2016 began with a murder. One of the protagonists in our publications was killed execution style in the first days of January. In a series of articles, Bivol revealed how Veselin Stoimenov has been illegally using the natural reserve “Ropotamo” and the Ministry of Environment and Waters (MEW) is helpless against him. After his elimination, his illegal boating business also disappeared from the reserve. The case may seem small against the background of all outrages, but it is not. Because when he was alive, the MEW was unable to chase him away from the state reserve, as two regional governors – left-wing Plamen Marinov and right-wing Valcho Cholakov – provided a cover-up by refusing to forcefully evict him. When the Mafia takes over a country, political affiliations do not matter.

In the past year, the scandals revealed by Bivol resembled TV series about the Mafia. One of them was “Yaneva Gate”. The taped recordings of the senior judges entered their third “successful” season with two expert reports, two European reports calling on the authorities to investigate the allegations, two refusals of the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) to launch a probe in the case with its two inquiries only seeking to find out who made the recordings instead of investigating suspected wrongdoing. All attempts to investigate “Yaneva Gate” were “finished” by the SJC majority that protects Prosecutor General Sotir Tsatsarov.

Nevertheless, 2016 also saw the omerta cracking. Investigator Boyko Atanasov revealed to Bivol the mechanics of concealing cases and “finishing” certain people by an entrusted to Tsatsarov “special unit” in the Sofia Investigation Office. The majority in the SJC “finished” these revelations as well, but at the cost of its image and ratings reaching absolute zero. In an unprecedented move for Bulgaria and Europe, judges staged a protest against the SJC.

In 2016, we learned that Prime Minister Boyko Borisov has fallen in love with the wife of a friend from the circle “Tomcats” and then has appointed her for his PR. “Maya” has been another one of his love affairs, and half of Sofia has known about it. The other half is still wondering who is Maya. Meanwhile, Borisov has bought for another mistress a house in Barcelona for half million euro, according to one of the recorded judges – Vladimira Yaneva.

We also learned that “the special services are under the control of Delyan” (Delyan Peevski, controversial media mogul and lawmaker from the party largely representing Bulgarian Muslims – Movement for Rights and Freedoms, DPS – editor’s note), and that “Boyko and Delyan have always played together”. This Boyko and Delyan game became a major topic at the beginning of the year with the so-called “London Mirror”. During a meeting with Bulgarians in London, Boyko Borisov was asked by a college student whether when looking in the mirror he sees Delyan Peevski. This coincided with the publication by Bivol of a detailed analysis of public procurement based on open data from the Agency of Public Orders (PPA) and the Commercial Register. Bivol subsequently developed this database into a complete search engine that is used daily by investigative journalists, lawyers, experts and tens of thousands of people who want to learn “who is #who” in Bulgarian business.

It turned out that companies related to MP Peevski have absorbed nearly 733 million levs through public procurement contracts, of which over 400 million came from European Union (EU) financing. In his generosity, the second center-right government “Borisov” has even surpassed that of Socialist-endorsed Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski. A few days after the scandal with the mirror in London, Borisov halted major contracts of companies related to Peevski and promised heroic miracles in the fight against corruption. This did not happen. After a brief regrouping and withdrawal of the most controversial companies, like Vodstroy 98, firms connected to Peevski are once again absorbing huge amounts, shows recent procurement planned by Borisov’s government which is now in resignation.

A critical point in 2016 was the accumulation of evidence that cigarette manufacturer Bulgartabac, which according to former banker Tsvetan Vasilev (majority shareholder in the collapsed Corporate Commercial Bank, CCB, editor’s note) is owned by MP Delyan Peevski, is smuggling cigarettes through Turkey in the Middle East. In the course of its investigations from 2015, Bivol discovered and published information that companies buying and exporting Bulgartabac cigarettes through the Bulgarian Black Sea port of Varna are owned by fugitive smuggler Salam Quadir Faraj (see here and here). In late February, Customs Chief Vanyo Tanev passed away unexpectedly, shortly before signing his answers to questions by Bivol that would have made this information official. The new Customs boss proved to be loyal to #WHO and refused to provide information, but Bivol sued her and won in the first instance. It is only a question of time for the public to learn the above truths. After the revelations of Bivol, Bulgartabac undertook crisis measures and announced it was stopping production for the Middle East. It closed its factory in Sofia, but moved the equipment to the southern city of Blagoevgrad, where it continues to produce cigarettes for the same contraband channel.

Georgios Georgiou – Person of the Year of the Backstage Rule

“Georgios Gate”, initiated by Bivol in 2014, by disclosing the ownership of the modest Cypriot Georgios Georgiou in companies that have acquired the now-obsolete Kremikovtzi steel mill with loans from First Investment Bank (FIB), also withstood the passing time. In 2015, it became clear that Georgios has obtained loans from FIB in the amount of 1.2 billion levs. And in 2016, the unemployed Cypriot became a popular figure even for public institutions. Month after month, his name kept emerging in new scandals. The MEW even invited him to attend public hearing as the owner of the company “Yulen” AD, which wanted to expand the ski zone in the Pirin Mountain at the expense of the National Park there. Georgios did not respond. He did not blink an eye even when Borisov put an end to the controversial tender for the “Hemus” highway, where he also had significant involvement. “I checked somewhat who’s who,” Borisov said then. He has most likely read somewhat who is who in the database of Bivol. A month later, taxi cab drivers from the company “OK’Supertrans” blocked the key Eagles’ Bridge intersection in Sofia and Georgios came once again under the spotlight as the owner of the taxicab company. At the end of the year, the tragedy in the village of Hitrino again brought to the fore Georgios as the owner of a 60% in the company “Bulmarket” whose tanks exploded in a train accident.

Besides being a powerful investor in the Bulgarian economy, Georgios has been able to dig a hole in the amount of 1.8 billion levs in FIB’s capital which exceeds the amount of State aid with which it was rescued. This became clear from a classified report by the Bulgarian National Bank (BNB, the central bank – editor’s note) on the standing of FIB from the end of 2011 (see here). The report, written in 2012, further reveals that 50% of the corporate loans of FIB, examined by the BNB inspectors, should be listed as “non-performing” or “loss”, but the Bank enters them as regular through lies and manipulations.

After a signal by Bivol, the prosecution revealed part of the contents of another report from 2014, containing more chilling facts. It turns out that FIB has been most brazenly drained by … well, again by Georgios Georgiou, who has taken loans for tens of millions, has not paid them back, but FIB has bought them in the form of loan assignments for 20% of their value. Nevertheless, the prosecution sees no problem in this. It has also emerged that the State aid for FIB was not guaranteed with gold and securities as Bulgaria has lied to Brussels but with receivables from loans of that same Georgios.

All these achievements give us reason to nominate Georgios Georgiou for “Person of the Year” of the Backstage Rule.

It should be noted once again that Georgios is just a dummy of FIB’s owners and majority shareholders, Tseko Minev and Ivaylo Mutafchiev, who, in addition to draining it in the most outrageous way, have been involved in a scheme to steal EU money slated for the poor in Romania. FIB and the organized crime group “The Killers”, with gang leader Mila Georgieva, have managed to fool the Romanian State to grant a public tender for 22 million euro to the shell company of a destitute Bulgarian. The money has disappeared in a string of offshore companies, but an investigation by an international journalistic team, including Bivol, found out that some of this money has been spent through credit cards issued to members of “The Killers” group. The role of the Bank in this theft has become so obvious that it will not be surprising if in the coming months some Bulgarian bankers will have to face the Romanian justice.

The 1.8 billion-hole, apparently, is not enough because, in 2014, FIB boldly took the CCB loans of companies connected to Delyan Peevski in the amount of another 230 million levs. These are loans that the MP is not deigning to repay, as shown by our investigation. But against these loans, Tseko Minev and Ivaylo Mutafchiev are buying media and prosecutorial comfort. Not only “the special services are controlled byDelyan” but the prosecution is under his control as well, because of the heavy dependencies of Sotir Tsatsarov, revealed in detail in a very interesting document sent to the US embassy in Sofia.

In 2016, Bivol dealt with much more than Peevski and FIB. We recall our key investigations that according to Western diplomats halted the race of Putin’s candidate, Bulgarian Irina Bokova, to head the United Nations. It turned out that she and her husband were able to acquire apartments in New York, London and Paris on the backdrop of a family income that does not justify such expenditures even if they have spent years on a diet of bread and water. The publications of Bivol on Bokova’s properties triggered the interest of Bulgarian and Western media as did the findings that as UNESCO Director-General, Irina Bokova has manipulated recruitment procedures to appoint a crony with fake qualifications as her Assistant Director-General.

The journalists of Bivol performed strongly on the international front as well. We participated in the investigation of OCCRP and BIRN into the trafficking of Bulgarian, Serbian and Slovakian weapons to Syria. The investigation was published on The Guardian front page in July 2007, long before the Bulgarian media realized that Bulgarian shells “Grad” are being stockpiled in the armories of terrorist groups. Thanks to our search engine, counterparts from Lithuania (see here) and Kyrgyzstan were able to reveal that their politicians are hiding properties in Bulgaria, sparking local outrages. The editor-in-chief of Bivol, Atanas Chobanov, was elected in 2016 as Member of the Board of Directors of OCCRP, one of the most prestigious worldwide consortiums of investigative journalists, which in 2016 reported the most scandalous data from the “Panama Papers”.

Another big topic for Bivol in 2016 was the controversial arbitration for the frozen “Belene” Nuclear Power Plant (NPP). Despite evidence that lawyers from White & Case have been in blatant conflict of interest for having worked for both the Russian and the Bulgarian sides; despite revelations that Russian citizen Konstantin Christie has been arbitral tribunal administrative secretary in the arbitration case; despite the shocking report and indisputable expert opinions that Russia’s Atomestroyeksport has built a poor reactor corpus and has deceived Bulgaria’s National Electric Company (NEC). Despite all this, the government of Boyko Borisov has firmly, decisively and consistently refused to protect the interests of Bulgaria and obediently paid 1.2 billion levs to Russia.

Our high-quality investigations were noticed by the jury of the “Radostina Konstantinova” Foundation and Bivol was nominated to receive the Grand Prize for investigative journalism. Unfortunately, the Board of the Foundation made the unprecedented so far in its history decision to deprive Bivol of the prize. “Reporters Without Borders” came up with a statement that the forfeited prize of Bivol was a result of anarbitraryy decision and a hostile act (see here). The Director of Bivol, Asen Yordanov, commented in a TV interview that the long hand of Delyan Peevski was behind the forfeited prize, but it achieved the opposite effect, revealing “a hidden dictatorship, an authoritarian rule of the mafia-oligarchic clique that is holding the power for decades, thus the move to recall the award ended up being a very good assessment and an honor for Bivol”.

However, there are still people in Bulgaria who appreciate our efforts and deeds. Bivol was awarded by the Association of Industrial Capital in Bulgaria as a media that has contributed to changing public attitudes towards intolerance against the shadow economy.

 

Last year, we conducted video investigations that turned very popular – how to steal from the State Fund Agriculture; how to steal from road construction; #who and how is raiding somebody else’s business; how in the town ofTroyan the family of the close to Peevski infamous lawyer Mondeshki enjoys a cover-up to illegally seize through trustees enterprises, businesses and land. Here, the appreciation goes to our reporter Dimitar Stoyanov, who was at the forefront with a camera and microphone on the hot Bivol trails. As in 2015, in 2016, Dimitar was once again pressured, threatened and harassed as “Reporters Without Borders” noted at the end of the year.

Along with major national issues, we also dealt with local outrages such as those committed by the Mayor of the Black Sea town of Pomorie (see here).

Bivol also shed light on one emblematic party in the same Pomorie where shady businessmen were caught celebrating with magistrates the appointment of a local prosecutor a few days before a bloody mafia shootout in the nearby Sunny Beach resort. The party was held in a restaurant owned by Plamen Petkov, known as the boss of one of the gangs involved in the shootout. The dinner has also been attended by the Chief Secretary of the Interior Ministry, Georgi Kostov (and his wife) and the Member of the SJC, Yasen Todorov, a protagonist in Yanaeva Gate, who at that time were both supposed to be on an official business trip to the Black Sea Coast. The bloody assault permanently stained Bulgaria and its sea resorts as a dangerous tourist destination.

Otherwise, we continue to successfully fight in court the cases against. We are bombarded with them in an attempt to divert our attention. In vain! We even won the notorious case, filed by Monica Stanisheva, who wanted from us 56,000 levs over our revelations that exposed her of using the resources of the European Parliament in a conflict of interests due to the fact that her husband, former Bulgarian Prime Minister, Sergei Stanishev, is the leader of the Party of the European Socialist (PES). Our defense lawyer, Alexander Kashamov, was awarded the annual prize for Justice “Themis – the Price of Truth” of the Sofia Bar Association in the category “Case of 2016”, an award that he truly earned and deserves due to his brilliant defense.

Actually, January 2017 marks ten years since Bulgaria’s accession to the European Union. The time has come, dear readers, to destroy the mafia establishment. In this warfare in 2016, we managed to strike quite a few serious blows. We have the feeling and the confidence that in 2016 something cracked in the cast iron pedestal. Therefore, 2017 could prove crucial.

Bivol’s full success cannot happen without your help, dear readers, and especially without your moral support! Because Bivol is not a mainstream media. Bivol is a cause and everyone in our team is working voluntarily, without pay, and only because of their conviction.  We are all working other jobs to be able to contribute to the free and true investigative journalism. Practically, the entire budget of our media in 2016 came from the contributions of ordinary people, who, contrary to the establishment, the mafia, the oligarchs and the corrupt people in power, understand our role in the great war for freedom and the future of democracy in Bulgaria.

In the new 2017, dear readers and supporters, let’s wish each other to be healthy, strong and unwavering in our goals!

 

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