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Bulgarian wrestler and Credit Suisse charged with laundering $39 million of drug money

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Switzerland’s second largest bank is accused of funnelling money for Bulgaria’s organized crime families.

SWITZERLAND-BANKING Photo by FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images

According to Forbes a Bulgarian wrestler has been indicted, along with Credit Suisse (Switzerland’s second largest bank) and one of its former employees, on charges that they laundered $39 million in illicit funds. The Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland said the wrestler, a client of Credit Suisse, laundered money stemming from a European cocaine trafficking ring.

Authorities allege that the former Credit Suisse employee set up “special finance transactions”, which included real estate deals, to aid the wrestler, who was working as part of a Bulgarian organized crime syndicate.

Credit Suisse has also been charged with not complying with anti-money-laundering provisions. Credit Suisse denies these allegations.

In a statement the bank said it “intends to defend itself vigorously” against the charges.

This case has been under investigation since the early 2000s. That’s when authorities began tracking the wrestler, who has not been named per Swiss legal norms. The alleged perpetrator has already been convicted in several European counties, including Italy for transporting cocaine from South America to Europe.

Swiss authorities say the wrestler deposited proceeds of drug trafficking into Swiss bank accounts and then used the money to purchase real estate across Europe. By diverting these funds through Switzerland’s ‘most reputable banks’ the money was fed into legal circulation, thus erasing its criminal origins.

Authorities said the wrestler’s accomplice at the bank was someone who was “familiar with the wrestling word”. She has been charged with aggravated money laundering.

People familiar with the Bulgarian criminal underworld would not be surprised at the apparent link to wrestling.

In Bulgaria the word for ‘gangster’ is борец, which literally means ‘wrestler’. This is because Bulgaria’s post-Communist organized crime syndicates were largely formed by high-level athletes, including national level wrestlers.

Wrestlers who allegedly became gangsters include the Illiev brothers (Vasil and Georgi), Krasimir Marinov and Iliya Pavlov. All those men were students at Bulgaria’s ‘Olympic Hopes’ athletic school. The Illiev brothers and Pavlov have all been killed in what are believed to be contract killings.

Relatives follow a hearse carrying the c
Georgi Stoev’s funeral in Bistritsa on April 10, 2008.
Photo credit should read DIMITAR DILKOFF/AFP/Getty Images

Georgi Stoev, who trained at the same academy as the Illievs and Pavlov, also became a gangster shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989. However, a few years later he decided to quit crime and become a writer. Across nine books Stoev chronicled the origins and activities of Bulgaria’s organized crime syndicates.

He was shot dead in Sofia on April 7, 2008.

Bulgarian organized crime often intersects with another sport, too: soccer.

It is alleged that Georgi Illiev once took an 18-year-old Dimitar Berbatov hostage in an attempt to make him sign for the team he owned, Levski Kyustendil.

Supposedly Berbatov’s father and Illiya Pavlov, who owned CSKA Moscow at the time, were able to secure Berbatov’s freedom. Berbatov would go on to play for Bayer Leverkusen, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester Untied on route to being one of the country’s most iconic athletes.

One of Bulgaria’s top professional soccer teams, Lokomotiv Plovdiv, has also seen plenty of headlines involving organized crime. Since 1995 the team has had five club chairmen assassinated in apparent gangland hits.