Lawsuit is described as typical SLAPP, aimed at silencing and destroying inconvenient media

Eurohold Bulgaria sues Bivol for the record sum of €0,5 mln.

This court case is a threat for freedom of speech, attorney Alexander Kashumov said to AEJ, EP and Reporters without Borders representatives
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”A large Bulgarian company is suing investigative website Bivol for the record-high amount of 1 million BGN.”

That is what attorney Alexander Kashumov announced at an event organized by the Association of European Journalists (AEJ) and the European Parliament Liaison Office in Sofia. The topic of the discussion was the undue use of judicial actions against journalists and activists. Kashumov, who is recognized as one of the leading experts in civil and EU law, heads the legal team of the Access to Information Programme and is Bivol’s legal counsel. Bivol’s director Assen Yordanov was served with a court summons of 8 December 2021 and the notice makes it clear that Eurohold is the plaintiff in the case.

Attorney Alexander Kashumov took part in the discussion’s second panel, dedicated to the experience of Bulgarian media and NGOs in dealing with lawsuits filed against them.

Attorney Alexander Kashumov

A little while ago we heard about an example from Portugal, where a media outlet was sued for half a million Euro. And now this is already happening in Bulgaria too – a company advertising itself as the biggest in Bulgaria, listed on the stock exchange, etc., and which is now also an investor in the energy sector, has filed a lawsuit against investigative website Bivol and has estimated its economic interests to be worth 1 million Bulgarian levs.

According to Bivol’s attorney, the company has cited a Bivol article as grounds for their claim.

„The claim has been submitted as a partial case on the basis of a critical publication. The company states that they actually incurred losses and foregone benefits as a result of Bivol’s investigation, Alexander Kashumov explained.

„Unfortunately lawsuits of this type are not an exception and they have become more and more frequent in Bulgaria.

Meanwhile, the director of the investigative website Bivol was served with a court summons on Wednesday, 8 December 2921, which makes it clear that the claim was made on behalf of the insurance company Eurohold Bulgaria (registered at Christopher Columb Blvd 43 in Sofia).

It is a scandal that news of the claim was received on the very day when AEJ Bulgaria and the European Parliament Liaison Office in Sofia were holding an event dedicated to the so-called SLAPP cases (strategic lawsuit against public participation). In addition to attorney Alexander Kashumov, other participants included legal expert Simona Veleva, who specializes in constitutional and media law, journalist Rossen Bossev (AEJ-Bulgaria board member), and attorney Regina Stoilova.

International participants discussed the rise in legal attacks against journalists and activists in the EU. The panel included Tiemo Wölken, S&D MEP from Germany and co-rapporteur to the Committee on Legal Affairs on the topic, Luise Quaritsch, Legal and Policy Assistant with the EU Commission’s department for justice; Julie Majerczak, Head of the Brussels office of Reporters without Borders and Jessica Ní Mhainín, Policy and Campaigns Manager at Index of Censorship.

A record-high legal claim in Bulgaria

The case has been filed with the Sofia City Court (see the facsimile of the notice below). The claimed amount is unprecedented by Bulgarian standards when it comes to financial demands directed at mass media.

„This is the highest claim I have seen in my 21 years of practice. It is submitted as a partial case but the full amount is nevertheless daunting and creates conditions for censorship,” attorney Alexander Kashumov commented for Bivol.

Many court cases against journalists in Bulgaria look like judicial harassment

According to the legal expert, our defense now has one month “ to submit a written reply, present our evidence and make evidence demands.”

Like any respectable media outlet, Bivol has all the necessary evidence, Eurohold’s objections being directed at the entire series of publications where the company is mentioned.

Image: Legal notice from the Sofia City Court (Source: Bivol.bg) 

In my view this is an attempt to set a very bad precedent from the point of view of safeguarding freedom of speech.

Kashumov’s observations show an increase in attempts by public figures in recent years to avoid critical publications and censor the media

under the pretext that businesses linked to them are incurring losses.

„That is a very dangerous tendency and for me it is in stark contradiction with the high standards of freedom of speech protection established in Europe, Alexander Kashumov concluded.

When did Bivol mention Eurohold?

Readers may recall that over the years Bivol has run several publications on Eurohold, not least about their acquisition of utility company CEZ Bulgaria from the state-owned Czech energy corporation CEZ a.s.

This year alone we have published articles on Eurohold in July and September. The first one is from 28 July 2021, about Nikolay Vassilev – the prime minister nominee of the political party “There Is Such a People” (ITN). The title of the publication was Eurohold’s connection to state security agent Rumyantsev and the Russian VTB Bank.

What Bivol managed to expose was that Eurohold Bulgaria had been directly financed over the years by secret funds of the former state security services and their notorious Agent Rumyantsev of the First Chief Directorate, better known as iconic Bulgarian post-communist banker and businessman Atanas Tilev.

Връзката на “Еврохолд” с Агент Румянцев на ДС и руската ВТБ

A connection with particularly strong national security implications is the clandestine relationship between Eurohold and the Russian Vneshtorgbank (VTB), also known as the KGB’s international operations bank. It is no coincidence that VTB was involved in some of the most infamous privatization deals for the sale of key Bulgarian state companies such as BTK (Vivacom) and Bulgartabak.  Archive of articles on VTB (see publication at the bottom).

Readers may recall that at the ITN press conference where former NDSV minister Nikolay Vassilev, withdrew his nomination for prime minister, Bivol publicly asked him about his alleged connections to Atanas Tilev, and that question was recorded on camera and voice recorder. The recordings have been published on our Facebook page.

Зад сделката за ЧЕЗ: Асен Христов е скрит собственик на ПОД “Бъдеще”

The second article was published on 8 September 2021 under the following title: “Behind the CEZ deal: Assen Hristov is the secret owner of the Badeshte pension fund”. The publication cites documents showing that Eurohold’s main shareholder Starcom Holding has hidden ownership in the Badeshte pension fund, which is itself a Eurohold shareholder.

That happens through the so-called call option or an agreement between Badeshte’s nominal owner and Starcom owner Assen Hristov for the purchase of all shares in Medianet Industries – a Luxembourg firm – for the price of 1 euro. This kind of hidden ownership raises many questions about the origins of the financing behind the group that acquired CEZ Bulgaria and also about legal violations around declaring the pension fund’s actual owner.

За оня запис, рекламата и една голяма гръцка салата с узо

In 2020 we had two publications that indirectly mentioned Eurohold Bulgaria and in both of them, it was being mentioned by none other than Bulgaria’s ex-prime minister and GERB leader Boyko Borissov.

One of those articles was about the examination of the audio recording in which the former prime minister mentioned Eurohold and the ongoing inspections of the company by various institutions.  The publication is titled Expert laboratory: Borissov’s recording was not forged or manipulated.

There is just one sentence in the text mentioning the former prime minister’s leaked phone call recording from 28 June 2018, in which he discusses interfering with the work of independent institutions such as the Financial Supervision Commission (FSC), in order to “crush” the owner of Eurohold.

Voice in Profanity-Laced Recording Is of Bulgarian PM, Expert Lab Confirms

In another opinion piece, Bivol wrote about the hate speech used by former prime minister Borissov even when discussing representatives of big businesses in Bulgaria. The title of the article is About that recording, publicity and a large salad with ouzo. All the author did was quote the exact words the then prime minister said in the leaked 2018 phone call recording:

„Make it known that I set the FSC on Eurohold, so that I could crush that guy’s face for not showing consideration for me, that is very important.”

This lawsuit against Bivol, which is one of many, is yet another manifestation of Bulgaria’s 112th place in Reporters Without Borders’ Freedom of the Press ranking.

Discussion on Media in EU Parliament Representation in Sofia (Image: Euractiv)

Our publication will continue to inform its readers of the most important corruption cases and other wrongdoings in Bulgaria.

Our publication will defend its rights in front of the Bulgarian court as well as the international organizations promoting freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

Title photo by Capital

***

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Please, read our Terms and conditions here.

Биволъ не записва и не съхранява номера на Вашата банкова карта. Плащанията се обработват през системата Stripe. Даренията за Биволъ с банкови карти се управляват от френската неправителствена организация Data for Reporters Journalists and Investigations - DRJI.

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