How to Cut Buffalo’s (Bivol’s) Horns

by Екип на Биволъ

Under the patronage of the Prosecutor’s Office, there is a coordinated institutional and media attack against journalists Atanas Tchobanov and Assen Yordanov

• The Prosecutor’s Office launches proceedings against journalists of Bivol Atanas Tchobanov and Assen Yordanov on an anonymous complaint and an anonymous publication

• The obvious purpose of the active measure is revenge for their investigations

• Institutions and media close to (controversial lawmaker and media mogul) Delyan Peevski coordinate actions to destroy opponents

The situation is very scary, this is an attack by a subversive dictatorship and it is the crushing of any civil society,” says journalist Assen Yordanov. The reason for his words is the prosecution’s proceedings, initiated on an anonymous complaint against him and his colleague of Bivol, Atanas Tchobanov.

In Russia, they plant drugs on investigative journalists, arrest them and charge them. In Bulgaria they “plant” false complaints on the Prosecutor’s Office, and it starts acting against journalists, knowing perfectly what it is all about.” This is what Atanas Tchobanov wrote on Facebook at the beginning of the week after an investigating police officer informed him that the prosecution had initiated proceedings against him and his colleague.

Operation “everyone is dirty”

On Monday, police officer Nikolay Goranov of the Main Directorate National Police separately called Atanas Tchobanov and Assen Yordanov on the phone and informed them that a case had been filed against them on a complaint from the Civil Association BOETS (or BOEZ, meaning fighter), received by e-mail, quoting a publication by Trud daily. BOETS denied sending such a complaint, which is logical – they are on the “same side of the barricade” with Bivol on many topics.

The complaint is in fact anonymous, as is Trud‘s June 2 publication entitled “The Boomerang Effect Hits Site Bivol”. The article that became grounds for the prosecution’s probe revolves around the suggestion that the journalists from the site, who had been for years the most active in the coverage of high-level corruption scandals, including the recent outrages “ApartmentGate” and “Guesthouses”, in fact suffer from the same “double morality” and have bought cheap properties.

According to the publication, Atanas Tchobanov bought in 2001 a house with a decare and a half yard in the coastal village of Varvara for BGN 0. In 2015, Assen Yordanov bought in the name of Bivol LLC a decare of a forest (1,125 square meters) for BGN 100, provided that the average price per hectare of agricultural land in Southeastern Bulgaria (a fairly broad concept of land valuation) was BGN 600 at the time, and a decare of forest “especially in the period of the swaps” (?) had reached BGN 8,000. Yordanov also bought two neighboring plots with a total area of ​​936 m2 in a remote village near the central city of Gabrovo for BGN 2,500, which had exceeded the tax assessment only slightly.

On the one hand, it is paradoxical that on grounds of these three ridiculous deals attempts are made to downplay the long-standing investigations by Bivol into corruption worth millions in the State Fund Agriculture (SFA), as well as recent revelations about penthouses with rooftop terraces as large as “Bivol’s forest”. And it is quite indicative that the author behind this apparent attempt to attack the two journalists has found nothing more than that.

Capital approached Tchobanov and Yordanov to hear their position – something Trud did not do. They both said they had documents to refute all of the charges.

The only property deal I have made in my life was 18 years ago for a semi-demolished rural house in Varvara, but there is nothing true about having bought it for BGN 0,” Tchobanov said. Right after the Trud publication, he posted on his Facebook page the notary deed. It clearly shows that the price of the property was BGN 8,000 with a market price of BGN 5,700 at that time (2001) and a tax assessment of BGN 1,800.

Notary Deed of Atanas Tchobanov

Assen Yordanov sent to Capital data from public registers and even a cadastral map to illustrate that the “decare forest” he bought for Bivol was in fact a fifth category agricultural land – an abandoned meadow outside regulation near the Bulgarian-Turkish border and the town of Malko Tarnovo – without electricity or water.

Assen Yordanov's abandoned fieldOfficial sample proving the false statements in the publication

He bought it from a friend and a neighbor in the Black Sea city of Burgas with the clear consciousness that this weedy meadow, seven kilometers away from the nearest village, without electricity and water, has only one advantage – a nice view, he explains.

He has not signed in person the deal for the yard in the deserted Gabrovo neighborhood “Zeleno Darvo” (Green Tree), where only a few elderly people live, but has authorized an elderly woman, who lives there and is close to his family, to buy it at any price she could negotiate. In recent days, strangers, asking about the property, have harassed the woman who lives alone. She has filed a complaint with the police in Gabrovo.

Before Capital, Yordanov said that he had made a formal request to the Prosecutor General’s spokeswoman Rumyana Arnaudova whether there is a case file with the Supreme Prosecutor’s Office of Cassations against him and Tchobanov, what are the number and status of this file and who is the monitoring prosecutor. He has not received an answer. Capital also attempted to call Rumyana Arnaudova on the phone, but was unsuccessful.

So far, the parameters of the investigation are largely subject to guesswork, but the essence is that two investigative journalists are probed on an anonymous complaint based on an anonymous media publication with incorrect information that does not actually indicate a crime. However, the origin of the attack on Tchobanov and Yordanov seems to rest on many reasons.

For Tsatsarov’s sake

A Bivol publication from May 21, names Prosecutor General Sotir Tsatsarov a “serial property simulant”. The concrete occasion is a purchase last year by Sotir Tsatsarov and his wife Meglena of a luxury villa in the St. Konstantin resort, above the town of Peshtera, for EUR 30,000 with a built-up area of ​​75 square meters and a total area of ​​140 square meters.

Tsatsarov and his cheap villa

According to Bivol, similar houses in the area do not sell for under EUR 60,000-70,000. “This is yet another deal with unrealistic prices of the Tsatsarov family over the years,” the publication reads, recalling that even before Tsatsarov’s election to the post in 2012, the site published a text for a number of controversial dealings by the family. For one of them – a purchase of two orchards, Meglena Tsatsarova, a notary, admits before the court that the deal had been concluded and listed with the fictitious amount of BGN 1,000 because the sellers wanted to pay lower taxes. Then, the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) found no problem in this.

In his Facebook post, Tchobanov makes clear that he thinks that precisely the publication about Tsatsarov’s real estate deals is the cause of this blow, but Bivol has long given many reasons to the powerful of the day to hate it. As Tchobanov, himself, writes in another post: “Yanaki Chervenyakov is dismissed for the second time, the first dismissal happened after Bivol’s investigation in 2016 into his luxury life and his mother-in-law’s guesthouse financed with European money. At that time, the National Security Agency (DANS) even raided the SFA, but no one heard anything anymore.

Coordinated actions between Peevski’s media and institutions for repressions against journalists

However, the case is also indicative of something bigger. According to Assen Yordanov, we are witnessing a coordination between Delyan Peevski’s media and State institutions to destroy opponents under an established pattern. He also attributes the verdict against the journalist of Capital Rosen Bossev to this pattern.

This is no longer an isolated campaign against one or another media or journalist, the State has devised a concept that includes the institutions and Delyan Peevski’s media acting in sync for the purge of every independent and free voice and any manifestation of civil society in Bulgaria. To purge anyone who is against this system in any way. Currently active measures for destruction are being undertaken,” commented Yordanov. Moreover, the worst thing is that it seems that the Prosecutor’s Office is coordinating the operation.

In all these cases, there is a clear indication of a common pattern of action – a blatant slanderous publication in the media, a complaint to the Prosecutor’s Office, quoting the media, and then a probe, Yordanov points out and gives examples. The first one is the completely identical case with the attack on the leader of BOETS in the Danube city of Vidin Georgi Georgiev. Georgiev, himself, fully agrees with this theory: “For three days, people from TV Channel 3 (associated with Peevski) pursued me and my family in an active measure that bears all of the signs of purposeful harassment and mob law, including physical. The police refused to intervene, but when TV Channel 3 files a complaint, they react swiftly. Complaints about harassment by TV Channel 3 were filed with the Interior Ministry four times during these three days, one by the owner of the property, but the police in Vidin refused to meet him, and then these people become subject to brutal pressure and warnings to not speak up,” says Georgiev. On Wednesday, BOETS filed a protest with the Interior Ministry and the Prosecutor’s Office about the fake complaint against Bivol, using the name and data of the Association.

The situation is very scary,” commented Assen Yordanov. “Now we are the targets, tomorrow it will be someone else – they are just testing the boundaries. They hold the institutions, they hold the power.” According to him, it is no coincidence that this obvious “agitation” is taking place immediately after the European elections. Apparently, the forces behind it have gained self-confidence.

Hristo Geshov’s case

Assen Yordanov also includes the story of investigative journalist Hristo Geshov from the northern town of Cherven Bryag in the cases of coordinated repression. Last month, unknown people kidnapped him and “persuaded” him all night to delete his investigation into the illegal water supply and sewerage system in the town Troyan from the site of Zov News, a media based in the northwestern city of Vratsa, and from YouTube. They released him only after the removal of the publication. A year earlier, in May 2018, Geshov was attacked and beaten in front of his home. In both cases, the perpetrators were not found.

Meanwhile, in March this year, the Specialized Court removed from office the mayor of Cherven Bryag, after an accusation of corrupt public procurement that became known because of an investigation by Geshov.

by Dimitar Peev, Capital Weekly 14.06.2019

Translation: Bivol

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