Emblematic Bulgarian Newspaper Sold by Private Legal Agent

by Божидар Божков

Milen Bazinski, a private legal agent (PLA) in the Bulgarian capital Sofia, has scheduled a public sale (auction) of all trademarks of the newspaper Standard News. It will be held by the end of the workday on December 18, 2019, in the Sofia District Court. This information is published on Bazinski’s personal web site (see here). Among the trademarks for sale is “The Wonders of Bulgaria”, under which the media organized, together with the rich Bulgarian municipalities, various forums and events. The buyer will be announced on December 19 at 11:00 am.

The Standard newspaper has been in dire straits for years and has let go of over 90% of its employees. Currently, it is published as a weekly, but it is unclear exactly how many people work there. According to former editorial staff, it now consists of only four people. Many former employees have managed to sue successfully the media for unpaid wages and benefits, but almost no one has received the money. According to them, the crisis had started about five years ago, adding that while the newspaper had been publishing extensive interviews with wealthy businessmen the editorial office had been receiving some money, but the moment these interviews had stopped so had the money. The editor-in-chief of the newspaper Slavka Bozukova admitted that such a sale had actually been announced. However, she declined to comment, saying it was corporate information.

“As of the end of 2018, I am not on the Board of Directors of Standard. There are other people out there already and you can contact them,” she said.

However, Bozukova is still one of the largest shareholders in the publishing house since she holds the main stake in “Master PR” JSC, which is one of the two owners of Standard News JSC. The other is the largely unknown group “Press Group Utro”, based in the Danube city of Ruse. It is believed that it belongs to controversial media mogul and lawmaker Delyan Peevski through straw people and it publishes the Ruse newspaper Utro (Morning). The same company is also the publisher of three other regional media that are also part of Peevski’s portfolio – Struma in the city of Blagoevgrad, and Maritsa in the cities of Plovdiv and Haskovo. The owner of “Press Group Utro” is “BG Private Invest”, registered in Vienna, Austria – a favorite cover destination for many Bulgarian oligarchs’ businesses. The company became infamous several years ago over a dispute about ownership of the newspapers Trud (Labor) and 24 Chassa (24 Hours). At that time, partners Ognyan Donev and Lyubomir Pavlov accused “BG Private Invest’s” representative Hristo Grozev of secretly trying to sneak in Delyan Peevski as an owner through his stakes in the publications. Donev and Pavlov were removed later from the ownership of both newspapers with the help of prosecutorial proceedings against them and the papers’ editorial policy merged with the media propaganda of Peevski’s publications.

The Board currently consists of the unknown in the media Georgi Ivanov and Lyuben Lyubenov. Information on both of them indicates that they had not have any serious business, even more so a media one. An attempt by a Bivol reporter to find them took him to a village in northeastern Bulgaria, populated mainly by Roma. Asked if the bosses on the Board of Standard were Roma, Ms. Bozukova laughed: “But please. They are here, come, you will see them.” However, the third member of the Board is associated precisely with Peevski’s “Press Group Utro”. The company is also a member of the “United Bulgarian Newspapers JVC”, together with other editions controlled by Peevski, such as Monitor, Novinar (News Reporter), 7 dni Sport (7 Days Sport), Compact Meridian and others. Bazinski’s site shows that Standard has pledged its trademarks in Investbank, mentioned in US diplomatic cables as one of the “bad apples” Bulgarian banks. Bazinski’s office declined to clarify whether Investbank or a third party claimant had initiated the auction.

The trademark Standard is the most expensive and it is offered for BGN 140,000. Standard Media is offered for BGN 56,000, while “The Wonders of Bulgaria” is worth BGN 28,000. Regarding Milen Bazinski’s site, there is another curious side effect, because it is so constructed that while loading the announcement for Standard, it also plays the sound of a Serbian pop folk song. The PLAs office explained the sound background with this being their boss’s favorite song and he had been very keen to have it play with each public sale announcement and their other activities.

However, the sound system uses Flash Player, recognized by experienced IT programmers as one of the most dangerous software since flaws in its encoding have proven to be a popular way of hacking. That is why most visitors of Bazinski’s page would not have the pleasure to hear his favorite song as modern browsers are blocking the use of Flash Player by default.

The Standard newspaper was one of the first newspapers to emerge after the fall of the Communist regime. The former agent of the Communist secret services, the State Security, Krasimir Stoychev, and the connected to him “Throne Group” launched it in 1992. They printed the newspaper on blue paper and in the Vienna Der Standard format. At the beginning of 1995, it was competing with editions with the largest circulation in Bulgaria. During its good years, the newspaper was published as a daily with over 150,000 copies and as a weekly with 124 pages. At the time, Standard published unique journalistic investigations and the newspaper was among the most independent print media. Subsequently, Stoychev replaced the editorial staff and the ownership passed into the hands of lawyer and businessman Todor Batkov. After he went bankrupt, he sold the media to a group affiliated with alcohol beverage producer “Vinprom Peshtera” and Delyan Peevski. Standard’s print edition was stopped in early November 2018, heralding its end.

Standard is just one of a number of print publications in Bulgaria affected by stagnation in the industry. Many have already ceased to exist. Others are expected to follow their path. On January 1, 2020, the heir to one of the oldest Bulgarian newspapers – Culture, in existence since 1957, will disappear from the market. Around the same time, the Sega (Now) newspaper will no longer be a daily and will only be published on Saturday. However, the sale of Standard can be interpreted also as a clear indication that the media of oligarch Delyan Peevski are also beginning to suffer financially. Nevertheless, the question remains whether the bankruptcy and the sale of Standard would be the start of future major changes and redistribution of the press in Bulgaria, monopolized since 2007, when Peevski began a massive buy-out of media outlets and groups with the money of the now-collapsed Corporate Commercial Bank.

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