Panama Papers: Few Bulgarian Names Revealed
Only several names of Bulgarian entrepreneurs have surfaced out of the Panama Papers so far, three days after the affair emerged exposing global offshore dealings that involve politicians, celebrities and business people from around the world.
The first names whose stories have been published are the Banevi family (Nikolay Banev and Evgeniya Baneva), the owners of a business holding with diverse industrial and services activities, and Petar Mandzhukov, whose businesses have included media publishing and arms exports.
Since the Panama Papers story emerged, at least 50 companies, 16 company owners and 78 shareholders from across Bulgaria have been linked to registrations in offshore jurisdictions around the world, according to Sofia-based news daily newspaper 24 Chasa – the ICIJ's only reporting partner from Bulgaria.
Another 100 people were directors, agents, lawyers or liquidators; some of them were foreign nationals residing in Bulgaria or having Bulgarian passports.
On Tuesday Economy Minister Bozhidar Lukarski noted he was expecting to see "big names" in the list of Bulgarians mentioned in the documents, but did not elaborate.
Since the mid-2000s, the names of Nikolay Banev and Evgeniya Baneva have been entered as shareholders, representatives or attorneys for several companies registered on the Seychelles, the Bahamas or in Panama.
In all cases, power of attorneys are initially handed to Bulgarian nationals in the beginning, but later on in the 2010s, when the nations tighten legislation on ownership transparency, Ms Baneva takes over the respective companies.
Speaking to 24 Chasa to comment on the affair, she is quoted as saying there is nothing wrong about offshore companies owned by entrepreneurs, unlike politicians or civil servants. Baneva has also noted her family has a number of companies not only in the abovementioned locations, but also in Switzerland, Russia, or Macedonia.
Baneva ran for MEP in 2014, and her husband, Nikolay Banev, had said he was considering a Presidential election bid this year, with a vote due in the autumn. Recently, Mr Banev also set up the so-called Eurasian Club, which he intends to transform into a political party, calling for Bulgaria's exit from the EU and NATO.
Mandzhukov for his part transferred the ownership of Kegel Asset Management, a company he had registered on the British Virgin Islands in 2001, to his wife, Ivaneta, in 2012.
Asked about Kegel Asset, he claims to "have never used" the firm, which did not pursue "any commercial activity".
Petar Madzhukov, 73, has been known as the owner of several media outlets (a former publisher of Duma, the newspaper of the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), and a cable news network called BBT) and his involvement in the arms trade.
Prior to the democratic changes in 1989, he worked at Kintex, the state-owned arms exporter that secured a lot of hard currency for the Communist regime through a vast weapons industry, with hundreds of millions in revenues from sales to the Middle East and Africa.
Madzhukov has told 24 Chasa he "had forgotten" about his offshore company before the moment he was contacted by the newspaper.
Offshore activities are not illegal, but on a global scare are considered a possible means for tax evasions.
Krasen Stanchev, an economist with the Institute for Market Economics, has noted that in the case of Bulgaria, which has low personal income and corporate tax rates, offshore companies are unlikely to be used so much for tax evasion as for hiding money of obscure origin.
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