Mutual accusations of corruption have shown how the state-run arms industry operates
It is no secret to anyone that the production and trade of arms are among the most profitable businesses in Bulgaria. The interests there are great, and the clashes are spectacular. Strange accidents and explosions often occur, with casualties. However, the guarantors are never revealed, and the implications are usually glossed over.
That is why the scandals in the arms business in recent months are impressive. Along with the mutual accusations between the until recently Minister of Economy Kornelia Ninova and people of the President Rumen Radev, very curious data came out about the way this business functions, especially in the state-owned arms companies. For the first time, politically engaged persons came to the fore. Among them are the closest person to the president and current acting military minister Dimitar Stoyanov, the acting economic minister and former head of VMZ-Sopot Nikola Stoyanov, the ex-head of Kintex Alexander Mihailov, the former acting economic minister Daniela Vezieva… Rumen Radev too several times attacked Ninova with claims that Bulgaria exports weapons to Ukraine and that it is she, as Minister of Economy, who is responsible for this. In response, Ninova filed lawsuits on every charge related to the arms trade. It is interesting that none of BSP’s opponents attacked Ninova so harshly. The impression remains that
it is about internal party settling of accounts
Ninova even directly accused the head of state that his goal was to change the leadership of the BSP and take control of the party. All these squabbles could lead to an erosion of support for the BSP, as they usurp the campaign, and a large part of the BSP’s supporters are fans of Rumen Radev.
Everything started in the middle of April this year, when the then Minister of Economy, Kornelia Ninova, started a purge in the arms companies. She first fired the head of “Kintex” Alexander Mihailov on the grounds that violations and a clear conflict of interest had been established. Ninova referred to an inspection by the MI inspectorate, the results of which were sent to the prosecutor’s office.
However, Mihailov did not follow the rule that in this business silence is golden, and talked. According to him, despite Ninova’s oaths that no arms are exported to Ukraine, Bulgarian production goes there through intermediaries in Poland and the Czech Republic. “It is a fact that the factories are constantly hiring people, they work in three shifts, Saturday and Sunday. This has been since the beginning of the war and I do not believe in coincidences, I am not naive. The truth is that in my opinion
this weapon reaches Ukraine through middlemen who make huge profits.”
Mihailov said. He claims that new contracts were concluded for BGN 2 billion, which went through Czech and Polish companies. Ninova countered that Bulgaria does not directly give a single cartridge to Ukraine, and what the companies do with the purchased production is their business.
At the same time, the New York Times implicitly refuted Ninova, writing that the Pentagon “relies on American defense contractors to scour Eastern European munitions plants for newly manufactured weapons designed by the Soviet Union to fulfill the president’s promises Biden to increase military aid to Ukraine”. An example was a Tampa, Florida-based company that operates factories in Bulgaria, Romania, Bosnia, Serbia, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. It is no secret that the most similar type of weapon is produced in our country.
The then chief secretary of the president also intervened in the scandal
and current acting military minister Dimitar Stoyanov. He posted on Facebook part of a document in which he said that an arms shipment was diverting its final destination from the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to Ukraine. Ninova counters that this is a memo from the former director of VMZ-Sopot to the board of directors, which refers to a deal concluded in 2021 by Rumen Radev’s office with acting Prime Minister Stefan Yanev. “The wish of the executive director of the VMZ is to transfer the date and delivery from 2021 to April 29, 2022. And to transfer it from Afghanistan to Ukraine,” Cornelia Ninova explained at the time. “In the meantime, the minister has been replaced and I occupy this position. The documents come to the commission and it refuses to consider this transaction and does not issue a permit,” she also claimed.
However, the scandals did not end there. Alexander Mikhailov continued with the revelations and announced that only for the first four months after the start of the war in Ukraine with the signature of Kornelia Ninova by air
over 4,200 tons of Bulgarian weapons were exported with 60 planes,
as all shipments were unloaded at the Polish airport “Rzeszow”. It is located just 70 km from the border with Ukraine and is a major gateway for arms from Kyiv’s partners. Mihailov accused Ninova of having delayed for two months the examination of other deals for the export of Bulgarian arms worth a total of 1 billion euros. This information was confirmed by the new Minister of Economy, Nikola Stoyanov, who said that he had to
in 1 hour to confirm all 255 pending import and export permits
of military production to and from Bulgaria, the majority of which were for ammunition for small arms, anti-tank recoilless systems, missiles for military aircraft and for ground installations, unguided aerial missiles, anti-tank mines. Stoyanov also revealed that 80% of the deals were for the export of weapons to Poland.
However, where weapons are exported from Bulgaria is only one of the scandals. It’s much more interesting
how trade commissions are distributed
The revelations there came from another dismissed from Ninova – the former head of the board of directors of VMZ-Sopot, Nikola Stoyanov, who became the minister of economy in the office. Something that Ninova saw as a direct attack and an attempt to humiliate the head of state.
Stoyanov announced that he ordered “the documents on the financial operations of Kintex to offshore areas to be immediately sent to the prosecutor’s office for an alleged crime.” The official announcement claimed that “under the instructions of the company from the offshore zone, Kintex transferred large sums to Bulgarian companies and legal entities in the Balkans, which at the moment is not clear what relation they have to the activities of the arms dealer”. And that “probably these destinations are chosen,
to bypass rigorous bank checks,
which are mandatory when it comes to deals of arms companies with offshore counterparties”.
“The truth is that this contract with a company in Dubai was signed in 2015. During the time before I became a minister and after me, translations were made there. During the time when I was a minister – none. And now what’s next? There is the word DANCE . I’m glad that the truth has come to light, it remains for someone to bear the responsibility. That’s fair!”, announced Ninova.
The BSP leader revealed another scheme in the arms business
“The then director of Kintex, Alexander Mihailov, was at the same time a commercial director in a private company. The board of directors of VMZ-Sopot also has a relationship with this company. The two commercial companies have an arrangement for Kintex to represent VMZ in Egypt. They renounce this agreement and transfer it to the private company, whose owner is former deputy minister from the time of GERB, Alexander Manolev,” announced Ninova to BTV. And he added that this happened during the time of the official cabinet appointed by Rumen Radev, when Daniela Vezieva was the Minister of Economy. Vezieva’s answer was not long in coming: “At the end of November, there was a world exhibition of the arms industry, where all countries participated. I led a delegation, and in it there were many people from this business who had paid for themselves and had taken stands. Alexander Manolev was part from the arms business that had stands in Egypt. He has a private business and works with it.”
Manolev himself, who is banned from entering USAD, however, denied having any such company at all and threatened Ninova with a lawsuit. On Facebook, he wrote: “I don’t have a company like Ms. Ninova claims. We will see each other in court on this topic. Also for the other suggestions you made.” Manolev also released a photo of him, his father, Ninova and her husband at a table, with the explanation that she was the only one of all the ministers that he had such personal contact with.
Interestingly, the louder it is in the government arms business,
the more silence reigns in the private arms business
Who knows why there are no people unhappy about delayed deals or taken away markets. The only exception in recent months were the EMKO warehouses near Karnobat. Their owner, Emilian Gebrev, announced that he was absolutely sure that this was no accident and that he saw a Russian connection. If he is right, this will be another sabotage against his Russian-flavored weapons factory. In 2021, the Bulgarian prosecutor’s office announced that there was a connection between the poisoning of Gebrev, four explosions in warehouses in Bulgaria and Russian military intelligence. The first mentioned case was from November 2011 in Lovni dol, when a warehouse of the EMKO company was blown up. A significant amount of ammunition destined for export to Georgia was destroyed. The second case was from 2015 to the village of Iganovo, when a warehouse of VMZ-Sopot was blown up, where EMKO products were also stored. Then another warehouse of VMZ-Sopot was also destroyed. The fourth case is from 2020, when an “Arsenal” warehouse was blown up near the city of Muglizh.
Again in 2021, a scandal erupted in the Czech Republic with revelations about the explosions in the weapons warehouses in the Czech village of Vrbetice in 2014. The local authorities revealed that they were carried out by agents of the Russian GRU, that they were connected to the re-export of ammunition from Bulgaria to Ukraine and that there was EMKO production in the warehouses.
So far, however, there is no public information about the progress of the investigations in Bulgaria, no data on arrests and charges, let alone court cases.