Krassen Nikolov, Mediapool

The Public Prosecution has been inactive for over a year in order to reach the expiration of the limitation period for prosecuting the former Minister in the Cabinet “Oresharski”, Ivan Danov, and the case against him to be terminated. Immediately afterwards, the Sofia Regional Prosecutor’s Office initiated libel proceedings against the Editor-in-Chief of the site Bivol, Atanas Tchobanov, who revealed how Danov has been draining the French social benefits system. – writes Krassen Nikolov from the Mediapool online news agency. Bivol is reprinting the article with his permission.

The “boss” of the Sofia City Prosecutor’s Office, Hristo Dinev, has personally committed himself to the sweeping of the case under the rug. His reaction came after the intervention of the international organization Reporters Without Borders in defense of the journalist.

It all began in June 2013, when Bivol reported that from September 2004 to May 2005, the Minister of the newly-established Ministry of Investment Planning, Ivan Danov, had improperly received nearly 15,000 euro from the French social services.

In the course of eight months, he had signed false declarations that he was unemployed and was looking for work in France, but at the same time worked and developed business in Bulgaria. In order to receive the social benefits, Danov committed document fraud which is punishable in Bulgaria, according to the journalistic investigation. The Minister categorically rejected these conclusions.

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In Bulgaria, the limitation period for such a crime expires ten years after the offense, unless the authorities launch legal proceedings. This means that after the month of May 2015, Ivan Danov, who was known as a protégé of the party Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) in the coalition cabinet with the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), was no longer in danger of any punishment, according to Bulgarian law.

So it happened

Initially, the prosecution did not act on the publication of Bivol, but at the beginning of 2014, Atanas Tchobanov submitted an official signal. The prosecution had more than a year to decide whether to launch at least pre-trial proceedings against Danov in order to prevent the expiration of the limitation period. However, the Sofia City Prosecutor’s Office refused to do it on grounds that there was no evidence of crime. The decree was issued by the infamous prosecutor Boryana Betsova who cleared controversial lawmaker from DPS Delyan Peevski in the signal of the so-called “protest network”. The limitation period for Ivan Danov kept running out.

The journalist appealed before the Sofia Appellate Prosecutor’s Office. The prosecutors there also refused to open a case (the probe was conducted under Art. 212 par. 1 of the Penal Code, the limitation period is 10 years) against the former Minister, but with other arguments. Apparently the Appellate Prosecution waited until May 2015 to have the limitation period expire. Only then it declared that signal of the journalist contained evidence of an offense by Ivan Danov, but the limitation period has expired, thus they could not launch a case.

However, the extremely suspicious and cynical actions of the Public Prosecution did not stop here. The Sofia Regional Prosecutor’s Office immediately sprang into action against Atanas Tchobanov, himself, and launched legal proceedings for libel against Ivan Danov. Please note that the prosecution opened a case against the journalist on grounds of text from the Penal Code which states that he “knew” that Ivan Danov was innocent, but still unjustly accused him. The journalist was summoned to the police for questioning on the order of Prosecutor Deyan Slavov from the Sofia Regional Prosecutor’s Office.

The whole affair cannot be more fixed than that

The news of the pre-trial proceedings against Atanas Tchobanov was reported by Bivol in the evening of September 4 and by Mediapool the next morning.

In the morning September 8, the international organization Reporters Without Borders published on its site a statement which described the case as politically motivated and urged Bulgarian judicial authorities to close the investigation and to abandon proceedings against the journalist. Hours later, Sofia City Prosecutor Hristo Dinev issued a decree revoking the decision of the Regional Prosecutor.

Dinev’s arguments include lack of grounds to prosecute the journalist. The Sofia City Prosecutor’s Office now thinks that Tchobanov acted as a conscientious citizen and has approached the public authorities with the conviction that he was reporting evidence of crime committed by Ivan Danov.

The question remains whether the Bulgarian Prosecutor’s Office has acted in good faith.

Usually in such cases, the unjustly accused Ivan Danov may initiate proceedings for a private criminal case for libel or civil tort against the journalist. But here, there is no way he can initiate such proceedings because the case has been terminated, although there is evidence of a crime.

According to Bivol, the purpose of the prosecution has been “intimidation, harassment, summonses and interrogations “… The team of the site suspects that the case can be used as a pretext to eavesdrop on conversations between journalists.

The case against Tchobanov was another “operation” of the Bulgarian Prosecutor’s Office against a media outside the so-called circle “Peevski”. Two years ago, an investigation was opened against a journalist from Mediapool over a publication related to breaches in the use of Special Surveillance Devices (SSD). After that, the prosecution began a comprehensive tax audit and probes in Economedia. Just a month ago, they reopened old cases against the publisher of Club Z.

The case with the exoneration of the former Minister does not seem to be an exception in the work of the prosecution during the term in office of its Head Sotir Tsatsarov. Earlier this year, district prosecutors “missed” the limitation period in the case against the brother of former intelligence officer Ivan Drashkov – Petar. The prosecutors also cleared the former head of the Sofia Investigation Services, Petar Petrov, known with the nickname “Pepi The Euro” after three court instances identified him as a participant in an “emblematic” case of inciting bribery. The prosecution says nothing as well about the hundreds of illegal permits for the use of SSD, issued by judges from the Sofia City Court.

At the same time, it is known that many politicians are trying hard not to irritate the Chief Prosecutor as “he could at any time pull something out of his sleeve against anyone”. This is the copy right Bulgarian model to fight crime and corruption at the high echelons of power.

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