Bulgaria to investigate $3bn Azerbaijan Laundromat claims
Bulgaria has ordered an investigation after revelations by the Guardian and other media partners that Azerbaijan operated a secret $2.9bn fund to lobby influential Europeans and to funnel money offshore. Prosecutor Sotir Tsatsarov said he was launching an inquiry into Kalin Mitrev, Bulgaria’s representative to the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). Mitrev received at least €425,000 (£390,000) from the scheme, which has been nicknamed the Azerbaijan Laundromat. Mitrev denies wrongdoing. He says the payments to his Swiss and Bulgarian accounts were for legitimate consultancy work and happened before he joined the bank’s board in London. The reports were a “doomed political attack” on his wife, Irina Bokova, the director general of Unesco, Mitrev said. Officials will seek to establish whether there is evidence of tax evasion or money laundering, the prosecutor’s office in Sofia announced on Thursday. Mitrev denies being aware of the original source of the funds and says he declared the income in Bulgaria and paid tax in full. Mitrev’s future remains unclear after his case was discussed on Thursday by Bulgaria’s cabinet. Speaking afterwards, Vladislav Goranov, the finance minister, said his government had not taken a position on whether Mitrev should be removed from his EBRD job and that it had written to the bank asking for its view. On Thursday, the EBRD said only Bulgaria could take action against Mitrev, or exonerate him. His role was equivalent to that of an ambassador, it said, adding that he was not an employee. Board members from other European states are concerned by the Laundromat revelations and would like Mitrev to stand down, it is understood.
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