On 5 May an agricultural mogul named Svetoslav Ilchovsky came to Parliament to testify before the temporary committee tasked with auditing GERB's rule over the past decade. He revealed how he, alongside many major business people, have been continually harassed by Boyko Borissov's party.
He claimed that each sector is ruled by a businessman close to Borissov, and ministers are just puppets exercising someone else's will. Mr Ilchovsky filed documents to show how the owner of the largest chicken-producing factory was demanding false invoices and forcing him to sell his grain at half-price in order to be "left to work". The man - Ivan Angelov of "Gradus" - was openly presenting himself as "the shadow minister for agriculture", said Mr Ilchovsky and claimed that the businessman (called "the Chicken" by Mr Ilchovsky) was, in practice, controlling the Agency for food control, using it as a bat against every producer or importer who's not on side with the authorities.
Furthermore, he claimed that businessmen were kept in line by "subtle" threats - like someone showing videos of sexual abuse of a detained oligarch in jail.
The scandal produced by this testimony raged on until Friday, when Mr Ilchovsky and Mr Angelov were invited together to the committee and clashed about the allegations of corruption and abuse of power made by the former. In the meantime, Mr Ilchovsky gave an interview to Capital weekly where he expanded on some of the allegations from 5 May. You can read its translation below:
I think there were things you did not manage to say during the committee meeting on 5 May. What else do you have to say?
I can talk about how GERB rules for days. I outlined my basic arguments, said why they are important for society and why I went to the committee meeting. The documents I submitted are clear enough - no one can doubt that.
Can you pass these documents to us, then?
The documents are deposited with the National Revenue Agency (NRA). There are invoices proving that [the "Gradus" company] used artificially inflated turnover to get listed on the Bulgarian Stock Exchange.
They wanted to increase the valuation of the firm and to sell shares that have no value to Bulgarian pension funds. The administrators of these funds were pressured to buy shares from this firm, meaning that these people [from GERB and "Gradus"] can get some 25-30 million euro without doing anything.
We have a company with a fictitious turnover for the year, using it to go to the stock exchange and sell things that have no value.
Aren't you afraid that now you could be prosecuted for helping such a scheme?
I didn't know about it at first, but I will carry the whole responsibility if others also bear their responsibility. I have not taken money, I have not taken bribes, I have not participated in public procurements or European projects. My business is clean and I am not greedy like these power-mad morons.
Yesterday you said that you have practically offered bribes - through making concessions for the price you were selling your grain?
I was pretending not to understand what was happening. I was acting like a stupid redneck until these people's time is over. It was a survival strategy.
Have you gotten any threats since your presentation? Has any state institution asked anything of you?
It's full of them! They say I am close to [disgruntled lottery oligarch Vassil] Bozhkov, one of the "Gradus" people called me and I am waiting for him to come now, let's see (the interview was done before the appearance in the committee side by side with Gradus boss two days later)
What is the role of the owners of "Gradus" Ivan and Luka Angelovi?
The Agency for Food Safety is controlled by Ivan Angelov. The Agricultural ministry as well. This is not a secret; all us farmers know it. Those people control all the animal farms in Bulgaria. They can invent those plagues, flus and salmonellas so that we have to eat the most expensive, worst quality food. This is their goal.
Is there any other farmer who can confirm these claims publicly?
People have no trust. I also have no trust in the justice system and the prosecution. I do not trust anything. We all are like that. There are many farmers who were destroyed, but everyone is afraid, man! I almost got torn apart myself.
We know that throughout the years you've had your encounters with the court, with GERB MPs and you've charged them with racketeering
And nothing came of it.
What happened to the case of Dimitar Avramov MP? [In 2012 the then-GERB MP Mr Avramov was arrested for extortion after he received 30,000 euro in marked notes for Ilchovski. Later, Mr Avramov was expelled from GERB and left Parliament, but then he became an MP once again, this time - from the MRF quota. The case is still pending]
They ran a story about me being connected to four killings. They made Jack the Reaper out of me. I can't believe it. About Dimitar Avramov, what can I say? There are no more wiretaps, but there is still my marked money he got caught with by the prosecution. A whole TV drama can be made out of this!
He moved from GERB to MRF, right?
Ah, should I tell you who protects him? He went to swear allegiance to [MRF MP and mogul] Delyan Peevski and now he has no more problems [with the prosecution].
Is there any connection between Avramov and the outgoing minister of agriculture Petya Avramova? You said she was threatening you over the phone?
No, there is none. They are simply thieves and scoundrels from the same region.
Can you prove you've met and talked to Avramova?
I can't prove it, we only talked over the phone.
I assume you've met at some point during all those years in the Northwest?
I am a person who tries to stay on the side at such meetings. I don't want to have anything to do with politics and mayors. I run away. Everyone is a scoundrel and a piece of trash; they look for things they can steal. People without morality. Their promises don't count for a penny. Only stealing. The problem is that GERB left us with such inheritance that we might start liking it.
Can you tell us more about this scheme for meat imports that you mentioned yesterday?
In Bulgaria people consume about 450,000 tons of pork and 90,000 tons of chicken meat. When the Food Agency and the Agricultural Ministry are yours, every batch of meat that someone tries to import into the country will be diagnosed with some disease, if he is not close to GERB. This is why there are so many articles about getting salmonella through meat.
This is how the cheaper meat is not allowed onto the Bulgarian market and we are left with their meat only, which is sold at higher prices. But because we don't have so many pigs in Bulgaria, they also import it - and it passes the sanitary inspections. They buy it for 2 euro and sell it for 3,5 euro and the Bulgarian pays. Dude, we are talking about 30-35,000 euro per truckload!
Businesses that do processing are also compelled to buy from them. And we have no clue what exactly they import - they sell you what they have and you have to work with it. For example, they imported Brazilian pork at discount from their state reserve and sold it to us expensively six months ago.
Is there any documental trace of that?
Only through the Food Agency. It's a magnificent bat, this agency. They tell you that your meat is not good and that's it. But it is good. Well, they tell you to go away and that's the end.
What happens when they tell you that your meat is not good at the border?
You have to sell it somewhere abroad. That is why we eat the most expensive, and the worst, food in Europe. There are schemes every day and I can't help wondering why these fools need so much money when they can't even spend it.
You claim that last year you were pressured to sell your grain production to "Gradus" at half the regular price. If you haven't done it, where did you sell your produce?
Mostly abroad. Grain is a stock exchange commodity and it's hard for them to control it. But if GERB didn't fall from power, they would have gotten us. They would have invented an excuse - that the grain has some disease, it was poisoned by lead or fungi and they would have not allowed it to go on the market.
They want to control everything and they would have captured that market as well. They don't want to take my company away from me, but to keep me as a manager, so I work and they do the taking. They wanted to help me with some European projects.
And, by the way, I guarantee you there is not a single EU-funded project in the agricultural sector where prices have not been jacked up or some fraud has not occurred.
Do you have any EU projects?
No, I stay away from such things, because I see them as my weak point.
But you get European subsidies?
I have to. There are rules for this. But EU projects are the weak point for many people - they give you some euro and then you are indebted to them. Leave aside the fact you have to bribe them, you are also indebted to them because they've created you.
This is why I don't take part. I have missed out on 15-20 million euro, but why do I need them?
Better to have 5 euro, but know it's yours rather than being told you've been created by them. Those madmen can't envisage the time they will no longer be in power. This is their major problem. And once their grip loosens, you'll see how many people like me will emerge.
This is the big question - can somebody else testify about these things you've said? Otherwise it's your word against theirs.
I have documents.
They are related to the stock exchange deal, but you are talking about much more than that.
At least 200 people should go to jail with regards to this deal alone. We are talking about a deal through which our pension money is being stolen, and at the same time the Prime Minister gives out 25 euro per month [as a bonus to the retirees] by borrowing credit so he can purchase their vote. Isn't this a little arrogant of him?
What else did you try telling the committee but couldn't?
You are an economic newspaper and you can check that there is a cartel operating over the sunflower oil market. They decide and manage who buys what. They decide the quality of each shipping, and pressure farmers to lower the price. How does this happen? Every agricultural producer is obliged to declare how much grain he has in each warehouse on a monthly basis. And they take this, supposedly classified information, and know how to screw each and everyone. They say that his batch is no good, and pressure him financially.
And in the end they make money on our backs. Ivan "the Chicken" is the head of the cartel. He exports to Turkey. This is how he collects production from farmers, at low prices, and then he sells them to Turkey for much bigger profit. Nobody else can do that, because you need political backing.
This Ivan "the Chicken," didn't he participate in this export of foodstuff to Dubai with Delyan Peevski's firm [in 2020, amidst the pandemic, "Gradus" and a company linked to the MRF MP sent a food donation to the Arab country in return for medical supplies, which turned out to mostly consist of dates. Moreover, Mr Avramov confessed he ran a profit from the otherwise humanitarian deal]?
Precisely. He delivered the chicken at the time. But do you know what he told me? We brought the meat, but they didn't like it. They tried to enter the Arab market through this whole circus, but the Arabs are not like the dumb Bulgarians, ready to eat bad quality food because someone else needed money.
It would be interesting to hear Ivan Angelov's viewpoint on this.
He won't say anything, what can he say? I have documents. I was around him, he was calling me every day, sharing problems.
What portion of your produce did he buy in previous years?
For his own needs or for reselling?
Both. But they became more and more insolent. Last summer, when we got into an argument, he asked me: "Who were you before we met? We created you." I told him, hey, you, stop, I am a defiant person, your games won't work here. Sooner or later you will upturn the cart!
By the way, in the last few months I went to Romania and I was shocked at the development they have after they put a stop to corruption. I go to do business there; they have money, villages are new and shiny, they have new houses and there is not a single pothole. Nobody thinks about corruption anymore because shackles await if this occurs.
Those Romanians have taken off. And this is Romania's poorest part, near Craiova. You can take a Google walk to see what's that about. What we know about [ex-special prosecutor Laura] Kovesi and their corrupt politicians is just part of the whole story. It was much worse for these sell-out bastards. No one was left alone.
Are you worried about repercussions against you?
I have been doing business in Bulgaria for 23 years. There are so many times I've been threatened. You live one life, if you are not afraid - don't go to the wood to hunt wolves. I can't stand and watch those bastards come and steal my business.
The part of the story that got the most attention had to do with the golden bars and the meetings and videos of Mata Hari [Last Summer, photographs and videos emerged of Boyko Borissov sleeping next to a gun and a drawer full of gold bars and 500-euro bills. He confessed that they were taken by a mysterious lady whom he dubbed Mata Hari after the WWI-era female spy].
This one was for the stupid society. I am telling them how they are being robbed every day through the meat, look how much it costs in neighboring countries, look how much it costs here - they care only about the photos.
This is not the problem - those people steal from us relentlessly and this is why we never have enough. Employers in Bulgaria are in such a vicious circle, me included. I have to pay my workers, but I can't earn this money due to pressure and racketeering.
Fuel cartel, food cartel, electricity cartel How much money should I give so you have enough, bro? I want to give, but I can't. In the winter, a lot of people will die from hunger, just wait and see. There will be a great devaluation of money around the world due to these relief funds. Commodity prices are already going up. If you've gotten 500 euro, it will be worth 400 soon.
Why did you decide to open up now?
Because nobody cares. Those insolent people are mad with power. They have lost it! I am telling them I won't work with them any longer. And they were getting ready to throw me to their prosecutors and judges in Stara Zagora [Ilchovsky is from Vratsa region]. They say - you owe us 6 million leva and that's it.
You are talking about the 2020 case against you for murder threats that was mentioned during the testimony yesterday?
Yes, indeed. They don't want it to become public in Sofia, so they gave me to someone in Stara Zagora.
What is happening with this case at the moment?
I complained to the Sofia Prosecution about conflict of interests and wrongful actions of the prosecutors in Stara Zagora. The case is frozen for the time being until we see who will be in power
After this interview, on Friday, Mr Ilchovsky appeared side by side with Ivan Angelov from Gradus in front of the committee. He confirmed everything he said in this interview once again publicly. Mr Angelov tried to answer the allegations but got entangled in detailed questions about his connection to Boyko Borissov and his business deals abroad. What emerged was that he was seeing the Prime Minister on a regular basis and was helped by him on more than one occasion in business deals with Turkey, as well as in the MIddle East.