FinCEN Files: Vice President of Atlantic Council Linked to Deripaska, Nazarbayev's Financial schemes.

The name of Bulgarian nation­al Alexander Mirtchev is found in the leaked files of the US Department of Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, FinCEN. It is includ­ed in a sus­pi­cious activ­i­ty report (SAR) on mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar trans­ac­tions involv­ing Russian oli­garch Oleg Deripaska and the regime of the for­mer President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev. Mirtchev, who has lived in the United States for years, is the Vice President of the Atlantic Council, an influ­en­tial con­sul­tant, lec­tur­er and expert in strate­gic plan­ning and geopo­lit­i­cal risks.

There have been pre­vi­ous con­tro­ver­sies around Mirtchev as well. The influ­en­tial Wall Street Journal (WSJ) pub­lished in 2008 an arti­cle on Deripaska fac­ing inves­ti­ga­tions in the United States and the United Kingdom. It men­tions Alexander Mirtchev as part of “a small group of advis­ers in Washington and London who have helped him [Deripaska] deal with inquiries and law­suits over his alleged ties to orga­nized crime”. 

According to the WSJ, Mirtchev and anoth­er con­sul­tant Thomas Ondeck, who oper­ate a Washington con­sult­ing firm called GlobalOptions Management, “are among the con­sul­tants who lawyers and gov­ern­ment offi­cials say are being inves­ti­gat­ed by the Justice Department and Manhattan D.A. for pos­si­ble mon­ey laundering”.

Global Options Management fol­lows all laws and reg­u­la­tions in the juris­dic­tions in which it oper­ates. The per­cep­tions gen­er­at­ed about me and my com­pa­ny from this arti­cle por­tray an unfair pic­ture of my busi­ness prac­tices and activ­i­ties, while the sources for this sto­ry remain unnamed. Any endeav­ors that I have ever under­tak­en, busi­ness or per­son­al, have been per­formed law­ful­ly and eth­i­cal­ly,” Mirtchev wrote in a right-of-reply let­ter to the WSJ after the publication.

But FinCEN’s leaked files show that WSJ sources, although anony­mous, have been reliable.

The fact is that US intel­li­gence has tracked data on spe­cif­ic mon­ey move­ments between com­pa­nies asso­ci­at­ed with Deripaska and Nazarbayev and com­pa­nies asso­ci­at­ed with Mirtchev. The first trans­fers detect­ed by FinCEN date back to 1996.

Bivol is the only Bulgarian part­ner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists ICIJ, which has orga­nized a team of more than 400 jour­nal­ists from 110 news orga­ni­za­tions in 88 coun­tries to exam­ine more than 2,100 doc­u­ments from FinCEN. The reports span­ning the 2011–2017 peri­od first leaked to BuzzFeed News which shared them with the ICIJ. ICIJ launched the pub­li­ca­tions known as the FinCEN Files on September 20, 2020, in 108 media out­lets around the world. They reveal shock­ing evi­dence of the par­tic­i­pa­tion of glob­al banks in serv­ing oli­garchs, crim­i­nals and terrorists.

Alexander Mirtchev – from Communist Party func­tionary to an influ­en­tial Bulgarian in the United States

A year ago, the Bulgarian site Factor.bg ded­i­cat­ed two detailed arti­cles to Mirtchev (see here and here, in Bulgarian) in response to increased media inter­est caused by pub­li­ca­tions link­ing him to the inves­ti­ga­tion of Special Counsel Robert Mueller into Russian inter­fer­ence in the 2016 United States elections. 

Factor.bg recalls Mirtchev’s past as Secretary of the Central Committee of the DKMS, the youth orga­ni­za­tion of the Bulgarian Communist Party (BKP), Deputy Head of the “Organizational” Department of the Central Committee of the BKP and first spokesman of the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BS), BKP’s heir, after the fall of the Communist Regime. According to the arti­cles, Mirtchev man­aged to make a sky­rock­et­ing career in the United States in the ear­ly 1990s after estab­lish­ing con­nec­tions with influ­en­tial politi­cians from the Republican Party.

While build­ing a new life in the United States and becom­ing US cit­i­zen, Mirtchev still main­tained ties with Bulgaria. Company reg­istries show that he had been a part­ner with poll­sters Andrey Raichev and Kancho Stoychev in the com­pa­ny “Sova‑5” from 1990 to 1996 and a mem­ber of the Management Board of the bank­rupt in 2006 Trade Elite Bank from 1994 to 1997. After 1997, his name is not asso­ci­at­ed with busi­ness activ­i­ties in Bulgaria.

Mirtchev’s well-main­tained per­son­al web­site high­lights an impres­sive career as an aca­d­e­m­ic, finan­cial and strate­gic plan­ning expert and com­men­ta­tor. According to the site, Mirtchev “has been the brain behind the macro­eco­nom­ic con­sul­tan­cy Krull Corp.”, “also served as the Chairman of Global Options Management, a NASDAQ list­ed com­pa­ny” and “is a high­ly pop­u­lar fig­ure in the media net­work, being invit­ed reg­u­lar­ly on plat­forms like BBC News, CNBC, Bloomberg, E&ETV, Reuters, Voice of America and Al Jazeera English to voice his opin­ions and expert advice”. Mirtchev (or some­one on his behalf) main­tains an active Twitter account but he does not use it to express first-per­son opin­ions and rather shares tweets from oth­er authors.

The “Deripaska” report – sus­pi­cious trans­ac­tions linked to Mirtchev since 1996

Bivol failed to con­firm alle­ga­tions that Special Counsel Robert Mueller had been inter­est­ed in Alexander Mirtchev and had ques­tioned him. English-lan­guage sites’ pub­li­ca­tions do not refer to doc­u­ments or seri­ous sources. Mirtchev’s name cer­tain­ly does not appear in Mueller’s final report.

But Mirtchev and his com­pa­nies appear in a set of SARs and an intel­li­gence report by FinCEN from 2008–2009. They sum­ma­rize the avail­able infor­ma­tion and reports from pre­vi­ous peri­ods and ful­ly match the WSJ story.

The key infor­ma­tion about Mirtchev is found in an intel­li­gence report in response to a request from the Latvian anti-mon­ey laun­der­ing office (KDFIU). It asked FinCEN for infor­ma­tion about Oleg Deripaska and two com­pa­nies – Brookrange Ltd reg­is­tered in Gibraltar and Global Options Management. Both are asso­ci­at­ed with Mirtchev.

FinCEN’s response is a 10-page report that con­tains infor­ma­tion from pre­vi­ous reports of sus­pi­cious bank­ing activ­i­ty and detailed trans­ac­tions relat­ed to these companies.

FinCEN experts have found in their data­base two reports by the Bank of New York from 2008. They are specif­i­cal­ly focused on Mirtchev and Brookrange Ltd. and track sus­pi­cious bank­ing trans­ac­tions since 1996, pos­si­bly relat­ed to Mirtchev’s activ­i­ties as a lob­by­ist for Nazarbayev. Among the trans­fers to Brookrange, a wire of USD 200,000 from Russian bil­lion­aire Alisher Usmanov has also attract­ed FinCEN’s attention.

But the most impor­tant infor­ma­tion that has been includ­ed in the “Deripaska” report came from Barclays Bank in New York. The bank react­ed to the 2008 WSJ arti­cle, alleg­ing that a USD 57,499,987 trans­fer from Barclays Bank UK to QPB INVESTMENT LTD, reg­is­tered in Belize and linked to Deripaska, went to an account in the name of Brookrange Ltd..

Barclays Bank in New York does not have direct access to Barclays Bank UK accounts but sees USD trans­fers that must go through it. It sent a report to FinCEN, iden­ti­fy­ing the USD 57.5 mil­lion trans­fer from December 6, 2007, which had passed through a Latvian branch of a Russian bank but showed nei­ther the orig­i­na­tors nor the ben­e­fi­cia­ries of the mon­ey. Barclays Bank in New York empha­sizes that it does not have access to the spe­cif­ic SWIFT MT103 but report­ed anoth­er trans­fer on the same date in the amount of USD 47.5 million.

However, FinCEN’s intel­li­gence offi­cers appar­ent­ly had access to these SWIFT doc­u­ments because they pos­i­tive­ly con­firmed the infor­ma­tion in their report to KDFIU.

After receiv­ing the trans­fer, Brookrange trans­ferred USD 9.75 mil­lion to an account in the name of Global Options Management in Hong Kong, and Global Options sent USD 11.5 mil­lion to Krull Corporation in London.

The per­son named as the own­er of the accounts is Kaloyan Yanev Dimitrov, a part­ner of Alexander Mirtchev in Krull Corporation UK from 1999 to 2004. But Dimitrov is not the only link to Mirtchev. FinCEN also detect­ed trans­fers to Mirtchev’s per­son­al accounts from Global Options Management, Brookrange and Krull Corp. for the peri­od 2000 – 2008.

In addi­tion, Mirtchev declared before the US Treasury Department in 2007 that he had access to three accounts of Global Options Management Inc. at HSBC Bank in the United Kingdom.

The intel­li­gence report explic­it­ly notes that FinCEN has not indi­cat­ed that Deripaska and the oth­er men­tioned indi­vid­u­als were cur­rent­ly inves­ti­gat­ed in the United States. But a foot­note explains that this does not mean that such inves­ti­ga­tions are not con­duct­ed by oth­er agencies.

Bivol made sev­er­al unsuc­cess­ful attempts to reach Alexander Mirtchev for com­ment on the leaked doc­u­ments. We sent inquiries request­ing con­tact with Dr Mirtchev to the Atlantic Council and to his address at George Mason University, where he lec­tures. We also con­tact­ed one of his rel­a­tives in Bulgaria by phone ask­ing them to relay our request for a con­ver­sa­tion. We did not receive a response by the time of the edi­to­r­i­al clo­sure of this article.

Nazarbayev’s money

But Mirtchev’s Brookrange Ltd is asso­ci­at­ed not only with Deripaska’s mon­ey. Another WSJ arti­cle states that “peo­ple with knowl­edge of the Nazarbayev fam­i­ly finances say they believe Brookrange has been used to man­age the Kazakh first family’s assets”.

The news­pa­per cites Rakhat Aliyev, once vice-chair­man of Kazakhstan’s intel­li­gence ser­vices and ex-hus­band of Dariga Nazarbayeva, daugh­ter of Nursultan Nazarbayev. Aliyev had a bit­ter falling out with his father-in-law in 2007 and was sen­tenced in absen­tia in Kazakhstan to 40 years in prison for kid­nap­ping, trea­son and plot­ting a coup d’état. Aliyev was tak­en into cus­tody in June 2014 by Austrian author­i­ties on charges that include kid­nap­ping and mur­der. He has always denied the alle­ga­tions, say­ing they were polit­i­cal­ly moti­vat­ed. Aliyev was found dead in the soli­tary cell of his Vienna prison on 24 February 2015. According to offi­cial reports, he appar­ent­ly com­mit­ted sui­cide by hang­ing him­self but his attor­ney said he was high­ly sus­pi­cious of the death. 

According to the WSJ, Aliev, who in 2008 spoke to the Journal’s reporters from a hid­ing place in Europe, “iden­ti­fied a Washington con­sul­tant named Alexander Mirtchev as the point man for President Nazarbayev, not only in seek­ing to resolve his legal prob­lems but in help­ing to man­age some of the for­tune he has accu­mu­lat­ed in 19 years in pow­er”. Mirtchev was named an advis­er to the sov­er­eign wealth fund of Kazakhstan in 2007 but also man­aged the Nazarbayev fam­i­ly off­shore assets amount­ing to USD hun­dreds of millions.

To prove his state­ments, Aliyev pre­sent­ed to the WSJ reporters bank records show­ing two trans­fers for a total of USD 4 mil­lion from World Media Corp. SAL of Beirut, a firm con­trolled by Dariga Nazarbayeva, Aliyev’s ex-wife, to Krull UK. 

FinCEN’s “Deripaska” report also found a USD 1 mil­lion trans­fer from World Media Corporation to Brookrange. The trans­fer had been report­ed as sus­pi­cious by JP Morgan Chase in New York, which mon­i­tored the bank­ing activ­i­ty of Mirtchev and his companies.

However, the SARs sent by JP Morgan Chase, which are referred to in the “Deripaska” report, are not among the leaked FinCEN doc­u­ments. It should be not­ed that the 2,100 doc­u­ments avail­able to jour­nal­ists rep­re­sent only around 0.02% of all FinCEN’s SARs.

US court dis­miss­es a RICO law­suit for mon­ey laun­der­ing from Kazakhstan against Mirtchev

A law­suit relat­ed to Aliyev’s alle­ga­tions was filed against Mirtchev in the United States in 2010 by two Kazakh busi­ness­men, broth­ers Salah and Issam Salah Hourani. They claimed that Dariga Nazarbayeva, the daugh­ter of the President of Kazakhstan, extort­ed USD hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars of their busi­ness assets in Kazakhstan with the help of Mirtchev and his Krull Corporation. 

They want­ed the court to sanc­tion Mirtchev under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. The US District Court for Washington District of Columbia (DC) dis­missed the claim in a 2013 rule, which was upheld by the US Court of Appeals, DC Circuit in 2015.

The broth­ers owned assets worth hun­dreds of mil­lions in the oil sec­tor, as well as the largest media group in Kazakhstan. In 2007, armed agents of the KNB (the Kazakh KGB) raid­ed the Hourani family’s offices and they were forced to trans­fer their stakes to Nazarbayeva.

According to them, Nazarbayeva was assist­ed by Alexander Mirtchev and his Krull Corporation. The com­plaint stat­ed that Nazarbayeva’s plan to amass con­trol of Kazakh media was “con­sis­tent with” Mirtchev’s ear­li­er rec­om­men­da­tion to President Nazarbayev, made “in a mem­o­ran­dum infor­mal­ly known as the ‘Superkhan’ doc­u­ment, in which Mirtchev had coun­seled the President of Kazakhstan on how he could con­sol­i­date pow­er for him­self and his fam­i­ly at the expense of busi­ness leaders.” 

They accused him of help­ing Nazarbayeva mon­e­tize her con­trol of their assets by agree­ing to “deposit some of the pro­ceeds of the seized busi­ness­es in west­ern bank accounts where it would not be taxed or oth­er­wise scrutinized.” 

The Hourani broth­ers cit­ed a let­ter from the Deputy Prosecutor General of Kazakhstan, Ashkat Daulbaev, to the Kazakh Ambassador to the United States nam­ing Mirtchev as respon­si­ble for the cam­paign of intim­i­da­tion and expro­pri­a­tion against them. Mirtchev and his lawyers chal­lenged the let­ter as forgery.

In the end, the court dis­missed the Houranis claim on grounds that “the pred­i­cate acts that prox­i­mate­ly caused [p]laintiffs’ injury—namely, the extor­tion in Kazakhstan by a Kazakh actor of Plaintiffs’ Kazakhstan-based assets—were square­ly extrater­ri­to­r­i­al and there­fore out­side of RICO’s reach.” In addi­tion, the Hurani failed to con­vinc­ing­ly prove their alle­ga­tions of mon­ey laundering.

Following the rule, a press release by Alexander Mirtchev’s lawyers iden­ti­fied the law­suit as a “smear cam­paign” against Mirtchev and Krull, “orches­trat­ed by Rakhat Aliyev”.

Atanas Tchobanov

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