Bulgaria is Forever – Another chapter from “The Bulgarian Fraud”
The story is based on the author's imagination.
Any connection between the story and reality is purely coincidental.
Chapter 5 – Bulgaria is Forever
The emblem of Bulgaria's National Security Agency, SANS
It's been raining in Sophia nonstop for the last few days. Outside, gray people can be seen running from here to there with their umbrellas covering their faces from the continuous bombardment.
The media reported this as the greatest rainstorm that Bulgaria has had in many years.
Possibly the result of global warming.
Dimitar was standing at the window of Bulgaria's National Security Agency, the SANS
Darzhavna agentsiya "Natsionalna sigurnost
The building of Bulgaria's National Security Agency in Sophia, at 1407 Cherni Vrah Boulevard.
He was gazing at the people running. His thoughts were even grayer and darker than the rain and grayness outside. It's been only a few months since he was appointed as the head of Bulgaria's National Security Agency. They addressed him and asked him to take control over the National Security Agency and reinforce it from top to bottom. “SANS is crumbling down, Dimitar, and only you can save it.
You've saved the Ministry of the Interior, now it's time to save all of Bulgaria”, the Prime Minister told him. They didn't need to tell him. He knew what every person with a bit of common sense knew.
All of the corruption scandals in which SANS was involved up to its' neck, have caused it a great deal of damage. There was, for example, the head of the competing service, the National Intelligence Service (NIS), whom had been found guilty of simple fraud and embezzling state owned finances for personal purposes. Dimitar knew that this publicized case was merely the tip of an iceberg. There were many others like him at the secret service, cases which the media did not publish. How much confidential information was given to crime syndicates? Or to hostile powers? The corruption has also reached the SANS.
A few months ago the head of the SANS disappeared one day, only to be found at last in Greece, “undergoing hospital treatment”. This was before he had finally returned to Bulgaria, where he is being questions in what seems to be an investigation that obviously will not be concluded in the near future…The media had barely mentioned this matter.
Only Dimitar and a handful of other people knew the truth: the man was being extorted by an organized crime syndicate and was thus forced to deliver crucial information into their hands. How much information did he surrender to these dark forces? It was his job to find out and the investigation was in full swing. But he already knew quite a lot…
In a normal country the guy would be thrown into a dark prison cell and the key would be thrown into the sea. But Bulgaria was never a normal country. And they weren't the only ones.
He agreed to assume this thankless responsibility, despite the objections of his wife and friends. He agreed, even though the pay in the private sector for working for security companies, something he'd been doing for years, was much higher.
Why did he agree? He asked himself this a million times. Maybe out of love for Bulgaria and maybe due to all of the espionage books he'd read about saving the homeland, time and time again…
He recalled this book in which this brave Bulgarian agent, Avakoum Zahov, fights and overcomes a mysterious British agent. One day he found out that that British agent was no other than James Bond.
During the time of the Soviet Union, these books were banned throughout the Communist Bloc and labeled as hostile propaganda. But after the fall of Communism, as an adult, he had the chance to read these books, written by British author Ian Fleming, and reached the conclusion that these books were inferior in relations to the books about Avakoum Zahov, which were written by Andrei Gulyashki.
His office walls were now decorated with the original book-covers! Autographed by Gulyashki and by the original illustrator of the Avakoum Zahov book series! He wondered whether his employees were joking about this behind his back. This could be possible.
Original book-cover of a book from the Avakoum Zahov series.
Now, during his elder years, he himself was in the position of Avakoum Zahov's boss. He was now at the head of the secret service, fighting against Bulgaria's enemies, within as well as outside of Bulgaria.
Now he was the one in charge and the dangers seemed more eminent than ever and the Republic of Bulgaria seemed to be on the brink of disaster, more than ever.
Take these refugees, for example, entering Bulgaria on a daily basis, every minute. There is reason to assume that at least some of them were sent by the monstrous terrorist organization ISIS.
Probably more than just a few. They could present a threat in the near future.
His deputy, Oleg Peskov, entered the room suddenly, in a great hurry, his face seeming even darker and gloomier than usual. “Chief”, he whispered, as if the room was under surveillance. “Our website is under attack – the assault is stronger and deadlier than ever”. Oleg seemed grimmer than ever, “How is this even possible?”, Dimitar wondered.
Dimitar sighed: “Nothing is stronger and deadlier than ever, Oleg. Everything can be controlled and" is temporary. Only Bulgaria is eternal”, he quoted from Gulyashki's book “Bulgaria is Forever”.
“Chief”, this time Oleg was really screaming, “All of our information is being pulled off the website – we're completely exposed to some kind of unknown factor”. The SANS website was always under attack, but this one was harsher than ever and was clearly employing better technology.
Who was behind this? The Turks? The Chinese? Or “Big Brother” – the Russians? Or perhaps even somebody else. Kalinka, the head of the Intelligence department at SANS came in, as always, she was wearing a yellow dress, she had this strange attraction towards this color, and Dimitar couldn't figure out why – he regarded this shade as completely inappropriate for espionage affairs. His color of choice was always uniform black, since gray creates a clearer of image of someone to watch out from. Yet at this stage, he chose to rather keep this opinion to himself. Maybe he'll try to implement this in the future, at this stage there were already so many reforms that had to be carried out within SANS…
“Do you have any idea who might be behind this?”, Dimitar asked. Kalinka didn't hesitate and said:
“We just might. It is possible. This could be 'Francine – Information Systems' – a company under Israeli management, which uses a combination of Israeli and Russian technology.”
He rolled the name on his tongue – 'Francine', a strange and completely non-Israeli, foreign sounding name.
She explained: Probably named after a legendary artificial woman. The company's headquarters were located in Geneva, Switzerland. The company's present chairman is a former Russian intelligence agent. But the firm's president is a lecturer here, in Bulgaria. It employs all of these Israelis from Unit 8200, which is a famous Israeli army intelligence corps unit that deals with computerized intelligence (collecting signal intelligence – SIGINT).
A seemingly innocent company that dealt with exposing Internet frauds.
But our assumption is that they're also handling Internet espionage. We've been finding their fingerprints everywhere lately, on different kinds of spyware, which was used to break into various Bulgarian services, during the past few weeks.
He was surprised for a minute – “Why, actually? And why now?”, he asked.
Kalinka slowly hunched up her shoulders: “They seem to be gathering information for something. We still don't know what for. In my opinion, this is for some kind of big operation”.
The Israeli company's president was a highly-esteemed lecturer at a Bulgarian university, only that rumors and follow-ups proved him to be much more than that. The rumors assembled by the SANS employees determined him to be an international criminal, an agent working for the Russians and a threat to Bulgaria's security.
Was it true that he was unjustly framed by people acting out of personal vengeance? His job was to find this out.
Dimitar leafed through the file. The man was exceptionally multidisciplinary
He gave lectures on international terrorism, as well as on real-estate – to the best of his
knowledge, this was a pretty rare combination in Bulgaria or in any other country. He was also an expert on chess.
He participated in various competitions and always received a very high ranking – in Israel, his homeland, as well as in Bulgaria. He was known to be an expert strategist with a particular affection to games that were planned for the longest run.
He became well-known in the professional circles of these games as someone especially fond of games against computerized software programs. Up to now, he had won all of these games.
“Very impressive”, Dimitar thought to himself. He recalled a sentence from Gulyashki's book, 'Moscow is calling Sophia”: “The less skilled a person is, the more you should ignore him, and the more skills a person has, the more you have to beware of him – a person with the most skills must be suspected”.
The man was, of course, serving as the head of an international film – 'Francine – Information Systems' , which claimed to be fighting against computerized fraud crimes. The photo of the multidisciplinary guy showed a face with a small but well groomed mustache and beady little eyes. According to his portfolio, the guy had some knowledge in Psychology, which he was endlessly raving about to everyone around him, yet he also had an increasing tendency towards outbursts of rage and loss of control from time to time, in front of his students, in the classrooms where he was teaching.
And this was also reported to the SANS. There's no doubt that the man had a special talent of making himself enemies. Dimitar now recalled hearing a lecture by this Israeli in Varna, where he taught a course on international terrorism. During the lecture, he caught him making several elementary mistakes. For example, the claim that the famous “Bulgarian umbrella” was invented by the KGB and given to the Bulgarians so that they could assassinate dissidents. Nothing but nonsense. Dimitar knew the truth, since he once made an effort to find out, when he was working as a senior agent for this CSS (Committee for State Security) – the secret services of the Communist era that preceded the SANS. This was a genuine Bulgarian patent that the KGB had nothing to do with. It was an invention of one of the scientists from the Committee for State Security (CSS) and the CSS personnel and later on people from the SANS used it, not necessarily for killing enemies of the regime, but in order to protect themselves under special circumstances. But the umbrella was only used as a murder weapon in one famous case for killing off a dissident in England. But the umbrella was used on many other occasions.
He didn't say this during the lecture, but this made him doubt everything the man had to say during the course of the lecture. And now it turns out that his suspicions may have had an even more solid basis than he thought back then.
“How did you get to him and to this company?”, he asked.
“This was before you were appointed here, chief”, Kalinka told him, “An Israeli journalist came into the SANS offices claiming to have information that must come to our attention. Information about an Israeli lecturer in Bulgaria that used to be his friend and fraudulently obtained a lot of money from him, claiming that he would use it to purchase a “profitable asset” for him in Bulgaria.
In fact, that same lecturer, that is, of course, our friend here, used money that didn't belong to him in order to establish 'Francine – Information Systems', a company which the journalist knew nothing about. The journalist became suspicious after years of receiving dodgy answers concerning the condition of his property in Bulgaria. Finally, the journalist came to Bulgaria. He found a lawyer, Rosita Neskaya Gleivska, who claimed that she bought land for him with his money, but refused to provide any additional details concerning this matter. All of the documents she provided were clearly counterfeit. It was obvious to the journalist that this was a case of fraud and that he was set-up by a gang. His money was not used to purchase any kind of profitable asset, yet for something else that was profitable just for someone else.
He addressed the Bulgarian police in regards to this matter, but all he received was a beating from people claiming to be Bulgarian cops. He found himself half-dead by a museum, in Varna.
The message was “get out of here, the money is no longer yours”. It turns out that the Israeli lecturer had good connections with the Bulgarian police.”
Dimitar, who was well-aware of the vast level of corruption within the Bulgarian police, sighed. This was not the only case. He once heard an expert estimating that every fourth cop in Bulgaria is corrupt. In Bulgaria, anyone wishing to retrieve debts could use private security services.
There were too many such cases concerning foreigners in Bulgaria. This was the fate of anyone who was not familiar with the laws of the Bulgarian jungle. The journalist was a fool to trust the Israeli lecturer, who was obviously a crook.
He quoted from Gulyashki's novel, 'Varna in flames' – “A wise man would spare himself the trouble that a smart person would not get into in the first place. A fool would get himself entangled in it forever”.
Kalinka continued: “The journalist addressed an Israeli politician, which happened to be in Varna at the time, for help, the politician's family have a casino in Varna and this politician was meanwhile appointed as a parliament (Knesset) member in Israel. When the journalist tried to enter the politician's office, he was severely beaten by the politician's bodyguards, just for trying to enter with no apparent reason. The politician was obviously warned in advance by someone. The journalist received a warning/threat from the politician, not to even ever try to contact him again.
Despite the beating that he had received, the journalist reached the conclusion that the case must be brought to the attention of the SANS, due to the identity of the fraudster. Nobody ever heard of many cases of land fraud in which the fraudster was also a university lecturer and the head of an international company fighting against Internet fraud. This was clearly no a 'normal' scam, but the basis for something else, something bigger.
We heard everything he had to say. We put him on a plane and we started snooping around. Ever since, we've on a constant watch-out, but due to all of the internal crises at the agency, which you're well aware of, we haven't had a chance to do much beyond this.
If it turns out now that the company 'Francine – Information Systems', which the journalist claims should be his, since his money was used by the lecturer to establish it, even if this was done without the journalist knowing about it, is indeed involved in espionage, this sheds a different light on the whole matter. There might be a need to takeover the company using the name of the journalist claiming that his money was used in order to establish it.
Dimitar addressed Ivan: “Check any information that exists about this Israeli politician. What he did in Bulgaria, his connections, everything. And send a message to our embassy in Tel-Aviv that at this stage, until we clarify the truth about this politician and his friends, he's defined as a 'Persona non grata', as far as we're concerned, and we shouldn't communicate with him or have him communicate with us on any official matters.”
He quoted a proverb: “If you want to keep good relations with foreigners, check their representatives out very well first.”
Kalinka asked: “Is this a quote from Gulyashki, chief?”
Dimitar replied: “No, it's taken from my personal experience”.
Oleg asked: “Should I also warn their foreign intelligence service, the 'Mosad'?”
Dimitar hunched up his shoulders: “No, in the meantime we don't yet know the truth of this whole affair. We shall let them know as soon as we have more solid information.”
Dimitar wondered if the Russians were now behind the company? Could it be that the Israeli lecturer that was the company's president was merely their agent?
Or was this a completely independent project to begin with?
All of these questions required a thorough examination.
Kalinka added: “In our opinion, this person is connected to events that we're definitely interesting in, things which took place in the republics of Estonia and Georgia several years ago.”
Kalinka started a lecture on this matter, using presentation slides on the wall. The slide showed a photo of Estonia's capital city, Tallinn.
“Estonia was one of the most technologically advanced countries in the ex-Soviet Bloc.
In 2007 they had a thriving high-tech industry.
And the Internet had become an intrinsic part of the Estonian citizens' lives: nearly two thirds of them paid their taxes via the Internet, using a standing order and eighty percent had fast Internet at home. They seemed to be on the road to membership in the European Union and economic and technological success, getting ready to completely abandon Russia and its' endless demands, to which they were beginning to relate to with ever increasing disdain.
Until…during April and May of 2007 Estonia was under a massive attack on its computer network. These attacks were allegedly carried out as a response to the Estonian government's plan to remove the World War 2 memorial from the center of the capital city, Tallinn to a military graveyard in the city's outskirts, a pretty marginal location that seemed to offend the pride of the Russians that liberated Estonia. A liberation regarded by many Estonians as conquering their country.
In response, there was an uprising of Estonian citizens of Russian descend – one man was killed and many were injured. That seemed to conclude the matter.
But that did not conclude the matter at all and things were just beginning. Apparently, it seemed like many Russians identified with the claims of Estonian citizens of Russian origin and also regarded transferring the statue as an insult and ingratitude towards the Russian nation concerning their World War II efforts. People on Russian Internet forums and websites were furious and insults were thrown at the Estonians and there was a call for revenge. Within a short time an Internet cyber- attack was launched against Estonia by…somebody…many websites in Estonia that were handling traffic from surfers, doubled and tripled themselves.
This resulted in unbearable website burden and finally, the website collapsed. Tens of thousands of computers that were members of one network bombed Estonian websites with messages and later during the month many cybernetic attacks were carried out against public and economic Internet infrastructures, including the President and the Prime-Minister's websites, the websites of the Ministries of Communications, Foreign Office, Interior, the Parliament, websites of political parties, banks, media and Internet providers – all of which collapsed after being flooded with tens of millions of spam emails. So the people of Estonia were stuck, without email services. There were various kinds of attacks, including blacking out Internet sites, destroying computerized data and so on. The websites of Estonian banks also collapsed and the citizens couldn't use them. This damaged tax collection, emergency lines were cut off in the country for an hour, private and public communication were also damaged.
A lot of these attacks made servers and Internet sites collapse. In general, the public and world trust concerning Estonia's economy was damaged.
The attacks continued for three weeks and reached their peak on May 9th, which is the Soviet World War II Victory Day. On that day a particularly massive attack was launched against Estonia, shutting down websites, as well as many private and public computers. From here on, Estonia was careful not to upset Russia nor Putin in regards to any matter whatsoever.
Dimitar asked: “Do we know if Russia really was behind this cyber-attack?”
Kalinka smiled: “This was what the Estonian government claimed when they spoke of a special unit within the Russian security services, dedicated to this kind of activity and that it employs private companies for this purpose. The Estonian government's suspicions regarding the Russian government were based on the fact that some of these attacks were performed in such a sophisticated manner that can only be explained by assuming there's a significant mechanism behind this, rather than a private person. Traces from the attack have lead to 177 different countries, from Vietnam to the United States, and most of them were carried out from computers with private addresses. Although it has been found that attacks were also carried out from computers controlled by Russian governmental institutions, yet one cannot determine whether this use was carried out by these institutes or not.
So this is what was known until recently.
I can tell you now that in the framework of an examination that we've carried out, we found the technology and fingerprints of a company called 'Francine – Information Systems'.
It turns out that the Israeli happened to be in Estonia at the time. He arrived on the day before the attack was launched, along with other people from his company and left shortly after the end of the attack.
Kalinka went on with her lecture – this time the presentation showed a photo of Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia.
Several months later, a similar attack took place in Georgia.
During the summer of 2008 a dispute broke out between Russia and Georgia, after Georgian forces entered the region of South Ossetia – whose sovereignty was under dispute, since it was inhabited by Russian citizens, yet Georgia claimed sovereignty over it as one of its' districts.
In response, Russia sent the army to Georgia's borders. Yet even before the Russian military intervention in the region of South Ossetia, cybernetic attacks were performed on a large scale against Georgia, mainly against governmental websites, including the website of the Parliament and that of the Georgian Foreign Ministry, the Ministries of Defense and Education, media entities, banks as well as eminent private Internet bodies such as various blogs and servers. These attacks went on for about a month and continued even after the initiation of a ceasefire between Russia and Georgia.
Although in Georgia the Internet services were less important and less sophisticated than in Estonia and thus the country was less damaged, public services were still damaged, especially the government's ability to communicate with the public and the availability of the banks, which have been cut off the net for ten days, as a matter of precaution. The cybernetic infrastructures were damaged, but most of the damage was more of a matter of image, without long term influences. But on the other hand, this had a severe influence as far as the morale of Georgia's residents.
From here and onward, Georgia preferred not to protest to loudly against the Russian dominance in the area.
Here too, as during the attack on Estonia, clear-cut evidence proving that the attack came from Russia was not found, but there's a still a highly likely possibility that this was part of psychological warfare launched by the Russians against the Georgians.
“The Israeli”, Kalinka said, “was also in Georgia during the time of these attacks, along with people from his company. On both occasions he arrived the day before the attacks were launched and left the day after, together with his crew members.
Dimitar nodded his head: “This doesn't mean anything. Obviously there were many people in Estonia and in Georgia during this time that had nothing to do with the attacks. Do you have any further evidence correlating him with the attacks?”
Kalinka hesitated: “Yes. Even though we did not find the Internet imprint of 'Francine – Information Systems' there. They're continuing to progress. His company has the required technology. They do handle fighting against cyber-crime and Internet fraud. They present themselves as being among the world's best experts in this field. And this is probably true.
I've spoken with the Georgian and Estonian intelligence services representatives and they're both convinced that the Israeli was at least connected to these attacks under Russia's service, yet they have no clear cut proof of this. They also weren't very excited about carrying out an in-depth examination of someone correlated with espionage and serving Russia, fearing that they might be punished for this.
And the final conclusion? Dimitar asked.
Kalinka smiled a sad smile: “The same factor seems to be behind these three cases. Only this time he's more developed and sophisticated than how he was in Estonia and in Georgia.”
A gloomy atmosphere took over the room. Everyone realized the implications. Vast quantities of vital information regarding Bulgaria's security have now fallen into enemy hands. Very sophisticated.
And who was the enemy? An Israeli lecturer in Bulgaria, a land fraudster? Or was he a lot more than that? Was he also a spy and a terrorist?
This could be just the tip of an iceberg of a plot by someone far more dangerous?
Dimitar recalled another quote from Gulyashki's novel, 'Sophia in Flames': “The most dangerous enemies are not those operating underground, in darkness, but those operating in broad daylight!”
Kalinka asked: “Should I re-post the website on the Internet?”
Dimitar nodded his head: “No, it's too dangerous. In the meantime, we'll remain without a website and maybe we'll stay that way. We cannot afford to be online anymore. Our enemies are taking-over all of our information. At the end of the day we can no longer hold any data on computers, wide open to the Internet network – we shall have to return to primitive yet more effective methods, safety-wise.
The attack on the SANS now seemed like a repetition of the attack on Estonia and Georgia, yet integrating newer technology. Our technical staff cannot cope with it.”
Dimitar addressed his employees: “Find out who it is. Find me proof that 'Francine Information Systems' is behind the attack on Bulgaria's National Security Agency. Or proof that they've been framed by somebody else. And if it is them – find me the person behind them. And why now of all times? If there's a reason why they would attack us so clearly – I'd like to know what it is.”
He suspected that he may not like the answer.
Could the Russians be the ones behind everything?
But why? The Russians have always been Bulgaria's best friends, they were Bulgaria's patrons, Bulgaria's big brothers. They've always helped Bulgaria. Bulgaria always knew that if something would happen, it always could and should trust the Russians to make everything right.
Why would they hurt their old ally?
He sighed. He was not naive. In this world anyone who believed, anyone who was a sucker would be quickly overtaken by dangerous elements. Was it possible that criminal factors within Russia's highest levels decided to loot Bulgaria? He knew that the highest levels there would use the law to plunder any businessman who was too successful. They may have decided to expand their field of operation to Bulgaria. If this turns out to be the situation than there really is no choice. Bulgaria and him must go on a battle. He took his special umbrella and went out onto the rain. He marched along the dark alleys of rainy Sophia and emphasized that he was under surveillance. Two suspicious looking people that looked like violent and dangerous thugs were coming near him.
He was shocked and amazed. Did they know who he was? Their intentions were clearly violent. One of them was holding a knife and the other had a gun.
They wanted to finish him off. But they had the wrong address.
Without words, Dimitar pulled out the umbrella's special handle. When the knifer came at him, he shot a platinum bullet at him. The poisonous gas Ricin was splattered all over the thug's face. The man started this awful cough and fell down, but Dimitar had no time to look at him, since he was busy neutralizing the other guy. The owner of the gun was trying to pull the trigger when the umbrella shot sharp pins at him that penetrated the assassin's eyes and mouth. Dimitar would have sufficed with that, but the man continued pressing the gun's trigger while twitching. The gun fired a bullet and missed.
The man tried pressing the trigger once more. Since he had no other alternative, Dimitar came closer and pressed his throat with the umbrella. The man made these awful dying grunts and passed away.
Dimitar was mad at himself. Although he was merely defending himself, he was also being too impulsive and this was not smart. The man should have been allowed to stay alive so that he could be questioned as to who sent him.
Meanwhile, groans were heard from the knifer, who was still alive. Great!
“Chief”, a call was heard. It was Oleg, who was running and approaching him. Is everything okay?
Oleg was beholding the scene of two people – one guy moaning, the other guy dead.
“No. Nothing is Okay, Oleg”, Dimitar said with fatigue. “Arrest him. Book him for attempted murder”.
He was feeling sick to his stomach. It's been a long time since the last time he was active in such street fights, when he was the service's champion in Judo and in other types of martial arts.
Oleg stopped in front of the body and took out an identity card. The guy was a policeman.
The expert's words echoed in his mind: “Every fourth cop in Bulgaria is corrupt”.
He went to the injured guy and pulled out his wallet. He also had the emblem of a policeman from Varna's police force. He examined the wallet and was shocked. There was something else there.
There was a business card from the firm 'Francine – Information Systems'.
Somebody, Dimitar was thinking, is now using a great deal of resources, including corrupt policemen, in order to damage the SANS.
Everything that happened in Estonia, whatever happened in Georgia, was only a trial, merely a rehearsal. The real showdown was going to take place in a bigger place in Bulgaria. The attack on the SANS was merely preparatory. The agents of the 'big brother' (mother Russia) are planning to go all of the way against Sophia's entire infrastructure. They plan on ruining its' entire technological infrastructure, rendering it helpless, crying for the help of 'Mother Russia'.
He had a chill run down his spine when he thought about what might happen if Bulgaria's technological infrastructure would suddenly be destroyed. Hundreds of thousands of people that depend upon these technologies would find themselves paralyzed, or even worse off. He was thinking about the awful accidents that would be caused as a result of a sudden paralysis of the computer services. About the banks that would stop functioning as a result of the shutdown of the computers. About the complete and utter deadlock and paralysis that would take hold of the economy and of daily living.
He was engulfed with a feeling of being double-crossed. If it was Russia that was behind all of this, it has thus betrayed it's loyal sister. And for what?
If the Israeli was the one behind everything – Bulgaria has given the Israeli a home in its' territory and this was his payback? Spying on its' security services and sabotaging its' technological means.
He vowed that the SANS would investigate all of this thoroughly. Someone had to pay for this and pay dearly. And as always, he would calm himself down, the threat is severe, but like everything else, it's merely temporary.
Only Bulgaria is forever.
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See more chapters of “The Bulgarian Fraud”.