GP GATE: Supreme Court Rules Bivol Reporter’s Detention Illegal

by Екип на Биволъ

The Supreme Administrative Court (SAC) upheld the decisions of two panels of the Administrative Court in the western city of Pernik that the detentions of reporter Dimitar Stoyanov and an accompanying person had been unlawful. The orders of the Ministry of Interior (MoI) were challenged in court by lawyer Nikolay Hadjigenov. SAC’s Decision No. 9338 of June 18, 2019, is final.

Dimitar Stoyanov of Bivol, Romanian journalist Attila Biro and an accompanying third person were detained in the outskirts of the village of Egalnitsa near the western town of Radomir on September 13, 2018. Biro and Stoyanov were handcuffed as they tried to save from destruction documents related to the “GP Gate” affair.

The background

On September 10, Bivol published the first part of its journalistic investigation dubbed “GP Gate”, which exposed secret parallel bookkeeping by several consulting firms linked to the large construction company, GP Group. The documents published by Bivol revealed that impressive sums had been set aside to bribe mayors, government officials and experts.

What followed was a sheer panic reaction on the part of the consultants, who on the very next day after the publication began “cleaning up” their offices in the building at 59 “Cherni Vruh” Blvd. in the capital Sofia by removing and destroying documents and equipment that are potential evidence of serious corruption in the absorption of European funds. Bivol immediately forwarded in writing this insider information to the Prime Minister, the Prosecutor General and the MoI. The Prime Minister straightaway ordered the MoI to conduct a probe.

Bivol also approached the Committee for Combatting Corruption and the withdrawal of illegally acquired property (KPKONPI) (sic) with the same information, but the body did not see any grounds to launch a probe (the recording of that conversation is kept in Bivol’s editorial office).

Over the next two days, September 12 and 13, the removal of documents from the “Cherni Vruh” office continued unabated. The authorities did not intervene to stop it. On September 13, Bivol was tipped off about documents being removed and burned in the outskirts of the village of Egalnitsa near Radomir.

Bivol’s editorial office also alerted the Main Directorate for Combatting Organized Crime (GDBOP) of where and how evidence of serious corruption is being destroyed. The anti-mafia police initially announced that they could not respond to the alert. Then Dimitar Stoyanov and Attila Biro drove to the crime scene. Our Romanian colleague (Biro) was in Sofia for an international conference where he presented to investigators and OLAF officials investigations into EU funds abuse, including “GP Gate”.

When the Bulgarian and Romanian journalists reached the place where the documents were being burned, they were detained by a security police patrol, handcuffed, and their phones were taken away. This happened at 8.50 pm. A little later, a third person, their companion, was also detained.

The three remained cut off from the rest of the world for more than six hours and were released in the wee hours of September 14 after the Romanian Consul in Sofia arrived in Radomir.

MoI: There is evidence of a crime

Initially, the MoI denied that our colleagues had been detained. A MoI spokesman even told Bivol’s editorial office that there had been no detention, but only an ID check. Such a version was also presented to the public but was immediately disproved by Bivol with the publication of the detention orders issued by the Radomir Regional Police Department.

The MoI grounded the detention on the claim that there had been evidence of a crime. In an interview with the TV channel bTV, the GDBOP Director, Ivaylo Spiridonov, “justified” it with the proximity of the journalists’ team to a “secret post”. The court, however, sees the MoI grounds as, to put it mildly, irrelevant.

In the reasoning for the ruling on Dimitar Stoyanov’s complaint by judge Lyubomir Lukanov, it is written that “it is not clear on the basis of what facts and circumstances the administrative body (the MoI) has made a well-founded assumption that the person has committed a crime“.

The Court: There are no grounds for detention

The Court is of the opinion that in order to comply with the law, upon Stoyanov’s 24-hour-detention there should have been evidence that he had committed a crime under Art. 319 of the Penal Code. However, such is missing. The MoI has not been able to provide sound evidence that could justify a conclusion that at the time of his arrest Stoyanov had committed a crime or had been involved in a crime.

“It cannot be inferred from any of the documents contained in the administrative file that the claimant had behaved in a manner that would lead to the assumption that he had been the perpetrator of a crime under Art. 319 of the Penal Code or an accessory to such a crime.”

Both court rulings state that there are no factual grounds for issuing a detention order, which is a “substantial fault”, which is “an independent and sufficient ground for revoking the order”.

The Court revokes the orders for the detention of Stoyanov and his companion because they are an act of unreasonable coercion on them, “which completely contradicts the nature and purpose of the coercive administrative measures”.

The decision of the SAC panel with Chair Svetlozara Ancheva and members Milena Zlatkova and Madlen Petrova presents the same argument. “In this case, the order does not meet the requirements under Art. 74, para 2, item 2 of the MoI Act, as it contains an unsupported statement of the body that there is evidence of a committed crime – presence in the perimeter of a crime scene. These reasons do not justify evidence of the participation of D. Stoyanov in committing any offense that required his detention for 24 hours,” indicate the judges. The court ruled that “the imposed administrative measure did not comply with the law’s objectives – to prevent committing a crime or to harbor the perpetrator”.

Prize

In March this year. Dimitar Stoyanov and Attila Biro were bestowed the prestigious George Weidenfeld Special Prize for courageous research, awarded by publisher Alex Springer.

The investigation is part of the project “Exposing fraud in EU-funded projects in Romania and Bulgaria” by Bivol and Rise Romania, funded by the European Commission’s IJ4EU Fund and the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF).

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