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Viewing cable 10SOFIA32, BULGARIAN SOCCER RECEIVES A RED CARD FOR CORRUPTION

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
10SOFIA32 2010-01-15 12:12 2010-12-30 21:09 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Sofia
VZCZCXYZ0001
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHSF #0032/01 0151243
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 151243Z JAN 10
FM AMEMBASSY SOFIA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 6601
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC
RUEAWJA/DEPT OF JUSTICE WASHINGTON DC
RHMCSUU/FBI WASHINGTON DC 0281
RUEHBS/USEU BRUSSELS
C O N F I D E N T I A L SOFIA 000032

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/14/2019
TAGS: PGOV KCRM KCOR BU
SUBJECT: BULGARIAN SOCCER RECEIVES A RED CARD FOR CORRUPTION

REF: 09 SOFIA 508

Classified By: CDA Susan Sutton for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

1. (C) Summary: Since the fall of Communism, Bulgarian soccer
has become a symbol of organized crime's corrupt influence on
important institutions. Bulgarian soccer clubs are widely
believed to be directly or indirectly controlled by organized
crime figures who use their teams as way to legitimize
themselves, launder money, and make a fast buck. Despite
rampant rumors of match fixing, money laundering, and tax
evasion, there have been few arrests or successful
prosecutions. As a result, the public has lost faith in the
legitimacy of the league as evidenced by the drop in
television ratings and match attendance. Recent scandals
involving the most popular teams and the mass firing of the
referee selection commission for a second consecutive year
have deepened the public's disgust. The new government has
started to investigate tax evasion and money laundering
allegations against some soccer clubs, but, given the deep
roots of organized crime in Bulgarian soccer, this has had
little impact so far. Cleaning up Bulgarian soccer would be
a public sign of the seriousness of the Prime Minister
(himself a soccer fanatic) in combating organized crime. End
Summary

THE FALL OF "THE BEAUTIFUL GAME"
--------------------------------

2. (C) Bulgaria is soccer country. It has long been the
most popular sport, and despite scandals and the migration of
many of its talented players to wealthier European clubs
abroad, it is still a Bulgarian passion. The pinnacle of
Bulgarian soccer was the 1994 World Cup, when Bulgaria
defeated Germany to advance to the semi-finals, eventually
finishing fourth overall. To this day, many Bulgarians only
half jokingly refer to this as the country's greatest
accomplishment since the fall of communism. After the
transition to democracy, popular teams previously owned by
the municipalities and state institutions such as the
military or the police were sold to the new business elite
notorious for its close ties with organized crime and the
former secret services. Experts and journalists we
interviewed claim that organized crime groups captured
Bulgarian soccer in an effort to launder illicit profits and
create a legitimate image. Today, nearly all of the teams
are owned or have been connected to organized crime figures.
The following list is just a sampling of the most well-known
connections.

3. (C) Todor Batkov, the proxy and front-man for the
infamous Russian-Israeli businessman Michael Cherney, aka
"Mikhail Chorny," owns the popular Sofia team Levski FC. The
powerful business conglomerate TIM owns Cherno More Varna.
The notorious Marinovs, aka "Margin brothers," who are on
trial for murder, racketeering, and organized crime, own
Slavia. Nickolay Gigov, an alleged arms dealer, owns
Lokomotive Sofia, and Grisha Ganchev, a known money launderer
and organized crime figure, owns Litex. Vassil Krumov
Bozhkov, aka "the Skull" was the former owner of CSKA, one of
the most important Bulgarian teams. The last three
presidents of Lokomotive Plovdiv, which has been periodically
owned by the crime group VIS, have been assassinated.

SCANDALS
--------

4. (C) Given the ownership of the Bulgarian soccer clubs,
allegations of illegal gambling, match fixing, money
laundering, and tax evasion plague the league. A large
scandal erupted in September 2009 during the run-up to the
match between Levski and CSKA, the most important rivalry in
Bulgarian soccer. Immediately prior to the match, four
Levski players were put on a plane to Moscow as part of a
last minute transfer to the Russian team, FC Rubin Kazan.
Shortly after Levski's 2-0 loss to CSKA, it became clear that
the transfer was a hoax and that the President of Levski,
Todor Batkov, had been defrauded of the Euro 200,000 transfer
fee. The local press reported that the odds for CSKA winning
the game fell dramatically before the announcement of the
transfer, possibly indicating large amounts of money bet
against Levski. Theories on what really happened vary, but
the most popular are that Batkov bet against his own team to
pay back debts, or that the new owners of CSKA orchestrated
the transfer. Despite preliminary investigations into the
case, there have been no arrests.

RUMORS OF MATCH FIXING
----------------------

5. (C) Long-standing allegations of match fixing have
probably done the most to damage Bulgarian soccer's
reputation. According to the sports editor of the daily
"Trud," Vladimir Pamukov, and sports journalist, Krum Savov,
the most common match fixing schemes are bribing referees and
paying off players on the opposing club to insure a team
loses by a certain score. They argue that thanks to
organized crime influences and economic disparity between the
teams, match fixing has become an extremely common practice.
This has caused many Bulgarians to view the outcomes of
soccer matches like Americans view the predetermined outcomes
of professional wrestling. Pamukov highlighted the fall in
television ratings and crowds at soccer games as evidence of
this disillusionment, claiming that prior to the transition
there would be 10,000 people at games and now 500 to 2,000
show up.

6. (C) Journalists, critics and fans often cite illogical
results and unexplainable play as the evidence of match
fixing even though there have been few investigations and
proven cases over the last twenty years. When there are
arrests and evidence of corruption, cases often come to
nothing or the accused are acquitted due to a lack of
evidence. Ivan Lekov, a well-known former soccer referee and
deputy head of the State Agency for Sports and Youth, was
arrested in 2008 before TV cameras for allegedly
orchestrating match fixing. Four former soccer referees
broke their silence, claiming Lekov and the head of the
Bulgarian Football Union's (BFU) referee committee applied
pressure on them to fix matches. Following Lekov's arrest,
the BFU dismissed the entire referee committee for the first
time and passed a code of ethics for clubs. Despite these
changes, match fixing has not dissipated and Lekov, often
cited by the previous government as an example of its
anti-corruption efforts, was acquitted due to a lack of
evidence and witnesses refusing to testify. On December 14,
2009 the executive committee of the BFU, in what is becoming
an annual tradition, again fired the entire referee
commission due to match fixing rumors. It also suspended two
referees for poor officiating in recent league games, leading
to even more suspicions. The Union of European Football
Association (UEFA), the governing body of European soccer,
also is investigating Bulgarian referee Anton Genov for his
alleged involvement in fixing an international match.
According to the UEFA, there were obvious irregular betting
patterns prior to the international friendly match on
November 14, 2009 in which Genov awarded four penalty shots
during Macedonia's 3-0 victory over Canada.

NEW GOVERNMENT MAKES SOME PROGRESS
----------------------------------

7. (C) Despite nearly universal recognition of the problem,
few actions have been taken to prevent organized crime groups
from dominating Bulgarian soccer. Upon taking office, the
new government started to go after the most obvious tax
evasion and money laundering schemes. In September, the
Bulgarian National Revenue Agency (NRA) announced that eight
of Bulgaria's top soccer clubs owed at least USD six million
in unpaid taxes. NRA agents also discovered a commonly known
phenomenon of soccer clubs paying, at least on paper, first
division players minimum wage, approximately USD 170 per
month. This blatantly contradicted tabloid photos of soccer
players and their pop-star wives driving around in expensive
cars and dining at the most exclusive restaurants. The NRA
is currently checking whether the property of 261 players
matches their declared income. The former president of CSKA,
Alexander Tomov, and three co-defendants were also charged
with embezzlement of USD 28 million in their official
capacity at the CSKA soccer club and the Kremikovtzi steel
works.

8. (C) Comment: Organized crime has had a destructive impact
on Bulgarian football, mirroring to some extent how it has
destroyed Bulgarian's faith in other institutions. The new
government has started to attack some of the soccer clubs'
most overt corrupt practices. Given the public's interest in
soccer, which still is weekly tabloid fodder, a successful
operation against OC bosses in charge of soccer teams would
be a public relations coup. Going after the OC bosses, if
successful, would be a public and popular campaign that would
demonstrate the seriousness of the new government and its
soccer-fanatic Prime Minister in combating organized crime.
Government actions against soccer clubs would directly
challenge the criminal bosses who have previously enjoyed
virtual impunity and would seriously test the strength and
resolve of Bulgarian law enforcement and courts. End
Comment.

SUTTON