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STATE CAPTURE ANALYSIS

Gangsters in government: State Capture parallels between South African and Bulgarian criminals

Gangsters in government: State Capture parallels between South African and Bulgarian criminals

Criminals who infiltrate governments often try to make their honest colleagues look corrupt to deflect from their own dirty actions. They also turn on journalists exposing them. This is a trademark of State Capture and another murky element linking South Africa to Bulgaria.

The assassination of wanted Bulgarian suspect Krasimir Kamenov in Cape Town has magnified State Capture allegations in the Balkan nation that roughly mirror what has been happening in South Africa.

There are some obvious parallels.

Government corruption has been flagged in both countries and the manipulation of law enforcement agencies has caused concern.

In 2020 in Bulgaria, President Rumen Radev’s offices were raided in a move that exposed political rifts – Radev spoke out about prosecutors choosing which cases to pursue – and there were protests.

A chapter in this journalist’s book, Clash of the Cartels: Unmasking the global drug kingpins stalking South Africa, focuses on Bulgaria and references a Politico.eu report explaining that the protests were about “an oligarchic mafia [that] has captured the state and extended its reach deep into institutions such as the judiciary, media and security services”.

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

The book elaborated: “This was similar to accusations levelled at South Africa’s former president Jacob Zuma and his lackeys, who face mounting allegations that prosecuting powers, policing structures, intelligence, the finance arena, and even elements of the media, were totally skewed to promote and sustain a faction of the ANC at the expense of the country…

“It seems inevitable, given these parallels between the two countries, that crooks in Bulgaria and South Africa were destined to bristle up against each other or be partners in crime.”

Smear campaigns

When rogue state elements sabotage other parts of government, they create intentional confusion and discredit those who pose a threat to their plans.

They may make use of some journalists to expand their smear campaigns while targeting those who see through their strategy.

Honest government officials who crack down on corrupt colleagues are often accused of criminality.

Simply yet broadly put, those carrying out State Capture crimes go out of their way to make good individuals look bad.

In Bulgaria, the state prosecutor’s office has emerged as central to State Capture claims.

On one side, it was alleged criminals were trying to oust some individuals linked to the office, while on the other, some in the office were pointed to as attacking those exposing corruption.

Murders and politics

It is in this arena that Kamenov’s name cropped up.

He and his wife Gergana, and two others believed to be their employees, were assassinated in the upmarket Cape Town suburb of Constantia on 25 May.

All four were shot.

Daily Maverick reported that about six weeks before the murders, the prosecutor’s office in Bulgaria publicised a bundle of evidence suggesting that Kamenov was among a group of Bulgarian men with key contacts, ranging from journalists to those close to government, who were monitoring those moving in high-level Bulgarian political circles.

It was alleged the group was planning a US and European Union-based plot to oust some of Bulgaria’s top law enforcers, presumably to derail investigations they were busy with.

Similar accusations have previously surfaced in South Africa, with some now-former police officers alleging they were the target of a campaign to get rid of them because they were exposing corruption among fellow cops.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Fired cop Jeremy Vearey in hiding: ‘This is a life and death struggle against organised crime’

In Bulgaria, Ivan Geshev, who was the country’s chief prosecutor until recently, made allegations about State Capture. Geshev, who was often at the centre of controversy, was dismissed as Bulgaria’s prosecutor-general on 15 June.

Ahead of that, he had claimed to be the target of a State Capture-style plot and that criminals, including Kamenov, were trying to oust him.

However, some do not view Geshev as being a target, but rather as the one doing the targeting.

Media in firing line

In April this year, while Geshev was still chief prosecutor in Bulgaria, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) published an article stating: “Both a suspected member of a criminal group as well as Bulgaria State Prosecutor’s Office have launched attacks against investigative journalists who exposed how a suspected drug dealer had bribed police officials and how he was controlling the import of food at a border crossing.”

The article said that Geshev himself had “started a defamatory campaign against” a journalist, Dimitar Stoyanov, who was with the Bureau for Investigative Reporting and Data.

Along with two other journalists, Stoyanov had published two investigations.

“The first claimed that [a suspected organised crime boss, Christophoros Amanatidis, also known as] Taki had monopolised control over the import of food and truck parking at the EU’s biggest border crossing… thereby depriving the state budget of millions in tax revenue,” the OCCRP article said.

Crypto queen and a ‘cover-up’

“The second report was about Taki having bribed police to cover up the murder of a wanted crypto queen.”

This “crypto queen” was likely a reference to Bulgarian Ruja Ignatova, who is among the US Federal Bureau of Investigation’s top 10 most wanted suspects.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Constantia killings and FBI-wanted ‘Cryptoqueen’ Ruja Ignatova’s intriguing SA links

She allegedly headed a $4-billion global crypto scam known as OneCoin.

SA bulgaria state capture

Some news reports suggested Ignatova was killed in 2018, but this was never officially confirmed and she remains wanted by the US.

Kamenov may have been providing, or preparing to provide, information about her to the US when he was murdered.

‘Vexatious defamation’

Meanwhile, the OCCRP article said Geshev also claimed that Stoyanov, the journalist, “was plotting against him and other high-ranking police officers who were exposed in the story”.

In May this year, the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom issued a statement saying journalists at two of Bulgaria’s leading investigative media platforms, BIRD.bg and Bivol.bg, had faced multiple attacks.

The statement said this included “a barrage of vexatious defamation lawsuits filed by the associate of a suspected organised crime boss, the deliberate revelation of journalistic sources by the Sofia prosecutor’s office, and a discreditation campaign by Bulgaria’s Attorney General Ivan Geshev”.

Suspected criminals and dodgy figures in, or closely linked to, the state, who target journalists, are nothing new in South Africa.

Targeted and attempted gagging

During Zuma’s presidency, between 2009 and 2018, evidence of State Capture became obvious and there were attempts, via Twitter, to discredit investigative journalists exposing it.

The attacks turned out to be a PR campaign linked to the Guptas, the nucleus of capture accusations in this country.

Last month, Zuma failed in his attempt to privately prosecute journalist Karyn Maughan and prosecutor Billy Downer in a case in which he claimed his medical records were leaked to her.

On Monday, 3 July, the amaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism managed to get a gag order against it set aside.

It detailed last week how, via court processes, businessman Zunaid Moti and the Moti Group were “attempting to silence amaBhungane and prevent us from continuing our exposés of their suspicious business dealings”.

The South African National Editors’ Forum last month issued a statement condemning the legal action against amaBhungane.

“We believe the Moti Group sought to unreasonably gag further publication of any stories about their business, regardless of the public interest in their matters,” it said.

Continuing capture concerns

Last month, Daily Maverick reported that one year after submitting a final report on the State Capture Commission, Chief Justice Raymond Zondo said nothing had changed and that he feared Parliament was incapable of preventing another attempt to capture the state.

He spoke while South Africa was still trying to bolster key institutions, including the National Prosecuting Authority, the State Security Agency and the police service, which were hollowed out during the previous State Capture surge.

A combination of ineffective law enforcement, the threat of crooks subverting state entities for their own gain, and figures in government getting distracted by corrupt colleagues, provide ample cover for the likes of Krasimir Kamenov to operate in South Africa.

Based on accusations and counteraccusations emanating from Bulgaria, the same can be said of his home country. DM

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.

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