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AGE OF THE ASSASSIN

Interpol on the hunt for Bulgarian criminal suspects ‘linked’ to SA and web of global organised crime

Interpol on the hunt for Bulgarian criminal suspects ‘linked’ to SA and web of global organised crime
From left: Konstantin Ignatov. (Photo: Instagram) | Georgi Rumenov Stefanov. (Photo: Interpol website) | Krasimir Kamenov. (Photo: Interpol website) | Ruja Ignatova. (Photo: FBI website) | Crime scene. (Photo: Brenton Geach / Gallo Images) | Stanislav Sevdanilov Stamenov. (Photo: Interpol Website) (Graphic: Jocelyn Adamson)

Less than a month after the murder of Krasimir Kamenov in Cape Town, more Bulgarian suspects wanted by police may be in South Africa, dragging the country deeper into global organised crime.

A complex web of crime, involving more internationally wanted suspects finding themselves in South Africa, is unfolding as investigations continue into the murders of Krasimir Kamenov and three others in Cape Town last month.

Kamenov, who had been wanted for murder in Bulgaria, was shot along with his wife Gergana and two others, believed to be their employees, in the upmarket Cape Town suburb of Constantia on 25 May.

The assassinations have connections to other crimes and countries.

Though crooks from all over the world operate in – and by way of – South Africa, when it comes to Bulgaria, suspected links between the two countries centre on their involvement in diamonds, drugs and dubious financial dealings.

Bulgarians arrested in South Africa have previously been tied to mass cocaine smuggling, which may in turn link to Brazil, as well as to allegations of credit card crimes.

Crime scene experts process a multiple murder scene involving four foreign nationals in Constantia on 25 May 2023 in Cape Town, South Africa. It is reported that two women and two men believed to be from Bulgaria were discovered with gunshot wounds. (Photo: Gallo Images / Brenton Geach)

Here and back again

If fresh suspicions about two more wanted men from Bulgaria turn out to be true, South Africa will also be linked to Romania and a drug trafficking syndicate there.

Daily Maverick understands that Kamenov, who had been in South Africa since 2008, was once aligned to a Bulgarian crime kingpin who, in 2009, was also reportedly in this country.

The kingpin was among a few Bulgarian criminals who had previously been flagged by the media in Bulgaria as probably having  made their way to South Africa.

One of them was Angel Hristov, who was wanted by Interpol for organised crime and extortion. He reportedly died of a heart attack on 3 June this year after somehow slipping back into Bulgaria without authorities noticing.

In the case of Kamenov, he courted other controversies.

State Capture, crypto and murder

The month before his assassination, embattled Bulgarian prosecutor who may be forced out of that role, Ivan Geshev, named Kamenov as being among a group conspiring against him in a State Capture-style plot.

Kamenov may also have had information about a $4-billion crypto fraud scheme and a key Bulgarian suspect who is wanted in the US and whose reported killing in 2018 has not been confirmed.

Kamenov himself was wanted in a murder case. Daily Maverick previously reported that the Embassy of Bulgaria said it had told South African authorities, that 49 days before Kamenov’s assassination, that he was in this country and that he faced arrest.

An Interpol Red Notice – an international request for authorities to arrest a listed figure – said Kamenov was wanted by Bulgaria in connection with a murder threat, murder and extortion.

He was accused of being involved in the killing of a former policeman, Lyubomir Ivanov, who was fatally shot in Sofia in March last year.

Some news reports from Bulgaria alleged that Ivanov had dubious links to the illicit cigarette trade.

Expanding web

It now turns out that Kamenov could have been linked to other Interpol-flagged Bulgarian suspects who may also be – or have been – in South Africa.

This branches out into even more criminal matters, including murder.

Netwerk24 reported last week that Stanislav Sevdanilov Stamenov and Georgi Rumenov Stefanov may be in South Africa.

Stamenov, it reported, was a bodyguard of Kamenov, while Stefanov previously filled the same role.

Daily Maverick can now reveal that, according to a Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs document, a person with a name matching Stamenov’s was among a group of Bulgarians who indicated in 2015 that they wanted to vote abroad.

The document suggested he was based in Cape Town as he was expected to use a polling station set up at a hotel in the city.

According to Interpol’s website, Stamenov was wanted in Romania in connection with drug trafficking.

Fugitive and jail time

The Romanian police’s website listed him as a fugitive. It said he was wanted in connection with a 16-year prison sentence for narcotics-related offences and “introducing high-risk drugs into the country”.

A 2009 statement from the Directorate for Investigating Organized Crime and Terrorism in Bucharest named Stamenov as being involved in a drug trafficking syndicate that consisted of two groupings. He was accused of bringing heroin into Romania.

In the case of Stefanov, an Interpol Red Notice said he was wanted in Bulgaria in connection with murder and “organised criminal group” charges.

Reports surfaced in Bulgaria in 2020 that Stefanov, who was suspected of being involved in beating a chief prison warder to death in 2016, seemed to have “disappeared”.

Red Notice

This week, the South African Police Service (SAPS) was not prepared to discuss Stamenov and Stefanov specifically.

Asked about wanted Bulgarian crime suspects in South Africa, national police spokesperson Brigadier Athlenda Mathe said the SAPS and Interpol could confirm that a Red Notice had been issued and it was being processed.

Though she would not provide details about the Red Notice, it implies that there are internationally wanted suspects in this country.

“Both the SAPS and Interpol wish not to comment on an ongoing investigation as this may jeopardise the integrity of the investigation that has reached an advanced and sensitive stage,” Mathe said.

Konstantin Ignatov, the brother of FBI-wanted Ruja Ignatova, was arrested in the US in 2019. Before that, based on his Instagram account, he visited various cities, including Cape Town. (Photo: Instagram)

More trails to SA

There are other organised crime links between Bulgaria and South Africa.

Daily Maverick reported that, at the time of his murder, Kamenov may have had information about Bulgarian Ruja Ignatova. She is wanted by the US in connection with a global billion-dollar crypto fraud scheme known as OneCoin.

Authorities had been unable to trace Ignatova since October 2017. Though some reports suggested she was murdered in 2018, the US’s Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) lists her among its top 10 wanted suspects, suggesting she could still be alive.

Around 2018, her younger brother, Konstantin Ignatov, who succeeded her as the head of OneCoin, posted several photographs on his Instagram account that showed he had visited Cape Town.

Ignatov was later arrested and convicted in the US in connection with charges stemming from the OneCoin saga.

Konstantin Ignatov, the brother of FBI-wanted Ruja Ignatova, was arrested in the US in 2019. Before that, based on his Instagram account, he visited various cities, including Cape Town. (Photo: Instagram)

Interconnected assassinations

Meanwhile, Daily Maverick previously reported that Kamenov moved in the same circles as Angelo Dimov and his wife, Nezabravka Peeva.

Both from Bulgaria, they were also assassinated in their home, which they were renting in Bergvliet, about 5km from Constantia, where Kamenov lived and died.

At the time of their murders on 12 February 2018, Dimov had been facing criminal charges relating to a credit card scam in a case that dated back to 2008.

There were also suspicions in police circles that he was involved in the illicit drugs and diamond trades.

Dimov may have worked with the 28s gang and Brian Wainstein, a steroid smuggler also known as the Steroid King, who operated via other countries including Ireland and the US. Wainstein was also assassinated in Constantia, in 2017.

Growing web of global crime

October 2017: Alleged global billion-­dollar “cryptoqueen” fraud accused Ruja Ignatova, of Bulgaria, is last traced. The US issues a warrant for her arrest.

February 2018: Bulgarians Angelo Dimov and his wife, Nezabravka Peeva, are assassinated in Cape Town. Dimov faced charges linked to credit card fraud.

Sometime in 2018: Ignatova’s brother, Konstantin Ignatov, visits Cape Town. Ignatov is subsequently arrested in the US and convicted in the crypto fraud case.

March 2022: Ex-cop Lyubomir Ivanov, who may have had ties to illicit cigarette dealings, is killed in Sofia, Bulgaria. Documents reportedly found after his death suggest Ignatova was murdered at sea in 2018. This is not confirmed, so some suspect she is still alive.

June 2022: The US’s FBI announces Ignatova is now one of its top 10 most wanted suspects.

April 2023: Bulgaria’s prosecutor-­general, Ivan Geshev, alleges that Krasimir Kamenov is a crime suspect involved in conspiring against him in a State Capture-style plot. Bulgarian authorities alert their South African counterparts that Kamenov is in this country and they plan to arrest him. Kamenov operated in the same circles as Dimov. Kamenov may have been involved in ex-cop Ivanov’s 2022 murder and may have been giving information relating to Ignatova to US authorities.

May 2023: On the first day of this month, an explosive device detonates on a road near Sofia as Geshev’s convoy drives past. Geshev states it was an attempt on his life, but some detractors believe the blast was staged. Kamenov is fatally shot 24 days later, along with his wife Gergana and two others, believed to be their employees, in Constantia, Cape Town.

June 2023: It emerges that two other Bulgarian men, Stanislav Stamenov and Georgi Stefanov, both of whom are suspected to have links to Kamenov and are wanted in connection with crimes in Romania and Bulgaria, may be in South Africa. DM

Read more in Daily Maverick: ‘Strip club fronts, drugs and diamond smuggling’ — book delves into Bulgaria and SA crime links

Caryn Dolley has spent years tracing the footprints of crime/drug kingpins from across the world. In her latest book, Clash of the Cartels, Dolley provides unprecedented insight into how specific drug cartels and syndicates have operated via South Africa, becoming embroiled in deadly violence in the country and bolstering local criminal networks. Available now from the Daily Maverick Shop.

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Bill Gild says:

    Given the increasingly apparent lack of law enforcement in SA, not to mention the crimes various high-ranking ANC cadres have allegedly been involved in, the details in this article come as no surprise.

    • John Counihan says:

      Yup! Perhaps RSA regarded as an attractive destination for organised crime as there is a global awareness of how ineffective our policing is. Sad that we now become famous for this!

  • jcdville stormers says:

    The integrity of the investigation is compromised by the unintegrity of SAPS top management

  • Mike Schroeder says:

    Caryn, as much as I appreciate your work, there are simply too any “alleged”, “suspected”, “document that suggested”, “a person with a name matching”, “suspected to have links to” asf etc to make this a valuable addition to the public discourse … thankfully I note you do not plug your book in this article (as you have done in others …) good on you for that

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