One grounds of a media appearance

Empire Strikes Back: “Special Unit” Launches Disciplinary Action against Investigator Boyko Atanassov

Екип на Биволъ

A disciplinary action has been launched in December 2017 against Boyko Atanassov, the well-known whistleblower of corrupt practices at the Prosecutor’s Office on the grounds of assertions he made during a TV political talk show on September 19, 2017. The investigator has not been given the opportunity to defend himself because he has been denied access to the disciplinary action documents.

During said TV interview, Atanasov commented on the visit of Russian Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika to Sofia, the lack of justice in Bulgaria and in particular on violations committed by Ivan Geshev, appointed as Head of the Special Prosecutor’s Office. Atanassov announced that Geshev uses “dirty” techniques in his work, such as agreements (with individuals who had admitted guilt) that are “to put it mildly” “shameful” and “bargains with organized criminal groups (OCG).”

Following the broadcast, Prosecutor Genera Sotir Tsatsarov referred Atanassov to the Ethics Commission of the Appellate Prosecutor’s Office, which summoned him for a hearing. After nearly two months, the Commission decided that Atanassov had not been acting professionally in relation to Geshev. Immediately thereafter, the Head of the Sofia City Prosecutor’s Office, Emilia Russinova, instituted a disciplinary proceeding against Atanassov. He has not been informed about it until December 5, 2017 and has not been given the opportunity to get acquainted with the documents from the case. Atanassov has even been denied a copy of Russinova’s order, thus he has been prevented from participating in the proceedings against him.

Atanassov sees this as a “revenge” by Russinova as he had filed earlier a complaint against her for pressuring two cleaning ladies at the Sofia Investigation Services to leave by mutual consent because they had no education. In this same complaint, Atanassov had also reported evidence of numerous cases of cronyism and nepotism among magistrates.

Such a scenario has already been played against other magistrates who have expressed disagreement, albeit much softer, with Tsatsarov’s policy. They have been dismissed for talking to the media, nevertheless, similar dismissals never hold water in court.

Meanwhile, magistrates close to Tsatsarov’s circle are never sanctioned with disciplinary actions despite committing very serious offenses. This is the case with a prosecutor who beat up a child for jumping the line in a school cafeteria. The Ethics Commission of the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) refused to deal with this case and he was sanctioned only with a “reprimand”. This same prosecutor, Dimitar Frantisek is mostly known for crushing the pre-trial proceedings in the “Yaneva Gate” scandal, in which there was evidence of serious corruption and disregard for the separation of powers on the part of Sotir Tsatsarov, Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, and a number of high-ranking magistrates.

According to Atanassov, the Prosecutor’s Office is contradicting and violating fundamental principles of law and the Constitution. The investigator is challenging the disciplinary proceeding in court over Russinova’s refusal to inform him about the violation that has served as grounds of these proceedings.

President of Special Prosecution acts as “lawyer” of an organized crime group ringleader

Parallel to the referral to the Ethics Commission, Tsatsarov ordered the Supreme Prosecutor’s Office of Cassations to conduct another investigation to establish if and what shameful agreements and bargaining with organized criminal groups have been carried out by Geshev. This investigation is led by Albena Pancheva, Prosecutor at the Supreme Prosecutor’s Office of Cassations.

Boyko Atanassov has presented to Pancheva eight pages with facts on the subject, backed by a number of decrees and a specific agreement in support of his allegations. This is an agreement between the OCG known as the “Untouchables 1” and Ivan Geshev. He took this case as the third prosecutor in a row, at a time when the group’s leader and part of its members had already admitted their guilt. In the Supreme Prosecutor’s Office of Cassations, the “Untouchables” case is monitored by Prosecutor Vanya Nestorova, who is considered an expert in investigating financial crimes.

Ivan Geshev’s first action after taking over it was to ask judges to accept the request of the defense council to release from detention their client – the leader of the crime group in question.

At the time of this court session, the OCG leader had already been in custody for about five months and, under the law, he could be held in custody for up to two years. During the hearing on the detention measure, Judge Nikolay Mladenov did not really an arbitrator since there was only one side – the defendant, his lawyer and the prosecutor in the case – Ivan Geshev –as they all asked for a change in the measure. More details will be revealed in a separate publication.

The whistleblower and the “Special Unit”

Boyko Atanassov gained wide popularity and public support in 2016, when in a series of interviews with Bivol (see here, here and here) he revealed the existence of a Special Unit in the Sofia City Prosecutor’s Office as well as other corrupt practices. At that moment, Russinova was the head of the 1st “Specialized” Department of the Sofia City Prosecutor’s Office, which is actively working with the 1st “Specialized” Unit of the Sofia Investigation Services. Later, she became the “preferred” candidate to lead the Sofia City Prosecutor’s Office.

Atanassov’s revelations from February 2016 caused great discontent among the SJC. The investigator was “invited” to a hearing by the Ethics Committee, but in fact he was heard by the entire Council. The “event” was attended by about 30 investigators and prosecutors from the Sofia City Prosecutor’s Office and the Sofia Investigation Services.

The SJC questioned Atanassov for more than four hours, but failed to rebut the facts he had presented and to send the disobedient investigator to court, despite their strong desire to do so. Meanwhile, the SJC refused to hold a hearing of Prosecutor General Sotir Tsatsarov and probe his activity, as part of the investigation into Atanassov’s revelations.

In the aftermath of all this, Atanassov continued to alert the media about the existence of serious corruption in the Prosecutor’s Office. His activity did not remain without consequences. It became clear that he was one of the magistrates who had been tapped illegally. His car was stolen and he later found himself in a strange incident that could cost human lives. The hood of the new car suddenly opened while he was driving at full speed with his family. Fortunately, no one was harmed.

The magistrate also spoke about his “misfortunes” in a videotaped interview with the Organized Crime Investigation and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), which presented the faces of the victims of corruption in a special media project.

In one of his latest interviews with Bivol, Boyko Atanassov commented that the Bulgarian State is governed by a mafia and politics synergy. “We are talking about something huge, very serious and scary; something similar to what Italy had in the past and dealt with it to overcome it…,” he said without being particularly optimistic that this can happen in our country as well.



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