Alternatives & Analyses: Delyan Peevski – Bulgaria’s Kolomoisky?

Delyan Peevski, in many ways, looks like the necessary culprit, the lightning rod of the model that rules Bulgaria. His quantum leap from an Opel car owner to the billions in assets under his control shot him to prominence in less than a decade while amassing extreme loads of negativity.

His pivotal role in the forced bankruptcy of Corporate Commercial Bank – KTB and business buccaneering earned him centre stage in modern Bulgarian politics. With a few exceptions, the international observers keep hammering on the three hot button issues in Bulgaria- corruption, media freedom, and the rule of law, with Peevsky’s name topping the list.

Despite his exclusive status, the corpulent deputy stands little chance of earning a place in the elite group of “honorary” politicians – Ahmed Dogan, Georgi Purvanov and other behind-the-scenes movers and shakers. PM Borissov is next to join this exclusive club after retiring but has yet to exit office successfully. Still, for now, the former bodyguard-turned-prime minister has to toil in the executive branch, channel public funds and contracts to the selected few, engage in political engineering, promotions and demotions, charming the public on behalf of the elite club.

His chances for a new term in office seek negligible, but he has to make sure that whoever succeeds him honours his status.

The underside of the power iceberg needs a figure like Peevski to manage the cash flows and sustain the network of proxies in the judiciary, executive, and legislative branches.

Peevski serves this elaborate machine, where prosecutors turn a blind eye to blatant crimes, specialized and administrative judges pass lenient sentences, bankers extend credits to favourites of the elite, nourishing corruption networks that sustain politicians and subservient media.

However, the sunny days for Peevski might bе over. Since the knowledge about his role in CCB’s bankruptcy gained prominence, and private business’ plundering news crossed the Atlantic, both Borisov and Dogan have been trying hard to shield him from sanctions and prosecution under the US RICO act.

Much to their regret, events are unfolding beyond their control and reach. Delyan Peevski has topped the US sanctions list of corrupted Bulgarian oligarchs. Despite General Prosecutor Geshev’s and PM Borissov’s desperate attempts to divert attention, throwing the name of the allegedly corrupt judge Andon Mitalov into the mix, Peevski’s American dossier has swelled.

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He is considered the Bulgarian equivalent of Ihor Kolomoisky, the notorious Ukrainian oligarch. The latter’s proximity to President Zelensky was not much of a help – the US State Department designated Kolomoisky as a persona non grata.

President Biden’s recent harsh words to Russia and Senators’ Menendez’ and Risch’ stern warning to the Bulgarian government send a message – the US is taking action. Bulgaria is an ally in NATO, and PM Borissov, at least until he remains in office, will be spared restrictive or punitive measures. Still, things can change if he loses his official capacity.

Trump’s transactional diplomacy allowed the Bulgarian PM to trade off the purchase of F-16s for leniency from the US administration with regards to the Bulgarian segment of Turk Stream and also secured benign neglect of Peevsky’s role in the country.

Most of the businesses that the new business king on Bulgaria’s horizon came in touch with went bankrupt, not because he is ultra incompetent, but because his priorities are short-term cash-out for personal and group gain, not long-term development. The attack on CCB was just one of many actions that earned Peevsky the reputation of a most ruthless business predator, daring to attack one of Bulgaria’s holy cows – gambling boss Vasil Bozhkov.

Bozhkov’s allegedly unpaid taxes worth 700 million leva are a fig leaf motive. Taking control of cashflows in the gambling business was the real motive behind the move. Peevski demonstrated he was in charge and that Bozhkov was bribing the wrong man. The Bobokovi brothers, on the other hand, turned out to enjoy strong ties in the United States and can seek justice in a system beyond Peevski’s reach.

The US Department of Treasury and its FinCEN unit closely monitor and investigate bank predators and sudden billionaires, who often launder their quick money and seek tax heavens. The CCB lousy manager ‘narrative’ about Tsvetan Vassilev held water for a while. Until it became clear that CCB’s assets are blatantly looted, Peevski’s bad loans are vanishing, and businesses credited by CCB are taken over with the National Revenue Agency’s support, prosecutors and friendly bankers. Instead of replenishing the bankruptcy estate with the proceeds of monetizing CCB’s assets, the best performing assets or their value were parked in Peevski’s and his associates’ pockets.

US Secretary of State Blinken’s public designation of Ukraine’s oligarch and former public official Ihor Kolomoisky,  refers to the abuse of public positions and funds for personal benefits in the past and at the present moment. The U.S. entry ban for Kolomoisky and his family is just part of a more comprehensive set of sanctions that culminates with a civil suit against him on charges of embezzlement of billions of dollars. The charges against the Ukrainian oligarch suggest money laundering of funds in the US and other countries.

The final sentece in Secretary Blinken’s designation of Kolomoisky indicates a shift in policy from benign neglect to a more on-hand approach in the US when dealing with corrupt regimes in partner countries: the (State) Department will continue to use its authorities to “promote accountability for corrupt actors in this region and globally”.

The fire sale of assets associated with Peevski is a desperate attempt to cash out and avoid an asset freeze. Hence the rush to transfer ownership to designated proxies.

Media control is vital for Borisov and Peevsky to remain in power and accommodate mutual interests within a more complex gameplan. The new owners of BTV and Nova TV are critically dependent on advertisement revenues, regulatory framework and government-mediated EU funds to keep the media afloat and profitable. Hence, the two most popular TV media groups’ dependence on the government is overwhelming. Business motives may thus justify a pro-government tilt in news coverage and commentary.

The main reason Delyan Peevsky is not on the MRF candidates-for-MP lists is guidance and precaution from his US lobbyists on the possible upcoming designation of Peevksy by the U.S. State Department.

The controlled media ‘leak’ that the Borisov and Peevsky are at odds serves to mask turf wars within the ruling model. 

The resonance of Delyan Peevsky’s possible designation by the US State Department will have a profound effect on MRF, GERB, and the chief prosecutor’s reputation. Such fears drive Dogan and Borisov’s haste to distance themselves from the toxic Peevsky while trying not to antagonize him.

Representation by proxies for the Bulgarian oligarch seems to be the new magic formula, allowing him to nominally disappear from the public’s radar and live in exile, retaining his wealth.

Most of the Peevsky’s ministers in the GERB government, who were forced to resign after the mass protests last year, have resurfaced in one form or another. Ex-energy minister Dobrev also returned to prominence with the help of Peevsky. One of the very few regions that warmly welcome PM Borisov these days is Peevski’s constituencies of Roma and  Bulgarian Muslims’ voters.

Despite comforting words and promises from Dogan and Borisov, Peevksy, with his gut instincts, knows that he will be thrown under the bus. There will be no safe port for him in the world.

Ilian Vassilev

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