‘Coronavirus’ Dates Reach Bulgarian Red Cross

A truck carrying more than 10 metric tons of dates, shipped from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and presented by the government as medical supplies, was unloaded on April 16, 2020 at the Red Cross warehouse in the village of Dolni Lozen near the capital Sofia. A Bivol reporter took pictures of the unloading.

The dates are from UAE manufacturer Al Foah, which advertises itself as “the ambassador of dates of the UAE”.

The Emirates is known for producing the palm fruit. The UAE dates are considered to be of better quality than the Iranian ones.

“Good, nutritious food”

Bivol revealed on 15 April 2020 that the 15 tons of “medical supplies” delivered from the UAE on April 13, 2020, by the national flag carrier Bulgaria Air consist of a small number of masks and protective footwear and plenty of dates.

The shipment from the Emirates was touted by the authorities as a great success in the fight against the coronavirus and the dates were not mentioned, not even once.

An official government message was broadcast across all media and boasted the following – the UAE provides 15 tons of medical supplies to Bulgaria, masks, gloves, disinfectants, and clothing, as well as food.

“Two companies, Gradus and Intrust, have concluded a very serious deal with the United Arab Emirates. It concerns the exchange of 32 tons of food with the UAE against which we received 15 tons of medical supplies. The companies funded the transport and the State paid nothing. This is great help because the shipment consists of protective gear such as masks, gloves and clothing,” said General Mutafchiyski, the head of the national coronavirus taskforce at its regularly scheduled press briefing on April 14, 2020, at the Council of Ministers.

If indeed the shipment contained 15 tons of masks, this would be equivalent to 3 million masks. However, only 69,000 masks were actually delivered, the Red Cross said.

The two Bulgarian companies, Intrust of the controversial lawmaker and media mogul Delyan Peevski and Gradus, associated with Agriculture Minister Desislava Taneva, have sent 32 tons of lamb meat, dairy products and vegetables to Dubai against the dates. Bivol also obtained photographs of the loading of the lamb meat at Sofia Airport.

Economy Minister Emil Karanikolov, who accompanied the shipment to Abu Dhabi, commented for Bivol that dates were “good, nutritious food” and would be distributed to social patronage. It is not clear why they didn’t distribute the lamb meat to the poor, which is also a nice food, in addition to being traditionally served at the Easter table.

The unfavorable deal with the UAE is probably part of a diplomatic move to conceal a big blunder by Bulgarian prosecutor’s office. According to media reports, Bulgarian prosecutors and police had visited the Emirates and had requested a meeting with fugitive gambling boss Vassil Bozhkov and his partner Georgi Popov. The UAE authorities had agreed to the meeting and had brought the two partners, but Bulgarian cops then tried to kidnap them.

There had been a physical confrontation with local police, triggering a huge diplomatic scandal, after which Bulgarian Prosecutor General Ivan Geshev, the mastermind of the operation, disappeared from the media spotlight. In the meantime, Bulgaria’s Ambassador in Abu Dhabi has been summoned several times by the UAE Foreign Ministry for explanations.

In this context, “Operation Lamb Meat against Dates” takes on the meaning of sending gifts to the sheikhs, a diplomatic practice known since ancient times.

Censorship on dates

The Bulgarian authorities remain silent about this scandal, which exposes not only a dubious deal but also obvious shenanigans by the authorities and the national taskforce to fight the coronavirus.

On April 15, 2020, Bulgaria on Air TV, which is owned by Varna-based TIM Holding, described in US diplomatic cables as an organized crime group, broadcast a report on DateGate. The video was immediately removed from the official website of the media but can still be found in Google’s cache. It was replaced by a short news story without video coverage. Bivol posted the deleted video on its Facebook page (see here).

TIM and Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov have had business relationships in the 1990s, revolving around cigarette smuggling, as Bivol revealed.

A question asked by our media via the official Facebook page of the Consulate General of Bulgaria in Dubai was also censored. We posted our question under the information that only 20 tons of Bulgarian goods had arrived in Abu Dhabi, not 32 tons, as announced by the Council of Ministers.

We then approached the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and its representatives replied that they had nothing to do with the removal of Bivol’s post but would still send a note to the Bulgarian Consul General in Dubai, Ivan Yordanov.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs: “The Facebook profile of the Consulate General in Dubai is maintained by the Consulate. The Ministry removes user comments only if they contain hate speech. We will ask the Consulate to adjust their Facebook policy.”

The press service of the Council of Ministers has not answered still exactly how much food has been sent to the UAE – 20 tons or 32 tons.


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