Mediapool Weekly July 6 – July 12, 2019

Prosecutors charge head of military intelligence and produce public scandal, Government to overturn machine voting, Bulgaria signs deal for F-16 fighters

Top news:

Prosecutors charge head of military intelligence and produces public scandal. Why?


Defence Information Service Head Plamen Angelov

The military intelligence agency is one of the most sensitive intelligence agencies, operating not only with state secrets but also with those of its allies. The military intelligence is also the body, which compiles all the information about the network of human intelligence agents – both foreign and domestic – around the world. The so-called Defense Information Service is the primary Bulgarian body working with NATO on security, deface, information exchange, etc. The agency safeguards some of the most delicate and valuable secrets of the state and its allies and it is easy to understand why it is just as important not to draw too much attention to it, and especially not to center the consecutive prosecutor scandal on it.

The military prosecution charged the head of the military intelligence and his predecessor this week with granting illegitimate access to top secret information. The prosecutors, just as prosecutors usually do in Bulgaria, made a spectacle of the charges. They issued a press release, announcing the charges in what has become their traditional tone: loudmouthed accusations, lack of concrete facts, an open and rather threatening end.

Most charges, which have come about in this matter later collapse in court as the case is thin at best. But these stunts are hardly aligned with the purpose of the justice process. Instead they seek to weaken their targets through elaborate smear campaigns. This might seem ineffective and transparent but, in a state, which has the majority of print and electronic media ready to repeat any talking point those in power produce, it is a potent tool.

It is important to bear this context in mind and take the prosecutors’ actions, especially those it takes special care to put at the top of the news, with a grain of salt.

According to the charges the military intelligence head, Plamen Angelov and his predecessor, Svetoslav Daskalov had issued over 500 approvals for access to classified information illegally. But the interesting thing here is that the alleged illegality of the approvals is not due to being issued without basis or in some conjunction based on substance. Instead, the reason the prosecutors have filed these charges is because the approvals were not signed by the head of the organization but instead by their deputies.

This is very peculiar on at least two levels, and raises much concern given the already mentioned inclination of prosecutors to open justice proceedings with ulterior motives.

First, if this is a legal breach, and has been going on systematically since 2016, why is this coming up only now?

Officially, the prosecutors are acting on information, provided by the State Agency for National Security. But had they not known about it before? As technicalities go, this is quite an obvious one and this alone raises suspensions of why is this emerging now? Not so much SANS, but the military intelligence’s own security division should have been well aware of a violation. And why has SANS decided to look into the military intelligence at all? In both cases, something must have prompted these actions.

Second, again, the noise the prosecutors are making with this is drawing unnecessary, or even dangerous attention to a potential vulnerability into the military intelligence agency, which itself also raises the question of why.

And, most importantly, third, where is this going?

Tsveta Markova, a formal head of the military intelligence talked to the Bulgarian National Radio and Vesselin Dremdziev’s Today Show this week about the whole case. She stressed that the fact the SANS is the agency from where the whole probe began is in of itself not only wrong but bordering illegitimate. She explained that according to the law, the powers SANS has as a national security agency do not expand to the military intelligence. She went on to explain that the practice of one intelligence agency to meddle in the business of another is unacceptable not only in Bulgaria, but throughout the world, as these kinds of intrusions are damaging to both agencies involved at the end. National security agencies should cooperate but not act against one another. She added that the military intelligence agency has the appropriate security division, whose task is to self-audit for breaches and violations within the agency, as is the norm in such institutions.

One very important point, which Markova raised is that there is a special official order, granting the deputy heads of the military intelligence agency the right to issue approvals for access to classified information. The alleged violation, as the prosecutors have defined it, is a question of interpreting a legal technicality. At the same time, though, the appropriate procedures for securing the information have been taken, i.e. the problem – if there is one – spans no further than this technicality and has no bearing on substance. In other words, the likelihood of an actual crisis or leakage, from the information available, is more than unlikely. This circumstance circles the question as to why all the public attention even further. Markova also said that the inevitable inquiry by NATO, which this whole case will prompt, will quickly discover this legal position.

The order explains why the security division of the military intelligence agency never acted on the deputy heads granting access to classified information. But it amplifies the question why SANS and the military prosecutors have conducted this case, and – again – why they are doing everything necessary to make headlines with it? The latter is an extremely important issue, which Markova called a direct threat to national security.

It is very hard to imagine how could these charges survive court, given that they virtually have no legal standing. The Ministry of Defense meanwhile issued an official statement that there was no information leakage from the agency, which for the time being rings most true and will prove merely complementary if the court rules that there is nothing illegal in deputy heads giving approving access to classified information. Which seems the more likely scenario at this point.

Sources tell Mediapool that one possible reason for dragging the military intelligence agency in the middle of a public scandal is a step towards merging the military and the civil intelligence. This in of itself is neither good, nor bad. The move would depend solely on whether or not this would make it easier for certain groups to gain access to the military intelligence. According to Capital Weekly, the military intelligence is the only agency, out of the reach of the infamous Delyan Peevski, and disrupting it might be part of a plan to restructure it or appoint a new, “cooperative” head.

Something is likely at play, however. And the chief clue here is the way the military prosecution is handling the case publicly. Even if the charges are a result of genuine inquiry, there is no reason to make a public scandal of them. And this is where the big question mark lies, and likely where the answer will emerge.

Government to overturn machine voting

The government wants to overturn machine voting entirely for local and parliamentary elections. Time and time again the government has amended the Elections Act to accommodate its unwillingness, inability or both to provide machine voting for all elections in all electoral sections. Under the most current changes in the elections Act, enacted mere months ago, 6000 machines must be available for the upcoming local elections in the fall. 2019 should be the year, in which paper ballots are abolished completely, according to the law.

But now GERB and their coalition partner, the far-right nationalists from the United Patriots, with the support of VOLYA, have introduced yet another bill of amendments, which overturns machine voting altogether for local and parliamentary elections.

Although GERB itself voted for the texts, which requires 6000 machines to be available for the local elections, now GERB MPs say they voted in favor under public pressure but in truth do not support the idea. Now they flip-flopped yet again on machine voting, this time attempting to get rid of it entirely.

“If the local elections [have] the machines as provided by the current law, we run the risk of collapsing the elections, because the security of the vote will be threatened”, GERB MP Anna Alexandrova said.

Apparently, this “threat” has to do with resetting the software for the second round.

Other GERB MPs pointed out that the machines are too expensive. At the same time, wherever there was machine voting in the last European elections, the machines generate errors. National Ombudsman Maya Manolova, along with other machine voting advocates, however, claim that not the machines generated errors but the commissions, assigned to the elections.

According to Manolova, the Central Elections Committee is the one to blame for the expensiveness of the machines because CEC had “rented machines for the price it could have bought them”.

In her view, and supporters of machine voting, the actual reason behind the government wanting to do away with machine voting is the fact that it hinders vote buying.

In other news:

Defense Minister Krassimir Karakachanov signs deal for F-16 fighter jets

Defense Minister Krassimir Karakachanov signed the deal with the American Lockheed Martin for eight F-16 fighter jets. The Bulgarian government has been negotiating the price for the last months, but finally signed for 1,256 billion US Dollars, or about 2,1 billion leva. The deal includes the fighters, training and weaponry. Officials said they expect to get a discount of 60 million from the final price.

The deal has to be ratified by Parliament, but it is expected to pass.

Bulgaria will purchase an additional eight fighter jets in the future, according to the ministry’s plans. There is no definite timeframe for that, though. But the government hopes to be able to buy the next batch cheaper and negotiate a differed payment agreement.

The first jets will be paid one in full, which will prompt the government to amend the current budget to accommodate the new costs. Minister of Finance Vladislav Goranov told FocusNews that the Council of Ministers will meet on Monday to prepare the amendments and table them in Parliament for a vote. The ambition is for the amendments and the deal to be ratified before the end of July.

The likely majority in parliament of GERB, right-wingers VMRO and the Movement of Rights and Freedoms (DPS) will secure the vote, while the Bulgarian Socialist Party will probable vote against. BSP is critical of the choice of Lockheed Martin as supplier and especially of not upholding Parliament’s approval of a 1,8 billion leva threshold for new fighter jets. In addition, President Roumen Radev voiced his criticism that in negotiating a lower price, the government has not to get the original support package. Radev claims Bulgaria is purchasing not enough jets and those have “very restricted possibilities”.

ATAKA leader Volen Siderov no longer co-leader of coalition partner United Patriots


Volen Siderov

Far-right nationalist Volen Siderov, leader of ATAKA, which is part of the coalition partner United Patriots was taken down as co-leader of the UP with the votes of the other two parties in the group – VMRO and NFSB. The members took the decision without anyone from ATAKA present. Siderov claims he, nor anyone from ATAKA knew of its partners’ plans.

With ATAKA’s leader in isolation, there is a likelihood that the other two parties will find a way to exclude ATAKA from the coalition altogether. In fact, VMRO and NFSB have been changing various rules of the coalition, making it possible to remove all ATAKA MPs.

Siderov has asked Parliament Chairwoman Tsveta Karayancheva to reverse the decision for his removal, deeming it illegitimate. He also vowed to ask PM Boyko Borissov personally “if he no longer requires his signature on the coalition agreement”.

In any case, though, GERB do not seem too moved by the scandal. Minister of Finance Vladisllav Goranov commented that while “their quarrels are unpleasant, we are determined to finish the mandate”.

Head of Sofia district court acquired Bulgarian citizenship illegally: report


Alexey Trifonov

The head of the Sofia district court, Alexey Trifonov received his Bulgarian citizenship without legal basis, according to reporting by Valya Ahchieva for the site EUElectionsBulgaria. The citizenship was issued by the municipal administration of Sofia’s Ilinden district with no apparent legal grounds.

Alexey Trifonov was born in 1976 in the city of Kursk, USSR (current-day Russia). His father is Bulgarian, which is ground for citizenship but only after an application procedure. According to the reporting by Ahchieva, however, Trifonov’s parents never applied for Trifonov to get citizenship, and without the proper application, he didn’t have the right to one. Trifonov himself never applied for Bulgarian citizenship on the grounds that his father was Bulgarian, which he was eligible to do, according to Deputy Justice Minister Dessislava Ahladova in later years.

When Trifonov was 16 years old the municipal administration of Ilinden issued Trifonov a Bulgarian birth certificate on unknown grounds. Relevant institutions are still not commenting on why Ilinden municipality issued the birth certificate, which de facto granted him Bulgarian citizenship.

The Supreme Court will review the findings and is set to rule on whether or not Trifonov’s citizenship is indeed obtained legally. Specifically, the court will have to declare if Trifonov’s parents had applied for Trifonov’s citizenship in Ilinden no more than a year after he was born, as per the law at the time. If ruled a non-Bulgarian, Trifonov will not be eligible for judgeship in Bulgaria.

Wife of Supreme Court of Cassations Head Elisaveta Panova wins case against Peevski-owned media


Elisaveta Panova and Lozan Panov

Elisaveta Panova, who is the wife of the Head of the Supreme Court of Cassations, Lozan Panov, won a defamation case against Telegraph Media for 30’000 leva. Telegraph Media is the company, which publishes the newspapers Monitor and Telegraph, and owned by the infamous DPS MP Delyan Peevski.

The Panov family is a frequent target of the media group, while Lozan Panov is one of the most prominent opposition voices of Prosecutor General Sotir Tsatsarov within the justice system.

Panova’s defamation case against the media outlets involve an anonymous piece, which claims Panova has done a crime and escaped the justice system; conspired to destabilize the country and is part of an organized criminal group. All claims were proven to be false.

The ruling may be appealed to the Supreme Court of Cassations.

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