with “our prosecutors” who would take care of him if he did not obey. He told MPs he met with Prime Minister Boyko Borissov three times: in 2017, 2018, and 2019. According to his testimony, the meetings were held at the residence of Todor Zhivkov, the General Secretary of the Bulgarian Communist Party prior to 1989, with 30-40 people present to “specify demands” such as “where, how, when, and who.”

“I was consciously losing money, hoping they’d all go away one day,” Ilchovski said, accusing Regional Development Minister Petya Avramova of calling him and explicitly forbidding him from purchasing agricultural land, with the threat of being handed over to “our prosecutor.” After he refused to comply, an investigation into murder with possible intent was launched against him, but nothing came of it in the end.

Ilchovski claims that during one of the meetings, he was also shown videos depicting what happened to noncompliant businessmen. According to his account, he was shown two such videos. Minyu Staykov’s detention was described by one account as violent. Staykov’s “abuse” is mentioned in Ilchovski’s written report to the commission as well.

Borissov and GERB’s reactions

The meeting of the parliamentary commission began calmly, as it was broadcast live on the Facebook pages of the commission’s president, who is also the leader of the “Stand Up! Thugs Out!” coalition. Ilchovski’s stories continued until GERB MPs stormed the hall, attempting to halt the meeting and prevent Ilchovski from testifying. About an hour into the meeting, GERB MP Manol Manev entered the chamber and protested against the commission’s speaker, Maya Manolova, claiming she had not informed him about the current session. He claimed that this was the second time it had happened, which Manolova denied. She later told the media that she had informed GERB representatives (Desislava Atanasova, Toma Bikov, and Tsveta Karayancheva) that the committee meeting would take place immediately following the parliament’s plenary session, and that they had declined to attend.

Later, other GERB members, including the parliamentary group’s chairwoman, Desislava Atanasova, who is not a member of the commission, joined Manev. Mladen Marinov, former Interior Minister and now MP, Deputy Regional Minister Nikolai Nankov, and other parliamentarians were among them. Petya Avramova, who had previously stated that she did not know Ilchovski and intended to sue him for defamation, was also present, declaring that “I don’t know this man, I’ve never called him, I’ve never had any disagreements about buying any land, and I’ve never dealt with land in my life.” She said she intended to go to court to assert her legal rights. “How can you, as MPs, allow such a thing?” she exclaimed.

Maya Manolova, the commission’s chairwoman, called the meeting to a close after more than an hour of complaining, announcing that the next session would be held on Friday, but with different attendees. As a result, some of Ilchovski’s statements were ambiguous, and it was unclear if he had anything else to say. However, he stated in his comments that the National Revenue Agency, Bulgaria’s tax authority, could easily establish some of the claims and that others could be verified by investigators at short notice.

During the days that followed, Prime Minister Boyko Borissov commented on what had happened during the commission’s session in his typical style: confused and chaotic, hurling random accusations in all directions. “Do you have any idea what wonderful things we’ll be bringing in?” he asked, among other awkward remarks. “What kinds of things do we have in store for them? We’re getting ready to slam into them even harder!” he continued.

He made no comment on the substance of Ilchovski’s accusations. He claimed he didn’t know him and didn’t want to know the details of his allegations because he only “deals with politics” and makes political remarks. Borissov repeatedly alluded to the hearing organized by Maya Manolova’s commission as a charade designed to cover up the failure of the parliamentary session, and he attacked the other parties and their leaders. He also stated that it is all “reheating old stuff,” and that “they” had been attempting to “attack him all year long with these issues,” but “apparently unsuccessfully,” as his party now has 75 MPs, while the next largest parliamentary group has 50.

“They paid people to come out and speak,” Borissov said, but he didn’t say who paid or to whom, and it can only be assumed from the context that he was referring to the hearing. He stated that he was already aware of the tactics and what would happen on a daily basis until the election, and that he was ready to respond. Borissov, in typical Borissov fashion, shifted the focus to the new parties’ inability to demonstrate governance capacity, and to “presidential candidate Rumen Radev,” who he claimed was in collusion with those parties.

The failure of Manolova’s Commission meeting, as well as the avalanching scandal, drew additional attention to Svetoslav Ilchovski, who was contacted by numerous media outlets for additional comment and clarification. In  an interview with the business weekly Capital, he said:

“I’ve stated the primary reasons for my appearance before this committee, which are public in nature, and the documents I’ve provided are so comprehensive that there is nowhere else to go. These documents are also accessible to the National Revenue Agency. These are invoices for non-existent sales [of Gradus – ed.]. So they could have gone on the Bulgarian Stock Exchange to increase the company’s value and sell shares that have no value to Bulgarian pension funds, I should emphasize. The managers of those funds were then forced to buy shares in this company, effectively collecting 50-60 million leva while doing nothing.”

According to the Capital interview, he only has documents for the stock exchange transaction, which he claims is not small because “200 people have to go to jail over this deal,” and it is a transaction “that steals our money for pensions while the prime minister gives away 50 leva (approx. 25 euro) a month in pensions to buy votes.”

Ilchovski believes that the public should pay attention to the meat schemes rather than the hot stories involving Minyu Staykov and the so-called “Mata Hari.”

“Bulgaria consumes 450 thousand tons of pork and 90 thousand tons of chicken each year. When the Food Agency and the Ministry of Agriculture are yours, they immediately invent some kind of disease for every batch of meat that is not close to GERB that is brought into the country. That’s why there are so many articles about how salmonella-infected meat was discovered. As a result, cheaper meat is unable to enter the Bulgarian market, leaving only their meat, which they sell at exorbitant prices. However, because there aren’t enough pigs in Bulgaria, they must import. Imports, on the other hand, are never an issue. Customers pay 60-70 thousand leva per truck, and they buy meat for 4 leva and sell it for 7 leva! Furthermore, the processors are required to buy from them. We also have no idea what kind of meat was brought in. This is what I sell you, and this is what you must work with – my way or the highway. For example, six months ago, they imported pork for almost nothing from a Brazilian state reserve and sold it at exorbitant prices in Bulgaria,” he asserts.

Boyko Borissov and Svetoslav Ilchovski have a long history of feuding. In 2012, an unprecedented arrest of a sitting GERB MP, Dimitar Avramov, was carried out based on one of Ilchovski’s previous scandal-breaking stories. He and two other accomplices were accused of requesting 220,000 leva to help a businessman in Montana, a small town in north-eastern Bulgaria, to settle a commercial dispute. Avramov was quickly expelled from the National Assembly and the party, but his case was dismissed at first instance four years later.

In 2019, the prosecution decided to reopen the case against him. Since 2017, Avramov’s political affiliation has been permanently changed to the Movement for Rights and Freedoms. He was the Movement’s election list leader in Montana for two consecutive parliamentary elections, and he surprisingly doubled the region’s voter turnout. The prosecutor’s office did not file a request to revoke his parliamentary immunity after he was sworn in as a deputy in the 45th National Assembly.

Ilchovski’s statements to the committee, to Capital, and his May 7th interview with the journalist Sasho Dikov raise a number of questions that the prosecutor’s office and the individuals involved have yet to address.

Will Ilchovski be questioned about whether he knows who the mysterious “Mata Hari” woman who compromised Borissov with her photos last year is, and will the identity of that individual be revealed? So far, Borissov’s explanation has been that the entire scene in which he was photographed with a gun, gold, and money was staged by this one woman. If this is true, then the prosecution should go after whoever staged such a setup of an EU member state’s prime minister, putting him and the entire country in jeopardy in front of the world. Of course, this is impossible to believe, but it should be investigated because it is the official claim of the republic’s current Prime Minister. If the photos are genuine and not staged on purpose by the alleged “Mata Hari,” the prosecution should investigate the origin of the money and gold, as well as what it was doing in Borissov’s bedside cabinet alongside a gun. The prosecution has made it abundantly clear that it is unwilling to do its job.

The question of whether Minyu Staykov was subjected to any abuse in custody that could be used to intimidate other disobedient businessmen should be addressed without a doubt. Also, whether Petya Avramova has communicated with Ilchovski, whom she claims she has never met. One of the most pressing questions is whether Gradus’s value was artificially inflated in order to sell shares at a higher price to Bulgarian pension funds, which would mean that the pension funds of hundreds of thousands of Bulgarian pensioners were invested in an illegitimate transaction.

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