Bulgarian daily 24 Chassa has begun publishing the identities of the country’s business people that it says appear in the “Panama Papers”.
In the first three days of stories on the topic of the Panama Papers, the paper has named Evgeniya and Nikolai Banevi, Petar Mandzhukov, and Chavdar Kunchev.
The Banev family and several recurring names are entered as shareholders or representatives of several companies in the Seychelles, the Bahamas and Panama between 2005 and 2015, according to data obtained by the Sueddeutsche Zeitung more than a year ago and shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.
Interviewed by 24 Chassa, Evgeniya Baneva said, “I do not see anything wrong with it. I do not know businessmen that do not have offshore companies. These are legitimate practices”.
“What is the problem to be working with offshore companies? We have also offshore companies, we have companies registered in Russia, Switzerland, Macedonia. How is this different?” Baneva was quoted as saying.
Baneva denied that there was tax evasion involved.
“We have firms registered in Switzerland and take advantage of opportunities in the Swiss cantons of negotiating different rates. These are commercial companies. Given that we pay taxes in Switzerland or in countries where there are agreements on avoidance of double taxation, it is quite normal.
“I liked the explanation these days of Emil Hursev who said that the biggest player with such practices is Jean-Claude Juncker. You know that on Luxembourg’s territory it has long been allowed to negotiate individual large companies for their taxes,” she said, adding that when prime minister of Luxembourg, Juncker had allowed several large international companies to negotiate different tax rates.
Baneva said that the “Panama Papers” were an international conspiracy aimed at distracting from the important problems of mankind.
“If there really is some important information, related to politicians with drug traffickers, and so on, that affects the whole world. So far, however, I do not see information that would look like, ‘Wow, something’s really been discovered here’,” Baneva said.
Asked if she was concerned that Bulgaria’s tax-collecting authority the National Revenue Agency had sent a request for information from the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and had said that it would investigate, Baneva replied, “no, that is their right. No, no, it does not bother me”.
24 Chassa said that Mandzhukov and his wife had an offshore company, Kegel Asset Management, registered in the British Virgin Islands in 2001. According to the report, in July 2014 Mandzhukov said that he wanted his wife to be the owner and director of the company, even though the company was not operating.
Mandzhukov, known for his involvement in the arms trade and media ownership including Bulgarian Socialist Party mouthpiece Duma, and who in 2010 was named by the Dossier Commission as having worked for State Security, was quoted by 24 Chassa as saying that he had never used the company and had forgotten about it.
Also named in the 24 Chassa reports was Chavdar Kanchev, former head of the Foreign Trade Bank.
Kanchev was a director and later a shareholder in two companies registered in the British Virgin Islands, the report said. 24 Chassa said that Kanchev was recruited to State Security in 1983, the same year he became deputy director of Litex Bank in Lebanon.
Interviewed by 24 Chassa, Kanchev said that he did not want to talk about the two companies in the British Virgin Islands because of the risk of wilful negative misinterpretation.
He did not use the companies, “I had plans that did not materialise,” he was quoted as saying.
“But I’m not going to explain, much less to justify. As you know, Bulgaria is currently still allowing offshore companies to apply for public procurement. If this happens, I do not see what the problem is,” Kanchev said.
Asked why he registered offshore companies, Kanchev said, “for many things. Including security”.
Also asked if he was concerned about the National Revenue Agency saying that it would begin checking all the names it got from the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, Kanchev replied, “Why should I worry? I am a taxpayer in good standing in Bulgaria. Impeccable! With taxes paid significantly larger than many of the so-called national capitalists. And that had nothing to do with offshore business”.
He had perfect records of all taxes he had paid since 1992, Kanchev said.
Commenting on the Panama Papers, he said that it was a targeted attempt to compromise and gradually destroy “this offshore paradise”.
“It’s not just a matter of Panama, but everywhere. The offshore status was thought up by Meyer Lansky, who was associated with the American mafia. That happened in the early 20th century. This is the latest attempt to destroy everything.
“What exactly will those checking, check? It’s just negative noise. Why are there no Americans in this data? They used this status for almost 100 years. Most people do not know for what companies in offshore zones are used, and they think, that they are used illegally.”
He said that if there were political figures announced on a list, that list would become topical. “Then there will be another list. The aim is for all offshore areas to be compromised. And the truth is, that every country has set up something like this.”
(Photo: Darren Deans/sxc.hu)