Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Bulgarian Multiart, Kintex: illicit antiquities, arms trade

I'm reading Misha Glenny's fascinating, fantastically-written book, McMafia: seriously organised crime, at the moment. One tiny but, here, key detail was the operation of Bulgarian illicit antiquities smuggling business Multiart, and its connection to arms trade company Kintex.

There isn't much information about Ilya Pavlov's Multiart online. Tom Flynn seems to be about the only other person who's mentioned Ilya Pavlov and Multiart, and he did it as an aside. (Didier Cardon has translated Glenny's note into French (or copied it out from a French edition).) Like Flynn, I was disappointed that Glenny said so little about the illicit antiquities trade; but it was probably right for Glenny to concentrate on the others.

Glenny stated that '[t]he most important and lucrative trade of the Bulgarian secret service [DS] was smuggling - in drugs, in arms and in high tech'. (Obviously, I was pleased to read that a leading Bulgarian political scientist, Ivan Krastev, told Glenny that '[s]muggling is our cultural heritage'.)

Glenny (2009: 16) told how, armed with totalitarian state power, Communist Bulgarian intelligence (DS) appropriated the 'romantic tradition' of activity against the state (authorities or empires). The DS's monopoly-holding arms export company, Kintex, targeted conflict zones as markets.
At the end of the 1970s, the DS expanded Kintex by setting up the 'Covert Transit' Directorate. Its primary role was to smuggle weapons to African insurgent groups, but soon the channels were also being used for illegal people-trafficking, for drugs and even for the smuggling of works of art and antiquities.
.... In the other direction, some 80 per cent of heroin destined for the Western European market would cross into Bulgaria from Turkey... into the hands of the DS.
Bulgarian Military Counter-Intelligence ran the smuggling, General Petur Chergelanov ran military counter-intelligence, and Chergelanov's son-in-law was entrepreneur Ilya Pavlov.

Glenny (2009: 18) went on to explain:
In 1988, a year before the collapse of communism, Ilya Pavlov himself registered Multiart, a company dedicated to the import and export of antiques and high art (using the secret channels established by the DS for selling arms through Kintex's Covert Transit Directorate). Business flourished...
He also affirmed nationalist Balkan gangs' and paramilitaries' cooperation across ethnic boundaries. And there are continuing revelations about interconnections between the Turkish Deep State and Turkish nationalist paramilitaries, and the Kurdish nationalist paramilitary PKK.

These may undermine my attempts to find out the illicit antiquities trade's role in conflict(s) by planning antiquities smugglers' alliances and their smuggling routes (because at least some factions within all groups appear to cooperate with all other, even "enemy", groups). But confused and confusing horror is better than confident but inaccurate horror.

I'll keep digging.

Glenny, M. 2009: McMafia: Seriously organised crime. London: Vintage.


  1. www.democ.uci.edu/research/conferences/documents/dimitrov.pdf

    Came across the brief mention in here, which led me to your site when trying to find more info. Nothing escapes you Sam!

  2. Thanks, Peter - that looks really interesting, especially now, during the Middle East's 1989.

  3. If you havent seen these articles, they connect antiquities smuggling directly to Kintex and it seems like they were a significant commodity:
    "The treasure-hunting became so wide spread that she decided to restore the order with the State's protection. Only few years before, contraband has been canalized as official state policy with both a decree and an enactment of the Ministry Council naming it "secret transit" and assigning its task to the trade company "Kintex" as a monopoly activity. The company was entirely the offspring of the Secret Services and its contraband activity was inseparable from espionage."



  4. Cheers.

    Bulgaria really does have great data, doesn't it?

  5. Kintex's massive arms deals and the Cyprus connection:

    It does, good thing my research is narrowly focused or I would spend all my time in that sea of information. Hopefully someone will map out all these trafficking channels one day.

  6. Surely enough for a postdoc for each of us - I'll let you have the Balkans if I can have the Mediterranean, and I can still go to Belgrade for parties.

  7. Ha, I'm done with illicit trafficking after this, its depressing! Its pot sherds and soil changes for me.