Mediapool Weekly: July 27 – August 2, 2019

Thousands protested the unopposed candidate Prosecutor General Ivan Geshev, In an unprecedented move prosecutors release evidence from an ongoing investigation,

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In an unprecedented move prosecutors release evidence from an ongoing investigation

There were two hallmark moments this week for Bulgarian prosecutors, not counting the ongoing unopposedcandidacy of Ivan Geshev forProsecutor-General, whichprompted several thousand to protest on Monday (more on this below).

The supervising prosecutor in the case against TAD Group for the hack against the National Revenue Agency, which compromised the personal data of millions, shared some of their findings with reporters. There was evidence, she said, that “the hackers”, who are charged with no less than terrorism at this point, had hacked into the watering system in front of Parliament. That is, the sprinklers, which water the plants around the building.

Keeping a straight face, and obviously convinced and confident, prosecutor Evgeniya Stankova went into detail of the wicked plan:

“There was an intention, possibly, that at a moment when a state car carrying the head of state or guests of our parliament, for the watering systems, possibly, to be activated, which would obstruct the mobility of the vehicle. Such unstablenessbrings along unstableness of our whole political system.”

The statement naturally exploded the social media scene with mockery. Especially after both Sofia Municipality and the parliament administration declared the watering systems around the parliament building are controlled manually and are not connected to any online grid. Although, even if they were, the notion that hacked sprinklers could destabilize the political system could stem either from a deeply disturbed paranoiac mind, or one seeking to produce the next Monty Python classic. Either way, the statement was both ridiculous and revealing as to the utter incompetence and disconnectedness of the prosecutors in charge of the case. It is no coincidence that one attorney at law, also opting for a mass entertainment analogy, described the prosecutors’ collective actions as having the exquisiteness of reality show scenes.

But in her statement, Stankova also said there were evidence that one of the accused and Bivol ownerAsen Yordanov had a secret chat on Telegram (more on this below), aimed at “destabilizing the political environment in the country, the government and to instill fear among the general public”. This notion opens the door for additional treason charges and it might be a hint as to what the prosecutors are planning next in terms of new charges.

Except for this rather important point, Stankova’s accounts provoked the comical reaction it deserved, which got to the prosecutors. They had become a laughing stock over night. In an effort to control the damage, the Prosecutor’s Office embarked on two separate overkills. There is actually a chance for the second to have been by mistake. Mistake or in purpose, however, it is incompetent, dangerous and criminal.

The Prosecutor’s Office decided to release some of the evidence from the ongoing investigation against TAD group for the NRA breach to the public. This is unprecedented. According to some experts, even the court has not yet had a chance to review these materials. Of course, the prosecutors have carefully chosen what to release in order to accomplish may be the only thing it is consistently good at: public smearing and announcing guilt before the court proceedings even begin. It is the most important thing one must know about the Bulgarian justice system: the Prosecutor’s Office is ignoring the presumption of innocence and has demoted it to a mere formality. This lack of understanding is only growing.

It is a grim reality within the Bulgarian Prosecutor’s Office, but one that is especially amplified in the Specialized Prosecutor’s Office, which functions almost entirely as a black PR center for the government. Its head, Ivan Geshev, is on the road of becoming the new Prosecutor General, so it is safe to assume the practice will not only continue, but expand well beyond the incidental.

The documents clearly aim to convince the public that the accused are guilty. Just as the specialized prosecutors did with former Mladost mayor Dessislava Ivancheva and her deputy Bilyana Petrova. The effort is so elaborate that the question of their actual guilt, as pronounced by the court becomes almost irrelevant. This is no coincidence. It is consistent with a view these prosecutors have of the justice process, as expressed by Ivan Gehsev in his interview for the Bulgarian National Television, after his nomination last week. During the interview he accused defense attorneys to be paid (hinting – corrupt) to free the criminals, which the prosecutors catch. This concept of the legal system excludes the role of the court altogether: the prosecutors (the good guys) catch the criminals (guilty by default), and then attorneys let them off. In this scenario prosecutors are last instance judges, while procedures are designed to whitewash criminals.

But then the Prosecutor’s Office doubled down and produced not just a colossal gaff, but a criminal act. In some of the evidence the prosecutors released – like screenshots, conversations, etc – an online location of a file was visible. The file contained the personal data of about 2000 prosecutors and investigators – virtually all of them - as well as the personal numbers of PM Boyko Borissov, Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) MP Delyan Peevski and Prosecutor General Sotir Tsatsarov.

Whether leaking the personal information of nearly every prosecutor and investigator in the country was on purpose or due to negligence is anyone’s guess.  

By law the office, which holds these data is responsible for protecting it. Unlike the hack at the NRA, where an outside agent steals the data and releases it, this time the Prosecutor’s Office itself provided the access to the file. According to experts the Prosecutor’s Office is now liable as it openly leaked the data on its own. The institution could both be sued under the Protection of Personal Information Act, and in the European Human Rights Court.

But it also raises another issue. If the prosecutors charged the NRA hack as terrorism, what should it charge itself with? Moreover, just after the news of the data breach broke, the Court Inspectorate released the personal information of Judge Miroslava Todorova and her family in a similar manner. By any account, they should be just as liable.

In other news:

 

Thousands protested the unopposed candidate Prosecutor General Ivan Geshev

Several thousand people took to the streets Monday evening to protest the unopposed candidacy of Ivan Geshev for Prosecutor General. Geshev is the head of the Specialized Prosecution and deputy Prosecutor General. He is known for having little regard for the presumption of innocence and heading some of the more media-appetizing raids, which almost often get sentenced at the European Court for Human Rights.

Prosecutor General Sotir Tsatsarov proposed Geshev for his successor – an unorthodox and questionable move on its own. The current Prosecutor General should not meddle in the procedure for choosing the next person for the job in any way. His candidacy got the support of all of Tsatsarov’s direct subordinates – the prosecutors at the Supreme Council of Justice. The council is the institution which appoints the Prosecutor General after a vote. With the prosecutors’ votes secured, Geshev has all the votes he needs to win and over.

He is also running unopposed as of Monday, which was the deadline for submitting candidacies. The problem is those could either come from at least three members of the council from the prosecutorial quota or the Minister of Justice. As all prosecutors at the council supported Geshev, understandably, there was no way any one of them, let alone, three, would propose an alternative. So it was up to the minister. Danail Kirilov has been on the job for several months, after his predecessor Tsetska Tsacheva resigned due to the ApartmentGate scandal. Kirilov said in an interview that he might consider proposing a candidacy if there is pressure from the civil society to do so, but he apparently assessed there is not of that enough.

Several thousand gathered at the Court House to protest Geshev’s candidacy. The protest was organized by the NGO Justice for All (Pravosadie za vseki).

The organization calls not just for the recall of Geshev’s candidacy but also for changing the way a prosecutor general is appointed. Pravosadie za vseki submitted a bill to Parliament, which provides for different bodies – the ombudsman, civil society, the law guild, judges’ professional organizations – to all have the right to propose a candidate for the post.

It was a difficult decision not to cut my holiday short: National Revenue Agency head

 Galya Dimitrova

“It was a difficult but well thought out decision not to cut my holiday short. I had an important personal reason for this. One must be a responsible person not only professionally but also in one’s private life”, Galya Dimitrova, the head of the National Revenue Agency said.

Dimitrova was on holiday when the personal information of 5 million Bulgarians (nearly all adults) leaked to the internet after an unprecedented breach at the NRA. The link to the file, containing the data was sent to several media outlets. Then Nova TV and Evropa TV showed the e-mail containing the link as part of their cover footage, which made the data easily accessible to virtually anyone.

The hack involves a colossal amount of personal data. The only news from the NRA at the time came from its speaker, who attempted to downplay the crisis. Dimitrova was on holiday, and remained so more than a week after the breach.

To date no one has resigned or held responsible within the institution for failing to keep the data safe. Sticking to the talking point of any government official, whose institution has come to a crisis, often due to incompetence and negligence: it is easy to submit a resignation when faced with a hard situation. Instead she will stay on and manage the crisis.

“For me the most responsible and hard decision is to take responsibility at this moment and take care of the problem in the best way”, she said.

Finance Minister Vladislav Gouranov maintains a similar position. The NRA is under the direct control of the Ministry of Finance. Democratic Bulgaria, the non-parliamentary opposition coalition demanded he resign from the start, but Gouranov said his resignation is not on the table.

Bivol Editor-in-Chief Atanas Chobanov suspects Prosecutor’s Office is trying to access its information

Bivol Editor-in-Chief Atanas Tchobanov

The investigative site Bivol Editor-in-Chief Atanas Tchoubanov denies having any ties with the “hackers” from TAD Group, charged with the National Revenue Agency unprecedented hack. Prosecutors, including Prosecutor General to be Ivan Geshev tend to hint frequently that the hack somehow is connected to Bivol, as are the accused.Asen Yordanov, the site’s owner announced he will be suing the Prosecutor’s Office and prosecutor Evgeniya Stankova in particular for slander, after she said to the media that TAD Group and Bivol’s owner engaged in a secret chat plotting to destabilize the government.

Tchobanov denies having any connection to TAD Group or the individuals accused of the hack. But for him, the reason prosecutors are trying to tie him and his organization to the hack is so they could stand to gain access to Bivol’s information. Including wiretapping, as the charges against the accused were conveniently upgraded to terrorism, which give investigators expanded rights to use special investigative tools.

Meanwhile official issued an international search warrant for Tchobanov, who lives in Paris. The Bulgarian desk of the Association of European Journalists released a statement, warning French authorities should be very careful when considering the warrant, given the Prosecutor’s Office apparent bias towards Bivol.

Bivol is one of the key media outlets in uncovering a number of corruption schemes in Bulgaria, involving high ranking officials. They broke the so-called GPGate story, which outlined the innerworkings of a sophisticated EU funds fraud scheme, involving officials, evaluators, consultant companies, etc. Bivol also recently uncovered a suspicious housing deal that Prosecutor General Sotir Tsatsarov’s made to acquire a house for less than a fourth of the market price, making him the consecutive high-level official in the so-called ApartmentGate scandal.

DP initials emerge in the case documents for KTB case

The likely future Prosecutor General, Ivan Geshev, who has not managed to convince any court of his thesis as prosecutor, was also the supervising prosecutor for the case for the collapse of the Corporate Commercial Bank. The bank’s bankruptcy, often referred to as the theft of the century, drained billions of levathrough connected companies. Tsvetan Vassilev, the bank’s former chief and at the time kept close ties with media mogul and Movement for Rights and freedoms (DPS) MP Delyan Peevski. It is a public secret that the bank heavily financed the building of Peevski’s media empire. Geshev was asked several times about why Peevski is not part of the case. His answer is that “in the course of the investigation we have not established [anything] linked to Mr. Peevski in the scheme, as outlined by me, this is why we have not mentioned him.”

Except, prosecutors have already linked Peevski and KTB back in 2009. Then prosecutor Angel Iliev concludes that Peevski and his mother have acquired part of their media outlets thanks to loans from KTB. But Geshev has now twice acted surprised at the mention of the fact.

The organization Anticorruption Fund, which is an NGO, working for uncovering corruption schemes and the like, published documents from the case, which clearly show that a person with initials D.P. received colossal funds from the bank.

Pig owners threaten mass protests against culling, pledge not to allow cullers near pigs

Pig owners from Pazardzhik, Plovdiv and Pleven pledged not to allow authorities near their pigs. There is a culling order in force for 18 regions due to African Swine Fever outbreak. The deadline for pig owners to comply is August 11 for Pazardzhik. Elsewhere the owners have until August 2 to cull their pigs.

The measure will affect households, which fall within the 20-km radius around the contaminated industrial pig farms, where  

But the owners have pledged not to cooperate. The mayor of Hadzhievo Andon Andonov stands agrees with the citizens of the village:

“We will continue the protests and will not cooperate with authorities before we receive definite information about how the people will be compensated.”

The African Swine Fever crisis began spreading at several industrial pig farms. EU health and food safety commissionaire Vytenis Antriukaitis warned Bulgarian authorities last week that the crisis could mean the end of the whole industry in Bulgaria.

Plamen Georgiev resignes as head of Anticorruption Commssion

Plamen Georgiev

Plamen Georgiev resigned his post as head of the Anticorruption Commission. He was on leave of absence while the National Revenue Agency was conducting an investigation, after he was revealed to have discrepancies in his tax returns. Georgiev was one of the central figures in the so-called ApartmentGate scandal.

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