A letter is haunting Europe, a letter from Corporate Commercial Bank, KTB, to the Bulgarian section of German media Deutsche Welle. This letter prompted the media to dismiss journalists Emmy Baruch and Ivan Bedrov, who dared to write comments that were not liked by the Bank. The move shocked Bulgaria’s journalists’ guild. Deutsche Welle refused to provide the letter to them. However, it ended on Balkanleaks and from it, it emerged that the media has reacted to a slanderous accusation by the Bank.
The guild’s outrage prompted an unprecedented press conference of Deutsche Welle’s management. They arrived in Sofia to whitewash the scandal and to get an “on the sidelines” interview with the very chief of KTB, banker Tsvetan Vassilev.
At the briefing, we asked 3 questions: when was the KTB letter received by Deutsche Welle; when did the procedure for the dismissal of Emmy Baruh and Ivan Bedrov start, and what was the full text of the letter. The answer was that Deutsche Well does not publish their correspondence.
Deutsche Welle’s official position is that they did not succumb to pressure; Bedrov’s and Baruh’s dismissal was INDEPENDENT of the KTB letter, and all articles written by the authors were examined in detail. At the press conference, Christian Gramsch explained that the analysis of the articles also involved two independent translations. At the end, the management of DW has made the conclusion that the authors have breached the media’s journalistic standards.
An investigation of Bivol restored the following timeline of events:
- The document, leaked in Balkanleaks, shows that the letter was filed by KTB on Friday, August 30, and sent to DW by a courier service.
- The letter was received by DW on a date marked with X, but no earlier than September 2. It is a strange coincidence that precisely on September 2, the authors were warned to not mention in their articles KTB and Tsvetan Vassilev because “a legal issue had emerged.”
- On September 12, Baruh and Bedrov received an email from Verica Spasovka, notifying them that they have been dismissed after a thorough examination of their articles on grounds of “breaches of journalistic standards.”
The first question that pops up is how in the course of 8 workdays, DW managed to translate and analyze all articles of the two authors which have been dedicated to various issues. Scores, even hundreds of articles, as Emmy Baruh worked for DW for 24 years. This is, obviously, impossible.
J’accuse: Deutsche Welle is lying! They must say which exact texts were translated and analyzed, in addition to those listed in Tsvetan Vassilev’s letter.
The second question is related to timing – if the letter was sent on Friday and, let’s say, received on Monday, how come the entire editorial office got immediately mobilized to examine the case? Is it possible that the letter was preceded by a phone call?
Other issues revolve around journalistic standards: how is it possible for a respected media to part with an author, with whom it had been in partnership for 24 years, over 3 lines in an email? Moreover, on grounds of such clumsy accusation? Why after translating and analyzing all texts, DW refused to point facts in the comments of the two authors that contradict the truth? Why Verica Spasovska, who doesn’t work as journalist, but as manager in DW, interviewed banker Tsvetan Vasilev in person? They could have sent DW’s finance department head as well. Are these their standards?
At the end, everyone realized that the reality is quite different: Ivan Bedrov and Emmy Baruh have been dismissed due to pressure from KTB. The independent German public radio sent a dangerous signal to Bulgaria’s media community, which is also subjected to unprecedented in Europe pressure from the oligarchic power. What is even more unpleasant is that DW continues to cover up the truth, the very same truth an independent and respected media has the calling to serve.
If DW are indeed an independent media and work with established professional and democratic standards, as they claim, is their management going to give green light to a more detailed journalistic investigation in the issue of KTB, Tsvetan Vassilev, and the suffocation of free speech in Bulgaria? In this case, such investigation is simply a must for the media, discredited by this scandal. Is DW going to investigate KTB or, from now on, this bank will be a “taboo” topic for the editorial office as it is for most Bulgarian media? We will judge the real independence of DW by the answer to this question; its independence from oligarchic and mafia structures in Bulgaria and Eastern Europe.
Translation from German of the KTB letter to DW
Corporate Commercial Bank, JSC
File number 5160/30.08.2013
Mr. Peter Clever, Chairman of the Supervisory Board
Mr. Valentin Schmidt, Chairman of the Broadcasting Board
Mr. Eric Betterman, Director General on a Global Mission
Mr. Dr. Reinhard Hartstein, Administrative Director and Deputy Director General
Mr. Christoph Lanz, Director of Global Content
Ms. Ute Schaeffer, Editor in Chief for Regionalized Content
Mr. Christian Gramsch, Director Regionalized Content
Mr. Klaus Bergmann, Head of International Relations,
Mr. Peter Niepalla, Legal Advisor,
Mr. Andreas Hammerling, Auditor and Special Representative on Corruption
Dear editors and senior executives of Deutsche Welle,
With this letter we want to alert you about a worrying trend in your media that we have been following with concern.
Since the beginning of 2013, the Bulgarian office of Deutsche Welle has been leading a purposeful campaign to denigrate the name of Corporate Commercial Bank and the chairman of its Supervisory Board, Mr. Tsvetan Vasilev.
Journalists, including Ms. Emmy Baruch and Mr. Ivan Bedrov, use the internationally-renowned name of the prestigious and respected DW media to exert pressure on our company and to damage the reputation of Corporate Commercial Bank, KTB – a financial institution with 20 years of history, with innovative and sustainable approach and responsible attitude towards Bulgarian public and business community.
The Broadcasting Act, under federal law, which governs the creation, existence and purpose of your organization, lists among your priorities the mission to spread a wide picture of the political, cultural and economic life in the Federal Republic of Germany and to provide a publicly available and objective forum for discussions on important issues of society’s life in European countries and countries from other continents.
The biased discrediting of Corporate Commercial Bank and Mr. Tsvetan Vassilev is in gross contradiction with these priorities and does not contribute in any way to the exchange of ideas, culture and values between countries, based on objectivity, dialogue and understanding, which your consider to be your guiding principles.
We believe that you, as recognized experts and leaders of a media with more than 1,500 employees from over 60 countries, following an assessment of these facts, will immediately take the necessary measures to put an end to this inappropriate campaign.
The latter is of common interest as it would prevent the transfer of the case to the responsible national and European authorities and institutions.
In this particular case, we want to present to your attention the contents of 13 articles, published since the beginning of 2013 until now, (see Annex, translation of articles in German). Among them, you will find the publications of Mrs. Emmy Baruch and Mr. Ivan Bedrov, together with comments of their colleagues.
We emphasize that Corporate Commercial Bank and Mr. Tsvetan Vasilev have not been approached for their views and opinions for even one single article. As you will be undoubtedly convinced that these authors are biased, one-sided, negatively burdened and prejudiced, you will also see that they do not refer to any official data as evidence. The information in these publications is not based on consistent facts and has not been confirmed by independent sources.
Such campaign, undeniably, discredits DW as an independent media and leaves the Bulgarian and international public with an impression of false and misleading reporting, which is harmful for the trust you enjoy as a globally-recognized media.
As we believe that this was a case of abuse of the authority and reputation of Deutsche Welle, but do not wish to change your policy and guidelines, which have earned you credibility around the world, we want to use this letter to express our position on these formulated statements:
Publications of Ms. Emmy Baruh
1. In an article from January 11, 2013, she writes:
“All this started at the end of last year when the controversial deal for the resale of the former media empire of WAZ was sealed. On the last workday of the year, a bank which Ambassador Beyrle called one of the “bad apples” in the financial sector in Bulgaria – Investbank of Petya Slavova – bought out the debts of the media holding and became majority owner in the dailies “Trud” and “24 Hours.” This way, the canvassing group of Borisov’s cronies – the print media of Delyan Peevski, Irena Krasteva and Tsvetan Vassilev – expanded by adding several newspapers.”
It seems necessary to point out that Mr. Tsvetan Vassilev does not own, nor is he financing media. In this regard, speculations that he is associated with the newspapers of Ms. Irena Krasteva are biased misrepresentation of the fact that one of the companies of Ms. Krasteva is a business client of Corporate Commercial Bank.
Business links between individuals and legal entities, in all there possible forms, are easier and quicker to establish by checking the public registries that exist in Bulgaria and that are constantly updated. For example, a check in the Trade Registry indicates that such links between Mr. Delyan Peevski and Mr. Tsvetan Vassilev or between Ms. Irena Krasteva and Mr. Tsvetan Vassilev do not exist. The latter can also be verified, without any difficulty, by checking the information systems Apis, Ciela, Lakorda, Epi or other registries in Bulgaria.
As any other bank, Corporate Commercial Bank has thousands of customers, mainly legal entities. It is therefore futile and unfair to attribute to every one of them business connections with Corporate Commercial Bank. It is also unacceptable to use typical banking matters as basis for suggestions – through unfounded accusations, manipulative and negative propaganda – that the Bank provides financial support for the operation of shady structures and media circles.
In this regard, Mr. Tsvetan Vassilev has repeatedly spoken in person before serious media and their journalists, who sought his opinion on the above accusations, and has explained that neither he, nor Corporate Commercial Bank own media or finance them.
In even more detail:
– In an interview on February 19, 2011, for the newspaper “Trud,” issue 48, page 18, to the question: “Is it true that you fund private media with government money?” Mr. Tsvetan Vassilev explicitly answered: “No, I do not finance any media through the Bank.”
– In an interview on May 13, 2010, for “Pari” (Money), issue 88, page 12, to the question: “Are you funding media, Mr. Vassilev?” he answers clearly and unambiguously: “Corporate Commercial Bank does not finance media.”
Secondly, you should be aware of the publically known fact that Corporate Commercial Bank is a competitor of INVESTBANK on the Bulgarian market. In this sense, there is no sound logic and reason whatsoever into the allegations that Mr. Vassilev is involved in a print media “propaganda group,” with or without Ms. Petya Slavova.
2. In an article from March 15, 2013, under the title “Fantasy World in which Tsvetan Vassilev also Hovers,” Ms. Emmy Baruch wrote:
“Speaking of tomorrow, we could only dream that: the team of Marin Raykov will take out the money of the State from Tsvetan Vassilev’s bank; that he will replace the members of political offices at ministries; that he will take out the money of the State from Tsvetan Vassilev’s bank; that the contracted concessions and privatizations, inked “yesterday,” will be frozen; that he will take out the money of the State from Tsvetan Vassilev’s bank; (…) that he will release the next Cabinet from the deadly grip of Tsvetan Vassilev…”
First and foremost, we believe that despite a certain amount of “fantasy,” an economically literate journalist, who has the confidence to write about political, financial and economic issues on behalf of an internationally recognized media, such as yours, should distinguish between “money of the State ” and “money of companies where the State owns majority stake.” It is a known fact that those companies, with majority State ownership, which at that time deposited their money in Corporate Commercial Bank, have made their decision completely independently, under conditions of intense competition among financial institutions, and after a tender based on clear financial indicators, which brought them a proven maximum profitability, combined with competent and full service. Furthermore, it is known that the funding by the Bank in any form was focused on the entirety of the activities of these enterprises, which were offered favorable terms to enable them to achieve short and long-term goals.
It is also necessary to clarify that the resources of State-owned companies, which are clients of Corporate Commercial Bank, do not exceed 8% of the total assets of the Bank. This shows that Corporate Commercial Bank does not rely on “the money of the State” for its own existence, nor is it dependent on it.
Secondly, you should be aware that most statements about the so-called concentration of deposits of public companies in Corporate Commercial Bank, are generated by the so-called circle “Capital,” headed by businessman and media owner, Mr. Ivo Prokopiev, and these statements refer to deposits of State-owned companies in the energy sector.
We emphasize that there are hundreds of State-owned enterprises in Bulgaria that belong to other sectors and they are not clients of Corporate Commercial Bank.
Regarding the hope, voiced in the article by Ms. Emmy Baruh, that the Prime Minister “will release the next cabinet from the deadly grip of Tsvetan Vassilev,” we want to emphasize that banker Tsvetan Vasilev, who has been repeatedly praised with most prestigious awards in the financial sector and in the economy in Bulgaria and abroad, is not involved in politics. Such polarizing statements demonstrate not only lack of fundamental journalistic sense and good judgment, but ignorance regarding the objective reality of Bulgaria’s political and economic life.
3. In her article from May 27, 2013, Ms. Emmy Baruch repeats her accusations against the financial institution and the Chairman of its Supervisory Board:
“A few days ago, the majority owner of Corporate Commercial Bank, Tsvetan Vassilev, appeared on the pages of the Austrian newspaper “Der Standard” in an interview, which will remain in the history of our transition period as model for boldest audacity.”
For your information, we attach the original interview in order for you to decide yourselves whether this was an objective assessment of Mrs. Emmy Baruh regarding the said “boldest audacity.”
In the same article, Ms. Emmy Baruh writes:
“…the direct link between the Bank of Tsvetan Vassilev and media monopoly is well known only to professionally tempted people. Very few are aware of the mechanisms, created by the tandem Vassilev–Peevski (& Co), for the functioning of a network of financial, political, regulatory and judicial dependencies. This network extends to the entire public sector and is used for “executions on town squares” and for edification of the “misbehaving.”
In addition to the above statements being inconsistent and controversial, they are also wrong. Corporate Commercial Bank is a public company whose shares are traded on the Bulgarian Stock Exchange. All financial data and information on direct and indirect holdings, links to natural persons and legal entities, and on control, etc. regarding the Bank and the Chairman of its Supervisory Board, Mr. Tsvetan Vassilev, are publicly available. By law, they are subject to mandatory publication and regular updates and are being verified by a number of regulatory agencies in Bulgaria.
It is unacceptable in principle for us to publish on behalf of Deutsche Welle direct accusations of a connection between a media monopoly and political, regulatory, and legal dependencies, and other conspiracy mechanisms that involve the name of our institution or of the Chairman of its Supervisory Board. These slanders are not relevant to facts and evidence; do not rely on any checks or references to different or objective information sources, and fully contradict the ethics of journalism, and the business, political, and social logic.
Let us point out that Corporate Commercial Bank is trusted by many foreign shareholders, partners and corporate customers that have excellent reputation in the international community, including global companies such as ” Generalli Group” Italy, ” VTB Capital,” the State Fund of the Sultan of Oman and many others. Thus, we also interpret groundless accusations against Corporate Commercial Bank as an attempt to damage its reputation, something we consider unacceptable.
Besides discrediting the Bank, such false accusations can lead to serious destabilization of the domestic banking and financial system, and respected media, like yours, will be held responsible about the consequences as well.
The last paragraph of the quoted article states:
“From the height of its millions, the angry Tsvetan Vassilev takes an aggressive posture; intimidated by the possibility the source of his money will be drained. Hopefully, this will be the beginning of the partial collapse of the perverse propaganda network funded by these same millions.”
The accusation that Mr. Tsvetan Vassilev finances a “propaganda network” is yet the next intolerable attack. You should know that before this, anonymous denunciations on Corporate Commercial Bank were sent to the European Commission, and they were similar in style and in meaning to the author’s articles. After a thorough examination, the European institution found no evidence backing the accusations and the case was closed.
Please, also note the fact that the very same Mr. Tsvetan Vassilev was a consultant for one of the most successful investment projects in Bulgaria. With his extensive expertise and his analysis, he won the recognition and trust of many world-class international partners, who were able to realize in Bulgaria a number of projects in the energy, financial services, insurance, telecommunications, transport infrastructure, international trade and other sectors. Through the support and partnership of Mr. Tsvetan Vassilev, many Bulgarian companies that were clients of Corporate Commercial Bank in these difficult times, are now among the largest taxpayers in Bulgaria.
Moreover, malicious attacks on Mr. Tsvetan Vassilev and Corporate Commercial Bank by interested political and economic circles are continuing as bullying attempts to carry out reprisals by specially appointed journalists in different media, which in the last year, unfortunately, include your own.
4. To further prove the abuse of Deutsche Welle’s name, we translated two other articles by Ms. Emmy Baruh (“In the Center of Bulgaria’s Disgrace” – from April 3, 2013 and the “Triangle Tsatsarov-Peevski-Tsvetanov” from May 31, 2013).
In them, without any evidence and sources, she continues to:
– Argue that Corporate Commercial Bank has control over media;
– Use the term “the media company of Vassilev, Krasteva-Peevski & Co” as the embodiment of an evil media group that serves private corporate interests;
– Impose contempt for Mr. Tsvetan Vassilev, claiming that he affects negatively the overall political life.
We categorically reject these and other similar statements. For us they are a sign of arrogance, lack of professionalism, and intention to discredit by defamation. They are also offensive for the readers of the media itself, which uncontrollably spreads these allegations.
II. Publications of Mr. Ivan Bedrov:
1. In the introduction to an article from May 6, 2013, he wrote:
“The vicious system discussed here is well-known to everyone – government money goes into a bank which creates its own media monopoly that serves those in power, regardless of who they are.”
This paragraph does not make clear which exact bank this is, but it becomes crystal clear later:
“Caretaker Prime Minister Marin Raykov said that by March 31, 54% of the money of State-owned companies has been deposited in one single bank. Citing bank secrecy, he did not name the bank, but we all know that this is Corporate Commercial Bank of Tsvetan Vassilev, which finances the media monopoly of Irena Krasteva and her son Delyan Peevski. This is the first official data on this subject.”
This quote is biased and manipulative because of the conspiracy and false insinuations in the author’s introduction and of the false announcement that “Corporate Commercial Bank of Tsvetan Vassilev finances the media monopoly of Irena Krasteva and her son Delyan Peevski,” which is masqueraded as “official information, coming from an official report of Prime Minister Marin Raykov.” The last sentence: “This is the first official data on this subject,” changes the meaning of the entire text.
The words of caretaker PM Raykov that “by March 31, 54% of the money of State-owned companies has been deposited one single bank” is used to wage unfounded accusations against Corporate Commercial Bank and Mr. Tsvetan Vassilev, and the claims of the author are intentionally and indiscriminately attributed to the Prime Minister.
2. In his comment on May 27, 2013, Mr. Ivan Bedrov writes:
“Huge financial resources are concentrated in the hands of an economic actor, who becomes disproportionately larger than the rest; who oversteps powerfully in other sectors; distorts the environment, and turns extremely aggressive when someone else reaches for this power. Here we must remember how Tsvetan Vassilev attacked President Plevneliev in an interview with the Austrian newspaper “Der Standard,” just after the caretaker government announced plans for new rules on State money. Vassilev’s attack also had a sequel in the media empire of Corporate Commercial Bank.”
The allegations and the insinuations of Mr. Ivan Bedrov are intentionally false and in no way do they correspond to the objective reality.
According to official data of the Bulgarian National Bank (BNB) from December 2012, in March 2013 and in June 2013, Corporate Commercial Bank ranked fifth by the amount of assets among Bulgarian banks. This indicator shows that four larger banks exist in Bulgaria.
This information has been officially confirmed by BNB, which conducts continuous and comprehensive control over the activities of all commercial banks. This contradicts directly the claim of the author that Corporate Commercial Bank has evolved into “an economic actor, disproportionately larger than the rest.”
Such unprecedented distortion of official facts and their replacement with the author’s fictitious statements, give the impression of a deliberate attempt to discredit the financial institution and the Chairman of its Supervisory Board through the public media Deutsche Welle, something we consider unacceptable.
3. In a comment from Aug. 5, 2013 (“Two Facts and a Few Coincidences”) Mr. Ivan Bedrov writes:
“Channel 3 has a new owner – the wife of Lyubomir Minchev, a partner of the famous businessman from London, Spas Roussev, whose friends built the economic team around former king Simeon Saxe-Goburg. Minchev is one of the people caught on camera on a yaght in Monaco, where the group included a smuggler, convicted of money laundering, who was shot and murdered later, two ministers and one Member of the Parliament. Another person from the photo, Milen Velchev, today manages the representation of the Russian bank VTB, which carries out joint projects in Bulgaria with Corporate Commercial Bank of Tsvetan Vassilev. They are the financial back of Delyan Peevski, allowing the latter to conquer the Bulgarian media market.”
The quote clearly shows how authors like Mr. Ivan Bedrov continue with firmness and without any control to connect Corporate Commercial Bank with media and people with which and with whom the bank has no connections. It is unfortunate when a globally recognized media, which proclaims freedom of speech and fair journalism, seamlessly becomes a tool for systematic and targeted vilification of individuals and institutions in order to settle personal and business accounts.
As it is widely known, Mr. Velchev was finance minister during the government of Mr. Simeon Saxe-Coburg from 2001 to 2005. The personal decision of Mr. Velchev as finance minister to be on a yacht in the company of certain persons in 2002 is in no way linked to projects of “VTB Capital” or of Corporate Commercial Bank. Furthermore, in 2002, “VTB Capital” and Corporate Commercial Bank did not yet have a business relationship, nor was Mr. Velchev then representing “VTB Capital” in Bulgaria, as this representation was launched in February 2012.
It should be clear that in the objective sense, Corporate Commercial Bank is not responsible for the private live and the behavior of its partners, nor does it deal with it.
III. Articles by Mr. Nikolay Tsekov and other journalists (“Where Now after the Collapse Peevski?”, “Bulgarians Are Now Different,” “The Warm Relationship between Media and Power”):
It is difficult to ascertain who the author is for some of the deliberate and targeted publications of Deutsche Welle – the names are marked only with initials or abbreviations. Such are the articles of Prof. Ivaylo Dichev (denoted as I. Dichev) or of another journalist, who writes against Corporate Commercial Bank, under the initials A.G.
The common denominator for all these articles are their authors, uncritically citing only chosen “experts,” who are negatively biased, in speaking out against Corporate Commercial Bank and Mr. Tsvetan Vassilev, without collecting alternative opinions or comments, e.g.:
1. According to an article by Nikolai Tsekov from June 6, 2013:
“Ognyan Minchev is convinced that the government is fully prepared to serve the oligarchic circles behind Delyan Peevski and banker Tsvetan Vassilev.”
2. In an article, dated June 20, Prof. Ivaylo Dichev says:
“Evgeny Daynov, for example, is urging the government to withdraw its money from Vassilev’s and Minev’ banks; to disclose media offshore companies, and to end monopolies.”
3. In an article from August 3, 2013, the author with initials AG writes:
“In the media empire of Delyan Peevski, for example, a large share belongs to Corporate Commercial Bank, in which the money of most State-owned enterprises is deposited, so its director, Tsvetan Vassilev, plays an important role in the political parties’ coalition.”
4. The following is written in an article of Mr. Nikolay Tsekov, dated August 6:
“During the terms of the two previous governments, the money of the State was in the Bank of Tsvetan Vassilev” and “the media empire of Delyan Peevski, controlled by Corporate Commercial Bank, not only provides comfort for the country’s rulers and media-makers, but also offers a special service” – lynching of political opponents.”
As we show only a part of the numerous examples of unsubstantiated attacks, we clearly distance ourselves and condemn such arguments, which are nothing other than cheap propaganda.
In addition, we want to draw your attention to a few facts that reveal how these publications about Tsvetan Vassilev and Corporate Commercial Bank are simply prejudiced:
1. The smear campaign against the good name and reputation of the credit institution and of the Chairman of its Supervisory Board is conducted by circles around the media group “Capital.” It encompasses companies and media owned by Mr. Ivo Prokopiev – a Bulgarian businessman having serious financial difficulties and huge debts to banks, companies and individuals.
2. The circle around “Capital” is connected with a network of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) whose common donors are organizations of the “Open Society” type of George Soros.
3. Journalists Ms. Emmy Baruh and Mr. Ivan Bedrov previously worked in the management of print media of Mr Prokopiev. Specifically, Mr. Bedrov was editor-in-chief of the newspaper “Capital Daily” from 2011 to 2012, and Mrs. Baruh – editor-in-chief of the lifestyle magazine “One.”
4. Journalists Ms. Emmy Baruh and Mr. Ivan Bedrov, to this day, are still members of the boards of NGOs funded by George Soros.
Please note that the negative campaign led by these journalists – and indirectly by your media – targets one of the most socially responsible and successful financial institutions in recent years.
Corporate Commercial Bank has achieved its sustainable growth thanks to a stable trade policy and the successful management of risks, the increase of the acquired funds, the transparency in communicating with customers and partners, and by providing comprehensive financial solutions and promising business ideas.
The strengths of the Bank’s profile consist of excellent knowledge of target groups, focusing on export companies, stable customer base, grounded on longstanding relationships with leading companies in trade, energy and utilities, construction, manufacturing industry, machinery and others sectors.
As result of a sustained market presence, of its management and broad policy of social responsibility, Corporate Commercial Bank was honored with many prestigious awards, which provide a clear and objective public assessment about the overall activities of the Bank.
Hoping that you will take into account the above, and proceeding from the firm conviction that the Bulgarian version of Deutsche Welle will regain the prestige of a nonpartisan media, which applies universal principles of objectivity, dialogue, professionalism and versatility in the presentation of all the facts, we sign this with respect,
Orlin Russev, Chairman of the Board of Directors and CEO
Ilian Zaphirov, Member of the Board of Directors and CEO
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