Welcome to the 'Ndrangheta's Bulgarian hotel

What do you need, as a mafia boss, in order to do money laundering efficiently? First, you need to go to a country where authorities don’t know you. Then, set up companies. By the way, marrying a local woman wouldn’t be a bad idea, this could help with setting up companies on behalf of her and her family, nothing suspicious. But, best of all, aim high: paying (on paper, of course) EUR 160 million for a hotel that’s not even EUR 20 million is a classic money laundering bull’s eye. Unless you get arrested first.

The bulgarian wife

A blow for the Reggio Emilia clan of ‘Ndrangheta, in 2018, sent shock waves to Romania and Bulgaria. The arrest of Carmine Sarcone, the ‘Ndrangheta boss in the Emilian region, led to seizure of bank accounts and properties by the Bologna based Italian Anti-mafia Directorate. All seized assets belonged to the Sarcone family: when the youngest of the three brothers, Carmine, was arrested, the other two, Nicolino and Gianluigi, had been in prison for quite some time.

Yet, some of the ‘Ndrangheta clan operations were still going on. Although in prison, awaiting his sentence, Gianluigi had put his faith in his partner, a Bulgarian woman, Victoria Guzghulova. Nothing in particular would signal her ‘Ndrangheta membership: a blonde woman in her thirties, nothing extremely fancy or show off, Victoria was born and grew up in Burgas, Bulgaria. Her mother lives in Haskovo. The two together registered a company there in December 2010 – “Italian Build”. The company dealt with constructions and, although submitted financial documents between 2012 and 2015, didn’t have any significant activity (it is worth mentioning that many companies controlled by people linked to ‘Ndrangheta are simply set up for rare transactions).

Gianluigi Sarcone himself set up a Bulgarian company called Innovative Locking Systems, registered in December 2011 in the capital of Slatina. According to registration documents, the company dealt with construction, transportation, real estate and more. The company was active between 2011 and 2014 with no significant turnover.

Despite the fact that the companies were empty shells, according to the Italian Anti mafia Directorate, in September 2014, Gianluigi and Victoria paid a visit to the branch of the Bank of Montepaski in Poviglio, Italy, and deposited EUR 336,000. Later on, they cashed out EUR 35,000 that was transferred to Bulgaria. This transactions led to Gianluigi’s arrest and later on, in court, it was revealed that many other accounts, properties and assets were controlled by the Sarcone clan in Italy, Bulgaria, Romania and Lithuania.

The most expensive hotel in the Balkans

The Sarcone clan is not the only one connected to the powerful Calabrian family of Grande Aracri. “We’re doing business in Ghana, Ivory Coast and Bulgaria”, Alfonso Dilletto boasted in a phone call overheard by Italian authorities investigating money laundering operations carried out by ‘Ndrangheta.

According to the Italian Anti-mafia Directorate in Bologna, Diletto is part of the Grande Aracri clan and one of the leading figure of the criminal organization outside Italy. The police investigation in Italy, codenamed “Aemilia”, hit the clan very hard: 9 arrests and the seizure of EUR 330 million mafia property.
Alfonso Dilletto, nicknamed “The Monkey”, manages the international investments of the Grande Aracri clan and looks like an experienced manager, although he’s not even a college graduate.

Dilletto’s job in Bulgaria was to whiten more than a hundred million EUR. Based on the Special Operations Task Forces of the Carabinieri investigation, the operation had to be carried out through the EUR 160 million deal related to the construction of a giant hotel complex named Melia-Bakerville in the Tsigov Chark area, near Batak Dam.

The works began at the end of 2013 and the contract was concluded with Baker-R Ltd., based in Plovdiv. On the Italian side, the contract was signed by Save Group S.r.l. (Save Group Ltd.). In the past, the historic Italian group “Save”, later declared bankrupt, has carried out, through numerous companies, various large-scale construction projects in Italy. But the shadow of the Calabrian clan bosses was always behind the business, as the company’s finances have been in the red for years, according to information provided by Anti-mafia.

But following the arrest of both Nicolino Sarcone, the boss of the Grande Aracri clan, and of Alfonso Dilletto, considered his right hand man, their Bulgarian project collapsed. It caused not only the crash of their huge money laundering operation, but also the bankruptcy of Dimitar Bekriev’s companies, the businessman that took the contract to build the giant hotel.

Smoking may cause arrests

But it’s not all fun and (apparently) legal games for ‘Ndrangheta in Bulgaria. Every once in a while, there’s an operation to remind everybody what is mafia about: illegal rugged stuff. Like cigarettes smuggling, for instance. And that’s how we get to a whole cigarettes factory that was built and run without any trace of legality. In July, however, the Bulgarian Police forces stormed the factory and seized the building and the equipments, all based in the village of Trud, near to second biggest town of Bulgaria – Plovdiv. Every year, the illegal factory produced a hole worth EUR one hundred million in the Bulgarian public budget.

Two separate groups of Italian citizens are related to the ownership of both the factory for illegal cigarettes in the village of Trud and the warehouse where tobacco was prepared, between Ruzhevo Konare and Ruzhevo.

One of the two groups has been doing business in Bulgaria for the last ten years. One of the companies controlled by this group owned the industrial property that accommodated the illegal cigarette factory in the village of Trud before selling it to Bulgarian citizens who produce furniture and export it to Italy (which makes very likely the scenario that the transaction was carried out only to cover their tracks).

At the same time, one of their companies, registered in Plovdiv, is represented by a Bulgarian lawyer who is registered as a proxy of the Bulgarian company AM Trading Group owned by none others than Domenico Martino and Zdravko Georgiev Ivanov. Dominico’s brothers are Giulio and Vincenzo Martino – bosses of the Libran clan of Ndrangheta in Milan. Both have been in prison for years.

The Bulgarian partner, Zdravko, also known as “Pascal” or “The French”, was responsible for Calabrian imports from Bulgaria of hundreds of pounds cocaine, hashish and marijuana, according to information from the Italian Anti-mafia.

This article was developed with the support of Journalismfund.eu