Siana Mishkova and Dimitar Koychev in Sofia -
An emailed message containing scanned lists of visitors to the headquarters of bankrupt Corporate Commercial Bank (Corpbank) was distributed to the Bulgarian media on May 14. The lists show that a number of politicians and state officials, some of whom have denied links to Corpbank’s largest shareholder Tsvetan Vassilev, visited him repeatedly in 2013 and 2014.
The email with hundreds of scanned notebook pages attached was sent to Bulgarian media outlets from a Gmail account early on May 14. The email was signed with Vassilev’s name, and the writer claimed to be communicating by email because of attempts to hack Vassilev’s personal website.
Around noon on May 14, Vassilev issued a statement on his website denying that he was the author of the message and stressing that he makes announcements only through the site. “I am not the author of this letter,” he wrote. The statement also accused the Bulgarian media of reaching “a new low of moral turpitude” and confirmed that over 300 attempts had been made to hack his personal site in the last few weeks, accusing an unnamed person as being behind an attempt to silence him.
Vassilev fled Bulgaria for neighbouring Serbia after his bank collapsed amid accusations it was a Ponzi scheme. It was declared insolvent on April 22. Bulgarian efforts to have Vassilev extradited have so far been unsuccessful.
Vassilev’s lawyer, Konstantin Simeonov, initially confirmed to Bulgarian daily Dnevnik that the letter was from the banker, but later he denied that Vassilev wrote the letter. Another of Vassilev’s lawyers, Hristo Botev, also denied that the email was sent from Vassilev. This leaves open the question of whether the publication of the lists is an attempt to smear Vassilev, or tarnish the reputations of other Bulgarian public figures.
Look who’s visiting
The visitor lists, which cover various periods during 2013 and 2014, show that Vassilev received dozens of visitors everyday, including politicians, representatives of state institutions, businessmen and journalists. Neither Vassilev nor his lawyers have denied the authenticity of the scanned pages.
“These comrades forgot very quickly the time when they, as I already have said, queued in front of my office and waited for weeks to visit me,” the letter reads. “What is the business of a politician with me, for example? And what kind of business can be done during a meeting that is 5-7 minutes long, on average?! And, did this person meet me at all or did he only meet my office assistant to get acquainted after that with the contents of an envelope? You can guess what I am talking about, right,” the email adds, in an apparent reference to bribery allegations.
Among visitors listed in the documents are two key financial officials – Petar Chobanov, finance minister from 2013 to mid-2014, and Deputy Central Bank Governor Tsevtan Gunev, who was accused of inadequate control of Corpbank.
Other top officials listed include Ivan Kostov, Bulgaria’s prime minister from 1997 to 2001, who had a large deposit at a preferential rate at Corpbank; former interior minister Rumen Petkov, who is now deputy leader of the social-democratic Alternative for Bulgarian Revival (ABV) party; and the current economy minister, Bozhidar Lukarski. There are also officials from the National Security Agency and various state regulators. Bulgaria’s most prominent football player, Hristo Stoichkov, is shown to have visited Vassilev. Some names, however, are masked with correction fluid.
Surprisingly, Vassilev’s former partner Delyan Peevski, a media tycoon and MP with the predominantly ethnic-Turk Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) party, does not appear on the list, despite a statement from Simeonov to broadcaster bTV that Peevski visited Vassilev almost everyday.
The lists do not include any names of current members of the ruling Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB) party, and only Lukarski from its coalition partner, the Reformist Bloc.
Speaking on bTV’s morning show on May 15, Vassilev’s lawyer Simeonov suggested that video records from Corpbank’s security cameras might be made public, but that Vassilev would not release them.
Corpbank was Bulgaria’s fourth largest lender until June 2014, when it was taken under central bank administration following a bank run. In July 2014, the Bulgarian National Bank (BNB) said a 10-day review of Corpbank’s assets and liabilities conducted by independent auditors had revealed that significant parts of the credit files for loans totalling BGN3.5bn (€1.8bn) – 65% of Corpbank’s total loan portfolio of BGN5.4bn – were missing. The BNB also claimed there were indications that a significant part of these doubtful loans had been extended to parties connected to Vassilev.
This was followed by a more detailed audit by Deloitte, Ernst & Young Bulgaria and AFA, completed in October. This showed that poor classification and provisioning methods used by Corpbank concealed the unsound quality of the majority of its assets. The three auditors recognised 63% of Corpbank's BGN6.66bn assets as impaired, based on International Accounting Standards methodology, more than enough to push the lender into insolvency.
On November 6, the BNB revoked Corpbank’s operating licence after both private investors and the government refused to take steps to plug the BGN3.75bn hole in the bank's capital. The payment of guaranteed deposits at Corpbank began on December 4 and over BGN3.5bn has been paid out since then.
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