Prosecutor’s Office Does Not ‘Perceive’ Corruption in #RIAGate but Actively Hunts Source and Will Question Journalists of Bivol

As in other emblematic cases of leaked recordings of conversations between high-ranking officials, the Prosecutor’s Office is ignoring evidence of corruption and is searching only for the source of the recording. This is clear from prosecutor’s case 6917/2019 on the docket of the Sofia City Prosecutor’s Office (SCPO), in connection with which Bivol was urged to provide the recoding published in the article “#RIAGate; ‘Let’s Give a Hand to Ivan… We Have a Deal”, while journalists of the site are summoned to give explanations in the General Directorate National Police (GDNP).

This is a recording of a conversation between Mihail Rashkov, a Director at the Bulgarian Road Infrastructure Agency (RIA) and a lady, who has been identified in other media publications but not by Bivol as Dessislava Hristova, Member of the Managing Board of the State-owned company Avtomagistrali JSC (Highways JSC, a State company tasked with the maintenance of the country’s highways – editor’s note).

The conversation between the two reveals the scheme and the mechanism by which the money for the “Hemus” highway that will connect the capital Sofia with the Black Sea city of Varna will be utilized – through non-transparent assignments to some companies, without public procurement but to “our people” to whom influential persons “are giving a hand”.

In particular, some Ivan is being discussed, who is already building at a “pilot” site near Malo Buchino (village near Sofia – editor’s note). The site had been assigned to Avtomagistrali JSC by the RIA.

Ivan should be given a hand because he is working hard and is “ready to absolutely do everything possible”.

And about Ivan, this is it, I stand behind his strength, you stand beside me, he is the right person,” the female voice tells Rashkov.

A few days after our January 29 article, Dessislava Hristova, who was not identified in our initial publication, submitted a surprising resignation as a member of the Board of Avtomagistrali. Subsequent to a publication of the newspaper Sega (Now), it became clear that on February 11, Hristova had filed a signal with Prosecutor General, Sotir Tsatsarov, asking for the prosecution to request the recording from Bivol’s editorial office and to check for its authenticity and legality as well as “for crimes committed by me resulting from the contents of the recording in question”.

As Bivol indicated, the conversation has been accidentally recorded by a driver who has called the Road Infrastructure Agency, using phone number 02 9173 376, which, according to the RIA phonebook, is the office number of engineer Mihail Rashkov, Director of the “Road Infrastructure Maintenance” Directorate. It seems that the recording has resulted from a blunder by the telephone exchange.

The Prosecutor’s Office has acted on Hristova’s signal and has assigned the case to the SCPO, which has commissioned a probe to the GDNP. Bivol’s editorial office has already sent via email to the GDNP the full recording that is available to it. From the original recording, we have deleted only the words “Hello, hello”, pronounced by the driver with the hope that someone in the RIA would answer his request for information. This was done solely for the purpose of protecting the identity of the source and has been explicitly communicated to the GDNP in the accompanying letter.

Prosecutors have no “perception” of corruption

(According to Transparency International’s latest Corruption Perceptions Index, Bulgaria ranks 77th globally, something that has been dismissed by the country’s rulers as “just perception” – editor’s note.)

 It is a fact that the Public Prosecutor’s Office did not react at all to our publication from January 29, but at the same time, it responded in minutes after another recording involving the current Minister of Culture was submitted by a lawmaker from the Bulgarian Socialist Party. Probably there would have been no reaction until now, if it was not for the formal signal of Hristova to Tsatsarov.

This again shows the prosecution’s double standard, which silently ignores evidence of crimes committed by the high echelons of power. The recording also mentions Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, who wanted to cut the ribbon on the site constructed by the mysterious Ivan as well as the Executive Director of Avtomagistrali JSC, Stoyan Belichev, for whom it had been known that he is close to Ginka Varbakova.

The schemes where non-transparent billions are absorbed are also taboos for investigators. Precisely Avtomagistrali was commissioned to build the Hemus highway for more than BGN 1.4 billion despite the fact that the State-owned company had neither equipment nor experience in such large sited. But there is some “Ivan”, and probably also some other trusted men to whom someone “will give a hand”.

Bivol stated already, in its first publication, that it would provide the original of the recording if the Prosecutor’s Office “perceives” some corruption, but obviously there is no such thing to date. Otherwise, the case would have been allocated to the specialized Prosecutor’s Office and not to the Sofia City Prosecutor’s Office, which is the competent body to investigate the source of the recording, but not the corrupt actions mentioned in it. This was the case with the #YanevaGate recordings, which were also not probed for evidence of corruption, but only for who had made them.

Also suspicious is the assignment of the case to the GDNP, which is competent to collect data on prosecution cases from abroad. As Bivol has learned from its sources, in the course of the YanevaGate investigation, the monitoring prosecutor Dimitar Frantisek Petrov has requested and received from the French Prosecutor’s Office permission to raid Bivol’s server in France to seize the recordings. At the same time, the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) urged Bivol to provide all the audio files we published in parts, while Sotir Tsatsarov and SJC member Yassen Todorov launched brutal attacks and insults against Bivol.

However, no raid ever happened, probably because of the judgment that the public reaction of such an attack against an investigative media in a European Union Member State would result in more negatives than positive results for the country’s rulers or results fit to yield criminal charges. And the results would have been zero, because Bivol generally does not store sensitive information on public servers that are accessible to the authorities.

From what we know so far, we can conclude that the investigation into the #RIAGate recordings follows the same prosecutorial pattern as the investigation into the recordings from #YanevaGate. The difference is that the #RIAGate stakes are much more modest for individual people. For example, they do not involve Prosecutor General Tsatsarov, who in the stories told by Judge Vladimir Yaneva before Judge Chenalova and attorney Mondeshki was portrayed as a person abusing power and authority. But the stake for the billions that the government is going to distribute under the table and under the scheme “give a hand to Ivan” is quite substantial.


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