This article is part of K Quarterly # Issue 1 / November-January 2017. Contact us for subscription options on [email protected]
"There is no Bulgarian politician who would not pick up my call." The bold statement is one of the few public disclosures Spas Roussev has ever made. Roussev, who lives in London, is frequently named by the Bulgarian media as one of the most influential grey eminences, which he refutes with disdain. He prefers to talk about culture and his charitable causes. Roussev collects Annie Leibovitz (he prefers that the media publish his photo taken by the renowned photographer) and the Chinese abstract painter Zeng Fanzhi.
No matter how private Mr. Roussev likes to be, his name frequently surfaces in relation to scandals in Bulgaria. In 2003, a bomb blasted to pieces the car of Ivan Todorov, a notorious Bulgarian smuggler nicknamed The Doctor. Mr Todorov survived only to be murdered in 2006, but in the trunk of the car police found a number of interesting photographs. In one of them, The Doctor was seen playing cards on an yacht in Monaco with Milen Velchev (then finance minister), Plamen Petrov (then transport minister) and Miroslav Sevlievski (a MP from the then ruling party, NDSV).
The ‘Yacht Scandal’
It turned out that the gathering was organized by Spas Roussev, who hired the yacht to watch the Formula 1 Monaco Grand Prix. Other people in the photo were Petar Petrov - Amigosa, an alleged money launderer and Lyubomir Minchev, Roussev’s business partner in Telelink, an IT provider. The so-called Yacht Scandal led to the resignation of the Chief Secretary of the Ministry of the Interior Boyko Borissov – the current Prime Minister. Borissov claimed police was being prevented from investigating the connections between business and politics. His resignation was not accepted and none of the government ministers in the photo lost their job.
Mr Roussev’s main business is Telelink, a company with a strong presence in the Bulgarian telecoms market. He is chairman of publishing company Liberis Media Group Bulgaria. More recently, in 2012 he bought Radisson hotel in Sofia and took part in the deal for Hilton-Sofia in 2013. His biggest hit so far is the acquisition of the Bulgarian Telecommunications Company (see The Phony War for BTC). Mr Roussev also became owner of soccer club Levski-Sofia, a move largely regarded as a prerequisite for the telecom deal and a clear sign of political meddling in the BTC transaction.
The first steps
Mr Roussev rarely speaks with the media and he never comments on the origin of his money or the early 90s – the chaotic years after the fall of communism when many of today’s well-established business people in Bulgaria made their fortunes. He worked at the Foreign Aid Agency, a government body in charge of managing foreign aid arriving into the country, and media publications connected him to the siphoning of funds from the agency. "One of my biggest faults was that I agreed to go to the agency. I personally have never been subject to investigation. I have no qualms, I have not done anything wrong," Mr Roussev said in interview in 2010. In 1991, he moved to London.
Few things are known about Mr Roussev’s early business career in London with the exception of his relations with the businessman of Iranian origin Eskandar Maleki (another art-collector). With Mr Maleki's support Mr Roussev took part in several Bulgarian privatization deals. He only succeeded in privatizing Balkan Holidays tour operator which had an attractive office building in London. Mr Roussev and Mr Maleki tried to take part in the unsuccessful BTC privatization procedure in 1999, but their offer was not accepted on technical grounds. Later, Mr Roussev had been always involved in BTC privatization attempts, but as a consultant and lobbyist. His Telelink, however, became a major supplier to all telecoms in Bulgaria.
Mr Roussev came into the spotlight with the government of Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha (2001-2005). Mr Roussev was regarded as the ‘godfather’ of all the young Bulgarian professionals who came from the City banks to take ministerial seats in the new cabinet. One of them was Milen Velchev, who was in the 2003 pictures and now partnered Mr Roussev in the BTC acquisition.
Mr Roussev didn’t make significant deals in Bulgaria in this period but his Telelink delivered a stellar performance, repeatedly winning procurement deals with the Bulgarian telecoms.
Now, 17 years after his first attempt to take control over BTC, Mr Roussev’s wish may have been fulfilled.