As much as we don't like it, football has been surrounded by corruption arguably since the moment it started gaining popularity. Bulgarian football is no exception to this unwritten 'rule'- the sport has been haunted by such wrongdoings for many years. Today we will write about one of the most controversial and memorable topics on this matter, which has turned into a laughing stock for the rival fans- the so-called ‘Kazan Affair’.
The date is 18 September 2009. Another ‘Eternal Derby of Bulgaria’ was knocking on the door in just 2 days’ time. Levski looked slightly superior to their bitter rivals back in the days as CSKA managed to win only once in the last 9 derby clashes. While the supporters of ‘The Blues’ were expecting a solid performance from their club yet again, one sheet of paper almost single-handedly decided the outcome of the game. This paper was a fax which was sent to Todor Batkov (the owner of Levski) and stated that the previous year’s Russian title winners- Rubin Kazan, were interested in buying 4 players at once from the Bulgarian side for a hefty transfer fee, thought to be in the region of €4 million. Understandably, these 4 players were arguably the spine of this team- Zhivko Milanov, Darko Tasevski, Zé Soares and Youssef Rabeh. One thing which was very clear from the fax was that the transfer should happen in a swift fashion and as soon as possible. Without further ado, Batkov immediately sent his players along with three club representatives to Russia, completely disregarding the fact ‘The Eternal Derby’ was about to happen in the following hours. After the end of the 1500 km trip, which saw the Levski delegation arriving at the Kazan International Airport, the players were welcomed by impostors who self-proclaimed themselves as Rubin Kazan’s agents. The representatives accompanied the footballers to the Sheraton hotel, where they passed medicals. At this point no one really questioned the legitimacy of this transfer. However, during the next couple of hours, the Levski players were told that the deal had fallen through, yet no one stated an exact reason- there were no documents nor contracts and the Rubin Kazan’s ‘agents’ had suddenly disappeared. The Levski delegation had to return to Bulgaria but it was too late for them to take part in the derby match, which CSKA won comfortably by 2-0.
Further investigation revealed that even though the above-mentioned fax seemed authentic, it was, in fact, fabricated. What’s more, the execute director of Rubin Kazan was quick to rubbish off any interest from their club in these footballers:
‘We don't know anything [about the situation]. We don't want players from Levski because we don't need them.’
Todor Batkov tried to explain the situation afterwards:
‘I can't explain this. I didn't meet any representatives beforehand or receive an official confirmation from Rubin's president. Maybe it was a very well-executed scam. Seven people [from Levski] were met with expensive Mercedes cars and accommodated in a very luxurious hotel. I did have doubts and my plan was, if there was any problem, for the four players to return to Sofia before the match with CSKA […] For all four players, the price was to be €4 million and the Russians told me that the money was in Sofia in a concrete bank, even in a concrete safe. Their representatives met each of the players and I have given names, descriptions, photos and phone numbers to Interpol. Maybe this whole thing is an attack against Levski, or me. I was threatened over the phone by a Russian who advised me to stop the investigation.’
The president of Levski later admitted that he had deposited nearly €200 000 with an Armenian who allegedly goes by the name Artur Oganesyan. He seemed to be the mysterious character in the whole affair as this individual was never to be found by the Bulgarian Police, yet he was ‘known’ for being a gambler. This has led the Bulgarian media to charge Batkov with betting nearly €1 million on CSKA to get the better of his club. The owner of Levski immediately accused the main shareholders of CSKA- Dimitar Borisov and Ivo Ivanov, of being part of this ‘well-executed scam’. Borisov and Ivanov suddenly looked more suspicious than ever because, at this time, there was an ongoing investigation of match-fixing in the Europa League fourth qualifying round game, in which CSKA won 2-1 away to another Russian club- Dinamo Moscow.
11 years later, there isn’t an active case on the matter nor individuals proven to be guilty. The whole scandal seems to be well-forgotten by the media as well as by the people who were thought to be involved. In 2018, when asked about what happened with the investigation and whether the wrongdoers, which he highlighted, had been served justice, Todor Batkov explained:
‘A couple of months ago, I received a letter from the Prosecutor's Office stating that the investigation had finished. It was obvious the authorities were unable to solve the issue. As far as I know, God served justice. At the end of the day, this was a brutal scam, in which some people tried to involve influential figures, including the president of Rubin Kazan. There were signed documents with his signature, phone calls to me saying ‘I am the president of Rubin’ and stuff like that. These actions cannot be forgiven in countries like Russia. These Bulgarian rats [the owners of CSKA] have also been served justice and they are now gone and forgotten.’
We will never know for a fact whether Batkov was involved or not, whether Dimitar Borisov and Ivo Ivanov were the masterminds behind these fraudulent activities as well as who is Artur Oganesyan.