Powerful criminal figures from the 1990s are peeking behind the shoulders of the new government
As much as political analysts in the Balkans, and in particular those in Bulgaria, claim to have replaced the dark transition from communism to democracy with “Change”, the names of underground figures formed in the 90s of the last century by the former communist repressive services still emerged in the small Balkan country’s active economic life.
Privatization, which was overshadowed mainly by these criminal groups (SIC and VIS acting like the first private insurance companies, but operating trough force) can now certainly be considered unsuccessful, as key businesses are still in the hands of people who emerged from the sport halls and nightclubs, not from universities.
Of course, Bulgaria’s membership in the European Union and NATO to some extent limited the activities of the shadow business and the tracksuits were replaced by white collars, and the bats were replaced by the state institutions themselves – either through the adoption of lobbying laws or repressive inspections. The economic police and the National Revenue Agency, or simply through signals to the Prosecutor’s Office, which was serving the underground bosses as clearing out competitors tool.
To this day, many “SIC” figures have not only maintained their strong positions, but have even expanded and fully legalized their businesses.
Among the former “SIC “ bosses, the name of Mladen Mihalev – Madjo stands out above all. He is said to own a business worth hundreds of millions, and most of the property is formally owned by appointed persons. With such wealth, it is not a problem for former street heroes today to secure financing for their companies, but apparently zero interest rates on government loans are preferred.
Mladen Mihalev’s business was born in the chaos and crime of the street in the 1990s. It was completely legalized during the government of the former monarch – Prime Minister Simeon Saxe Coburg Gothski – to flourish in an unprecedented way under the socialist leader and SIC chairman Sergei Stanishev.
Madjo received his comfort during the GERB government, when according to media reports Mihalev was an unofficial “Minister of Tourism” in Bulgaria, and to date under the rule of the Democrat Kiril Petkov, Mladen Mihalev – Madjo owns almost the entire Black Sea coast and the concession on almost all Bulgarian beaches.
Mladen Mihalev is said to run a significant portion of his business through trusted people.
For example, behind the International Asset Bank, known in Bulgaria as the Madjo’s Bank, are the names of “SIC”-era partners, as well as relatives of a prominent former communist nomenklatura and an agency of the Communist Party repressive services. Apart from the daughter of the communist intelligence General Lyuben Gotsev – Rumyana Lyubenova Gotseva – Yordanova, the wife of Mladen Mihalev – Madjo – Elena Blagoeva Mihaleva also participates in the management of the bank. And it has been no secret since the 1990’s that International Asset Bank is actually Mihalev’s bank – despite the changing names of the financial institutions over the years, as well as the names of the people on board.
With the coming of the current coalition government with majority held by the new party “We continue the change”, led by the alumni of Harvard, the hope was born that the dependence of business and the state from the figures of the underground will be stopped.
Unfortunately, many observers in the Balkan state are already beginning to see behind the shoulders of the new Prime Minister Kiril Petkov influence from peers from “SIC” , and in particular that of Mladen Mihalev- Madjo.
The “change” at one point turned out to be just a new political umbrella over the old heroes of the transition, and no anti-corruption reports or sanctions from the US and the EU can stop them.
Half a year ago, on the occasion of the withdrawn millions for the construction of the Hemus Motorway, the Ministry of Internal affairs said that the bank from which millions were withdrawn “in bags and duffle bags” is connected with the former associates of the former prime minister Boyko Borissov. Only the International Asset Bank responds to this description.
However, this information did not come from the official authorities, but from a US diplomatic report revealed by Wikileaks, the famous crime investigating journalist website Bird.bg.
However, the new government has not yet reacted to the case.
According to unofficial information, Madjo’s dealings are directly with the new Number one minister and thanks to them, despite signals from the United States, his bank International Asset Bank is one of the strongest in the country at the moment. The bank was suspected of having close ties to Russian money.
Today it is said about Mihalev that he is again the man who will manage tourism in Bulgaria in the shadow. As we mentioned earlier, Mihalev has old and strong ties to the Socialist party BSP (formed by the ex-communist party) and the current Minister of Tourism comes from this party.
In mid-February this year, it became clear that the Agency for State Reserves and Wartime Stocks trades fuels with a certain company, which may be affiliated with Mladen Mihalev – Madjo. This was announced by the Bulgarian investigative website Bivol, quoting three independent sources.
The newspaper “Sega” announced the first deal with a company related to Madjo in July 2021, and in November the chairman of the agency was replaced.
At least one of the companies mentioned as close to Mihalev is still making deals with the agency. It is a beneficiary of public procurement and European projects worth over BGN 425 million. This means that the mentioned, by the Prime Minister Kiril Petkov as a participant in the famous list for the Prosecutor General is actually still heavily involved with the government.
Mladen Mihalev remains a close partner with the Government in the so needed fuel supply deals. A number of transactions for the sale and purchase of fuel by the State Reserve Agency were completed in July 2021, December 2021 and January 2022. For at least three of them the website Bivol has signalled that companies may be associated with Mladen Mihalev – Madjo.
Along with other government contracts and EU projects, only one of the companies involved has received fuel supply contracts worth about half a billion Leva.
From everything that has happened since the beginning of the new government, we can suspect that despite their officially stated desire for change, there is change only in the inhabitants of the House of Ministers and ministries, and the disguised underground is rebuilding the government within the state.