DM168

AGE OF THE ASSASSIN

SA caught in Bulgaria’s underworld web of dirty global politics as ‘links’ between oligarch and Prigozhin emerge

SA caught in Bulgaria’s underworld web of dirty global politics as ‘links’ between oligarch and Prigozhin emerge
Krasimir Kamenov. (Photo: Interpol website. Image sharpened by AI) | Vasil Bozhkov. (Photo: Facebook) | Yevgeny Prigozhin. (Photo: EPA / SERGEI ILNITSKY / POOL) | Graphic elements: Rawpixel and Vecteezy | Graphic: Jocelyn Adamson

Daily Maverick can now reveal that allegations previously surfaced that Krasimir Kamenov was associated with Vasil Bozhkov, nicknamed The Skull, who is also accused of political meddling and recently been linked, via allegations, to Yevgeny Prigozhin, who headed the Wagner mercenary group until his apparent death in a jet crash in Russia last month.

Allegations linking a Bulgarian oligarch to Russian mercenary boss Yevgeny Prigozhin, apparently killed in a jet crash in August, and to Krasimir Kamenov, who was assassinated in Cape Town months earlier, hint at the depths of dirty global politics stretching to South Africa. 

Sinister allegations involving high-level State Capture-style plots stretching across several countries, including South Africa and Russia, now underpin the assassination of Krasimir Kamenov in Cape Town about three months ago.

Kamenov was murdered in a shooting, along with his wife Gergana as well as two of their employees also from Bulgaria, at his home in the upmarket suburb of Constantia on 25 May.

The Embassy of the Republic of Bulgaria in Pretoria previously told Daily Maverick that ahead of his killing, South African authorities were alerted that he was a wanted suspect in this country. 

Police are yet to announce arrests in the case, which several interconnected international political accusations are now linked to.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Constantia killings – Bulgaria’s forewarning to SA and a global billion-dollar crypto scam

US and EU-based plot accusation 

Daily Maverick previously reported that during a press conference in March in Bulgaria, Ivan Geshev, who was that country’s chief prosecutor at the time before being dismissed, revealed an alleged State Capture-style plot to have him removed from office. 

He accused Kamenov of driving it.

Read more in Daily Maverick: From SA to Romania – ‘Evidence’ of global crooks crafting a US-based plot to topple Bulgaria’s law enforcers 

About six weeks before the Constantia murders, the prosecutor’s office in Bulgaria had also publicised a bundle of alleged evidence suggesting that Kamenov was among a group of Bulgarian men who were monitoring those moving in high-level Bulgarian political circles. 

The group was accused of 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. 

Geshev has previously gone on record saying “$350,000 was paid to American lobbyists to discredit the Attorney-General”. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Gangsters in government: State Capture parallels between South African and Bulgarian criminals 

However, there were countersuspicions that some of the allegedly targeted law enforcers were involved in dodgy political dealings. 

Ivan Geshev, who was that country’s chief prosecutor at the time before being dismissed, revealed an alleged State Capture-style plot to have him removed from office. (Photo: Vassil Donev / EPA-EFE)

Kamenov, The Skull and Prigozhin 

Daily Maverick can now reveal that allegations previously surfaced that Kamenov was associated with Vasil Bozhkov, nicknamed The Skull, who is also accused of political meddling and recently been linked, via allegations, to Yevgeny Prigozhin, who headed the Wagner mercenary group until his apparent death in a jet crash in Russia last month. 

Bozhkov, following a self-imposed three-year exile in the United Arab Emirates, returned to Bulgaria on 25 August, two days after Prigozhin’s apparent death. 

He was arrested in connection with several crimes and is now detained under house arrest.

Gambling tycoon 

In February this year, the UK sanctioned Bozhkov, saying he was “reportedly Bulgaria’s richest man, who made his fortune in the gambling industry”. 

It added that he “used bribery extensively to protect his business interests”. 

Several media outlets in Bulgaria reported that during a court appearance following Bozhkov’s return to Bulgaria, Prosecutor Angel Kanev, of the Sofia City Prosecutor’s Office, said that a computer with Bozhkov’s email on it suggested he had been in business with Prigozhin. 

“The accused, Bozhkov, has structured active companies operating in the field of gambling, with significant financial capital; he has registered gambling activities in the Republic of Georgia,” Kanev was quoted as saying. 

‘Threatened’ 

While under house arrest, Bozhkov held a press conference on Saturday, 9 September 2023 – a video link connected him to a room of Bulgarian journalists. 

He referenced Prigozhin, saying that before the Russia-Ukraine war, everyone wanted to work in Russia as it posed a massive market.

During the media briefing, Kamenov also was briefly discussed.

Bozhkov reportedly said he had nothing to do with Kamenov’s killing.

He also said he was under threat, but he would not say from who or what. 

Info and America 

Bozhkov has been especially outspoken about former Bulgarian prime minister Boyko Borissov, who was arrested last year and released without charges in a corruption investigation. 

Bozkhov, in a 2022 Facebook post, said he had disseminated “the facts” that led to Borissov’s arrest. 

A recent news article on the news site Euractiv said Bozhkov was providing information, about matters linked to Borissov, to the US. 

Stoyan Baumeyer, a lawyer, was quoted as saying: “For more than two years, my client has cooperated 100% with the American authorities.” 

Geshev, who Bozhkov in effect views as an opponent siding with Borissov, again fits into this arena. 

A month before Kamenov’s assassination, Geshev publicly named Bozhkov and Kamenov among a list of accused individuals.

In a Facebook post on 19 August 2023, Geshev also questioned whether Kamenov was killed “because he assisted a famous Euro-Atlantic service”. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Constantia Killings – ex-spy’s assassination in Bulgaria prompts fired prosecuting boss to hint at links to Krasimir Kamenov 

Geshev was perhaps implying that Kamenov had helped an intelligence service – there were previous suspicions Kamenov was providing information to the US’s Drug Enforcement Administration. 

This – giving information to the US – is apparently what Bozhkov did. 

For its part, the US Consulate General in Cape Town, responding to claims Kamenov’s killers wore US Drug Enforcement Administration uniforms, told Daily Maverick it was not investigating the Kamenov case and was not linked to the murders. 

Questionable witness

Bozhkov and Kamenov were previously linked via a court case in Bulgaria.

In a transcript of proceedings from that case, dated 5 November 2020 and published by the Bureau of Investigative Reporting and Data, a witness testifying about matters including murders said they had known Bozhkov since 2011. 

The bureau reported though that the witness had been involved in several cases and that there were questions about his true intentions and ties to Bulgarian state figures. 

In the November 2020 court proceedings, the witness testified about alleged conversations between Bozhkov and “Kuro”, which was Kamenov’s nickname. 

Four Kalashnikov rifles

“During a conversation in his office, ‘Kuro’ warned him that a police action against him was coming, to which Vasil Bozhkov said: ‘Colleague, you greatly underestimate me.’”

The witness referenced the “Naydenov brothers”, presumably Boyan and Tsvetomir Naydenovi, who with their father own the Bulgarian betting company Efbet, and an alleged plot to have had them murdered, claiming Kamenov had been involved in it.

“Krasimir Kamenov’s closest confidant, brought the rifle,” the witness said.

The witness had also been linked to individuals from Serbia on Kamenov’s orders and alleged that, in that matter, “4 Kalashnikov assault rifles” were procured and taken to Greece to give to the Serbians.

A murdered ex-cop

However, the witness said the plot involving the weapons stalled as authorities caught wind of it – the witness heard about this from Lyubomir Ivanov. 

Ivanov, the witness testified, had once been a police officer who was kicked out of the service for allegedly leaking information.

He was assassinated in Sofia in March last year.

Daily Maverick previously reported that Kamenov, at the time of his own murder, was wanted by Bulgaria in connection with Ivanov’s killing.

In the November 2020 court case, the witness had testified that Kamenov later fled to South Africa and, together with others, was helping Bozhkov and was involved in plans “to destabilise the state [presumably of Bulgaria]”.

Bribes and political influence 

This is where other accusations against Bozhkov fit in.

In June 2021, the US’s Treasury Department sanctioned individuals including Bozkhov, whose name it spelt as Vassil Bojkov.

A statement at the time said: “A Bulgarian businessman and oligarch, [he] has bribed government officials on several occasions. These officials include a current political leader… 

“Bojkov also planned to provide a sum of money to a former Bulgarian official and a Bulgarian politician earlier this year to help Bojkov create a channel for Russian political leaders to influence Bulgarian government officials.”

Espionage and Russia

Tying into the US’s stance was that in January 2020 Bulgaria’s Foreign Affairs Ministry announced that “two Russian citizens who collected information representing a state secret with the aim of releasing it to a foreign country or a foreign organisation” were given 48 hours to leave the country. 

A few months later, in July 2020, the Prosecutor’s Office of the Republic of Bulgaria issued a statement about an organised crime group, involved in murders and extortion, that it alleged Bozhkov was heading.

It said investigations led to an address in Bulgaria where “photographic material and profiles containing personal data of magistrates, members of their families, as well as a photo of a senior official in the Ministry of Internal Affairs were discovered”. 

That same month, July 2020, the Bulgarian prosecutor’s office released audio clips, and related transcripts, of conversations allegedly between Bozhkov and others.

In the clips, the person alleged to be Bozhkov discussed protests and “building a protest headquarters”.

Two months later, in September 202o, Bulgaria’s prosecutor’s office responded to questions, some relating to Bozkhov, from the European Parliament’s Democracy, Rule of Law and Fundamental Rights Monitoring Group. 

It said Bozhkov faced 19 criminal charges.

Protests in Bulgaria 

“A connection was also established between … [him] … and the organisation part of … protest actions [in Bulgaria] aimed at radicalisation and desecration, including through the use of violent actions,” the document said.

“The role of the pro-Russian political party Vazrazhdane (Renaissance) is also active in the attempts to influence the independence of the [Bulgarian prosecutor’s office], including through the implementation of aggressive actions, violating the peaceful protests of the Bulgarian citizens.”

There were indeed protests in Bulgaria in 2020, the year those allegations were made. 

Al Jazeera had reported: “On September 2, the two-month-long anti-governmental protests in Bulgaria entered the most violent stage to date. For the first time, the police deployed water cannon, tear gas and pepper spray, marking the end of the relatively peaceful phase in protesting that made Bulgaria such an outlier in Europe in this regard.”

It said the protests had started after Geshev, who at the time was still Bulgaria’s prosecuting boss and who faced accusations of aiding corruption by not charging certain individuals, ordered a raid on the presidency.

Connecting claims and countries

Geshev, based on his time as Bulgaria’s chief prosecutor and subsequent statements he made, is now a main hinge connecting allegations levelled against Bozhkov and against Kamenov. 

According to those allegations, both were involved in State Capture-style plotting to oust figures like Geshev in Bulgaria and influence that country’s political landscape.

Bozhkov’s recently alleged association with Prigozhin, while not necessarily political, also points towards high-level politics for reasons including that Prigozhin, two months ahead of his death (which the US suggested the Kremlin was behind), led a short-lived mutiny against Russia’s military. 

Those actions and interlinked accusations stretch to South Africa because of Kamenov’s assassination in this country and his alleged ties to Bozhkov. 

South Africa, which unlike the US is rather supportive of Russia, has suffered State Capture crimes of its own, which resulted in weakened law enforcement and withered prosecuting powers. 

Regardless of the motive behind Kamenov’s killing, the common denominator between all the countries and claims circling it is dirty and, at times deadly, politics. 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.

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

DM168 6 September 2023.

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Greeff Kotzé says:

    The word “allegations” appears 9 times in this article, and the word “alleged” appears 15 times. “Accusation(s)” shows up 5 times, while “accused” is seen 6 times. Then there is a sprinkling of “reportedly”, “suggested/suggesting” and “apparently”.

    I guess what I am getting at is, while this is a captivating tale, it is rather scant on hard facts, and gives the impression of a series of public statements, news reports, and social media posts being stitched together on the assumption that they belong together. I don’t really expect the journalist to go undercover and go collect the evidence herself, but at the same time, we’ve all seen this type of internet sleuthing done poorly (sometimes maliciously) in recent years, so this style of writing does trigger a cautionary alert for me.

    All it does is to leave one wondering what the true story really is. Still, fascinating and scary, if even half of it is true.

  • jcdville stormers says:

    Dirty global politics,where there’s smoke,there’s fire.

  • Luan Sml says:

    Lots of food for thought… none of it good, but eventually the truth will out!
    It’s most distressing that South Africa is developing a reputation as a destination for international crime syndicates… we have enough “oligarchs” of our own, who would not hesitate to make use of the connections for their own financial and political ends!

  • Johan Herholdt says:

    Since South Africa under the auspices of the ANC lost all credibility (political, financial and ethical) with the democratic international community it seems we are cosying up to a different kind of crowd. These kinds of allegations would have been laughable before. Maybe this is why Russia has been such a regular visitor in the recent past.

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