Antoaneta Vassileva owns a nice house in Switzerland.
For Bulgarian prosecutors determined to repel the charge that the government purposely destroyed, then personally looted one of that country’s largest, most entrepreneurial banks, it was as strong an opening as any.
They announced this week that Vassileva-- the wife of Tzvetan Vassilev, founder and chairman of Corpbank, which he built from scratch until getting on the wrong side of government-connected organized crime members, who have since mysteriously obtained its assets-- was herself being charged with money laundering.
Vassileva isn’t a banker; she’s a well-regarded economist and academic who, until recently, served as the Dean of the International Economics and Politics Faculty at Sofia’s University of National and World Economy.
That’s where Vassileva was working back in 2012, when she bought a second home for her family in Lake Geneva. Bulgarian prosecutors claim she used funds “misappropriated” from Corpbank. They’ve since issued a European Arrest Warrant and Interpol Red Notice with hopes they can obtain her extradition from Serbia, where she is living in an “undisclosed location” with her husband.
For the Bulgarian government, the charges represent a last ditch effort to lure Vassilev himself back to Sofia, where they can pressure him to admit guilt from a jail cell, in their custody. To be sure, the banker won’t let his wife leave Serbia alone.
That’s as international pressure builds on the Corpbank case, which has become an embarrassment for Bulgaria both on matters of basic government function and rule of law.
It’s one of several instances of overt corruption and seemingly bizarre regulatory incompetence for a European Union member, a topic of major concern in Brussels and in corporate boardrooms throughout the West.
Money “laundering”-- in plain view
If Vassileva were misusing Corpbank funds, she wasn’t hiding it
She bought the house with a mortgage, registered in her name in Switzerland.
Vassilev himself claims all of the funds his wife used were earned and documented at the time. The Vassilev family even paid taxes on them in Bulgaria.
That wouldn’t comport with IMF, FATF or World Bank conceptualizations of money laundering, which entail both “promotion of criminal activity” and “intent to conceal proceeds of the crime.”
Prosecutors haven’t presented any evidence that she did either. But then again -- maybe proving Antoaneta Vassileva laundered money was never the point.
When the European Arrest Warrant was issued it was the media controlled by Deylan Peevski -- the man accused of orchestrating the looting of Corpbank -- that broke the story, with reports detailing the specifics of how Vassileva would be charged before it even happened.
A house in Switzerland, however it was purchased, makes for juicy Bulgarian headlines, distracting popular attention away from the government’s role in Corpbank’s demise.
To onlookers, it makes for a familiar playbook.
Vassileva herself has proclaimed her innocence and pointed out through her lawyer that if she returns to Bulgaria, nobody can guarantee her personal safety, much less her right to a fair trial.
The Bulgarian government isn’t insisting otherwise.