Mediapool Weekly: May 11 – May 17, 2019

PM Boyko Borissov all-in coming up to the last week before EU elections, Judge Ivo Hinov releases motives for ruling on Ivancheva case, Investigative journalist detained and made to take down piece of reporting

Commentary:

The pressure cooker that is Boyko Borissov before elections

GERB is on high alert coming up to the last week before the campaign for European Parliament. Borissov is at the helm, making all sorts of rounds and an avalanche of photo ops, including a live Facebook video from his personal (?!) inspection of the construction of the new section of the Hemus highway.

He has been showing off his multitasking skills, as we wrote in the last edition of MediapoolWeekly, after he apparently benched his Number-Two Tsvetan Vassilev amid the ApartmentGate scandal. While inspecting roads and taking interviews, he’s been watching out for any potential fires, which might further jeopardize their chances at the election.

Day in and day out he is reassuring the public that there is no National Children Strategy, which has stirred much misplaced concerns and tensions over the past month (see below for more). At the same time, he is careful not to upset the doctors and nurses, and pediatricians in particular, who have been protesting lately. Then there was the test phase of the toll system for the highway network, which was supposed to begin May 15, but failed spectacularly before the tests began. And just as stakeholders were bubbling up and ready to burst, Borissov went in and put off the testing for after the upcoming elections and the actual implementation – till after the local elections, which will be held in the fall.

And just as he is juggling mothers, doctors, freight companies, and who knows who else, on the one hand, his own party’s unending disasters in the form of corruption scandals, his unhinged coalition partners, all the while trying to play it cool for his European partners, suddenly President Roumen Radev decides to tell the media something along the lines of the judicial system’s lack of independence.

This is only on the surface of the week. Still, it seems to have a bit of an effect as some of the latest polls show a slight advantage of GERB to BSP. Whatever the outcome of the European elections, however, PM Boyko Borissov should not kid himself: these fires and bombshells might be put off for a week, but they are all ready to burst at the second Borissov looks away, which inevitably will happen after the elections are over.

Because over the past several months this government, nay, system of inner- and inter-dependencies, shady deals, stupidly covered-up obnoxious thefts and power misuses, and at the top of the whole empire – overly-powerful semi-legitimate repressive institutions (with the Anticorruption Commission as the first among equals), it is physically impossible for Borissov to damage-control this whole expanse.

In other news:

Judge Ivo Hinov releases motives for ruling on Ivancheva case

Judge Ivo Hinov released motives for his ruling on the notorious Ivancheva case. Dessislava Ivancheva, Bilyana Petrova and Petko Dyulgerov were sentenced to 20, 25 and 12 years in prison respectively in the most controversial corruption case in Bulgarian recent history. Ivancheva is convicted of asking real estate developer Alexander Vaklin for money in exchange for moving forward a development permit; the other two are convicted as accomplices.

From the very beginning, the arrest, to the way they were treated in jail, to the unprecedently fast and severe sentencing, the case has no comparison. Apart from the grotesque spectacle of the arrest and conditions in the jail in case of Ivancheva and Petrova, the court proceedings went from the prosecutors having rock-solid evidence “any prosecutor would dream of” (in the humble words of Deputy Attorney General Ivan Geshev, to most of these evidence and witness testimonies being toned down, revealed to be falsified or merely misrepresented. Petko Dyulgerov, who is accused of being the middle-man in the alleged deal and the only one to talk about the bribe directly with Vaklin, testified towards the end of the trial that his testimony was given under pressure from the Anticorruption Commission and was false.

This might have helped for Ivancheva to be found not guilty in taking the bribe. She was found guilty, however, for asking for the bribe and that is what the three received sentences of 20, 15 and 12 years in prison.

The motives for the ruling are about 300 pages and Judge Hinov prepared them for a record-time of less than a month after he announced his ruling. There he admits there were problems with part of the evidence but as his guilty sentence is not about Ivancheva actually taking the bribe, the is irrelevant.

Judge Hinov simultaneously asserts that Vaklin has acted as a provoker for the bribe, and not. His conclusion in any case is that whatever he did that could be interpreted as a provocation, wasn’t as it only expanded the already-present corruption intent of the accused. Moreover, Judge Hinov goes further to write that even if Vaklin’s actions provoked the accused for the very first instance they’d formed their corruptive intentions, they should be convicted all the same.

Judge Hinov treats Vaklin as an agent of the state, although he clearly isn’t one. This discrepancy Judge Hinov explains by pointing to a weakness in the Bulgariran legislation, which does not provide for ordinary citizens to act as agents of the state. Regardless Vaklin wore wires as part of the investigation and worked as its aide, although there is no protocol for that.

Regarding the actual bribe, the case establishes three main stages:

Vaklin applies for a permit but that the application does not get processed for months. Then some of Vaklin’s employees and his wife pay a visit to the municipality. No one speaks of a bribe, but Polina Vaklin testified that she suspected during this visit that they expected for one to be offered. Vaklin informed the Anticorruption Commission and an investigation is launched into Ivancheva regarding Vaklin’s pending permit.

Once Dyulgerov becomes a part of the story does talk of the actual bribe begin. Vaklin insists that Dyulgerov contacts Ivancheva and Petrova and ask them about the permit and why is it not being processed. During the meetings between Dyulgerov, Ivancheva and Petrova the decision to ask for a bribe is made.

The evidence collected via wire taps reveal that the three decide on a bribe of a 187’000 euro but Judge Hinov writes that these are not the only evidence against the accused. He also takes into account Dyulgerov’s initial testimony, and asserts the later testimony, made by Dyulgerov, that the first is false, is not true.

Judge Hinov also admits that the actions by employees of the Anticorruption Commission during the arrest were not legally justified. Then, officers of the commission were an active part of the raid and arrest of Petrova and Ivancheva on a busy intersection in the city center. The operation lasted for over six hours, during which time Ivancheva stood handcuffed and an officer was shutting Ivancheva’s mouth when trying to speak.

This is an interesting point as the Anticorruption Commission frequently likes to act as a law-enforcement agency, which it is not by law. But as the commission is almost exclusively used as a repressive tool against inconvenient people for those in power, it is also heavily guarded and protected by the political elite.

It is interesting whether there would be any consequences as per Judge Hinov’s assertion that the commission exceeded their power in the case of Ivancheva’s arrest.

Possible personal link discovered between Alexander Vaklin and the deputy attorney general


Deputy Attorney General Ivan Geshev

Frognews reported about a curious link between Deputy Attorney General Ivan Geshev and the real estate developer Alexander Vaklin, which might raise some concerns about conflict of interest. Alexandar Vaklin is the main witness in the case against former Mladost mayor Dessislava Ivancheva, who was convicted of asking a bribe of Vaklin in return for moving along a permit for development in Mladost. His business partner, Mario Karkovsky, Frognews reports, is also a partner in another company, of which the other partner is the woman Geshev lives with on marital basis, Detelina Hancheva.

Geshev refused to comment on the reporting and declared he doesn’t read Frognews at all. Implying the outlet is “connected to individuals, charged with crimes in the trial for the collapse of the Corporate Commercial Bank (KTB), residing in Belgrade, that is the main defendant, Tsvetan Vassilev.”

Investigative journalist detained for 24 hours and made to take down piece of reporting

Investigative journalist Hristo Geshov, who was attacked last year after extensive reporting on power abuse in his home town of Cherven Bryag, was held for 24 hours, apparently hostage, by two unidentified men. The men demanded that his edition, Zov News, take down his investigative reporting on an illegal Water Supply and Sewage company, operating in Troyan.

The editor-in-chief of Zov News, Maria Dimitrova, told Mediapool that Geshov received a lot of threats following the publication. She said she had received a phone call demanding the piece be taken down from their site. She complied, but she couldn’t take it down from YouTube for a while. Once they succeeded, Geshov was released.

Geshоv, who was released on Wednesday, told Mediapool he was feeling fine and is back home in Cherven Bryag. He underlined that the incident is in no way connected to his prior reporting on Cherven Bryag, which ultimately took down the town’s mayor, Danail Valov. The actions of the two men were solely connected to the case about Troyan. Geshоv said the two men were not aggressive and did not behave badly.

 

Lately several editions, close to Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) MP and media mogul, Delyan Peevski, have been publishing a lot of smear pieces against Geshоv.

The head of the Anticorruption Commission, who is on leave, manages the office via phone

The head of the Anticorruption Commission, who is on forced leave because he is under investigation for discrepancies in his tax returns related to his apartment. PM Boyko Borissov said at the time that he must either resign of go in a temporary leave of absence; Georgiev decided on the latter. Frognews now reported that although formally on leave, Georgiev is managing in part the office via phone.

PM Borissov tries to release tension from National Children Strategy before the elections

PM Boyko Borrisov tried to counter public tension before the elections, this time from the National Children Strategy (2019-20130). The strategy has been under heavy “fake news” and troll attacks, spreading false claims about the strategy’s ‘hidden agenda’ to allow for the state to take away many children from their parents. The tension has been growing over the past several weeks and Borissov has finally moved to release it, essentially siding with the misinformation sources.

“I’ve told Social Policy Minister Biser Petkov in the mornings, noon and night to set up briefings and to sat that there is no such strategy.”

“There is a protest being organized in Facebook at the moment – “No Strategy 2019-20130”. There is no such strategy. Why are they continuing with these lies, I do not know.”

Although technically true – the strategy is not yet approved – the talking point clearly sends the message that the document is nonexistent, at least at the key sentence in his speech.

He went on to acknowledge that he means that the strategy is still in the public-debate phase.

“I want to ensure everybody that that the speculations that children are going to be taken away from their parents and give it to someone else, are false. The goal of the strategy is to protect those children who live in [foster care].”

The draft of the strategy was published at the beginning of the year. The document forbids any and all forms of physical punishment for children and provides for the criminalization of domestic violence. The document also maps out a system of measures for the prevention, monitoring and implementation of those measures.

The Holy Synod was first to read this as a restriction of parents’ right to choose the methods to use in upbringing their children, including, in the Holy Synod’s words, “acceptable verbal or physical means for correcting children’s’ behavior.”

The interpretations went downhill from there, with some claiming the document provides for the establishment of a specialized unit within the Ministry of Interior with the aim to kidnap children and traffic them for profit. This is only one of many similar in their extravagance claims by the authors of an online petition against the strategy.

As a result from the exponential public commotion, PM Boyko Borissov ‘froze’ the document until all the public discussions on the matter are carried out. Regardless, parents protested the document in 20 Bulgarian cities days ago, demanding the draft of the strategy be abolished. One of the coalition partners, VMRO, is one of the loudest voices against the strategy.

Deputy Prime Minister Tomislav Donchev also in campaign mode

The deputy prime minister, Tomislav Donchev has been speaking a lot lately about the ApartmentGate scandal and the revelations about officials directing EU funds to build and renovate their private villas, packaging them as Bed&Breakfasts. He is also keeping a close eye and commenting extensively on President Roumen Radev’s recent appeal for the authorities to launch a full-on investigation into politicians’ offshore accounts and companies.

Donchev said he agrees with the president in general terms that corruption practices must be countered but added that the relevant institutions are on the look-out for any irregularities all the time.

“The results are still not too promising at the moment but that does not mean that Bulgaria doesn’t have a problem with corruption and there is no abuse of power. I agree with the president’s appeal to combat corruption. There is corruption in every developed country, Bulgaria could not possibly be any different, especially given the fact that the customs here are lower and the state – less functional.”, he said.

According to him the government takes appropriate steps every time information about misconduct emerges. He admitted thought that such cases still occur.

“This [ApartmentGate] scandal must be untangled entirely, this is number-one priority. I haven’t had direct contact with the Anticorruption Commission but as a citizen, I trust them. I trust the Bulgarian institutions. Let’s allow the investigators to do their job and see whether there was a wrongdoing both from a moral and legal point of view.”, he added.

He also commented on the other set of findings about high-ranking officials directing EU funds to build and renovate their private villas, staging them as Bed&Breakfast’s.

“Just imagine how discussing it looks to an ordinary citizen [to see] someone holding a high public position, has taken public funding to build themselves a luxurious house and live in it. It is just horrible.”

He went on to claim that GERB does countless internal probes and “has reacted hundreds of times without those becoming a public sensation.”

Donchev failed to elaborate on what are these “hundreds” of cases he is referring to, their nature, their seemingly staggering number, nor have any of these “reactions” lead to any consequences.

Seven of Bulgaria’s EMP candidates were Secret Agents during Communism

Seven of Bulgaria’s candidates for European Parliament members were members of the Communist-era Secret Service. Most of those – three - are from the largest parliamentary opposition, the Bulgarian Socialist Party (the successor of the Bulgarian Communist Party, which ruled Bulgaria before the fall of the Berlin wall) (Roumen Getchev, Velizar Enchev and Emil Georgiev), followed by the far-right nationalists (and coalition partner in the current government, led by GERB), VMRO (Alexander Urumov and Hristo Smolenov) – two – and one from each of VOLYA (Kolyo Paramov) and the non-parliamentary left-wing Coalition for Bulgaria (Boyan Kirov).

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Изненадани ли сте, че Антикорупционната комисия не откри нередности около "Апартаментгейт"?