What Has the *Buffalo Plowed in 2014

Happy New Year 2015
Екип на Биволъ

Bivol entered the fourth year of its creation with a powerful foray. In early January 2014, we concluded the investigation in the properties of Judge Vesselina Teneva, nominated by the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) and the party largely representing the Turkish minority in Bulgaria, Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) for Chief Judicial Inspector (see here). Due to it, Teneva’s candidacy was subsequently withdrawn. Teneva was among other high-profile cases of property-wealthy magistrates investigated by Bivol, such as Georgi Kolev, Head of the Supreme Administrative Court, Vladimira Yaneva, Head of the Sofia City Court, Veneta Markovska, candidate for Constitutional Judge and Chief Prosecutor, Sotir Tsatsarov. At the end of the year, yet another property-wealthy magistrate emerged – the candidate for Head of the Court of Appeals in Sofia. Bivol revealed about him that he has bought an apartment in Paris for an extremely profitable price (see here). It seems that the issue of the property of magistrates and the “bad apples” in the judicial system will continue to make our headlines in 2015.

The subject of the European grant of Monica Yosifova flowed from 2013 to 2014 as well. It turned out that the wife of the President of the Party of European Socialists (PES), Sergei Stanishev, has declared no conflict of interest in the use of money from the European Parliament (see here). German MEPs, however, had an opinion different from her own. After the publication in Der Spiegel, reporting on Bivol’s disclosure of the scandalous financing, the subject of Yosifova’s company Active Group ended in a plenary debate in the EP. There, Martin Schulz was twice asked questions on the subject and he left them unanswered. Ultimately, Stanishev’s wife was forced to return grant, with which she actually admitted that not everything with it was OK. Today, however, Monica is suing our website (see here) and wants to milk Bivol for the same public amount that she announced she was giving back. How pragmatic!

“Troll Gate”, or how political parties and individual politicians pay for forum love, was one of the most read topics in Bivol in 2014. The first revelations, leaked from #BSPLeaks, exposed BSP, and personally BSP MEP Iliana Yotova (see here). Yotova awkwardly justified it with some studies she had commissioned to the same company that employs the trolls. For her, troubles in the EP lie ahead, as sooner or later she will have to explain to the Budget Committee how she has spent EU money for black PR against political opponents.

However, it turned out that the right-wing Democrats for Strong Bulgaria (DSB) party has also paid for the use of trolls. After repenting, its leader Radan Kanev refused to provide contracts and reports, as he had promised – typical Bulgarian politician style.

Bivol exposed systemic problems at the European level through the cases “Grant Gate” and “Troll Gate” – secret and unaccountable spending of MEPs; secret spending of EU funds for advertising and over-stretched criteria for conflict of interest that open doors for favoring people close to (EU) power (see here).

The first “bad apple” – private lender Corporate Commercial Bank (KTB, CCB) – collapsed

Bivol’s predictions from 2011 suddenly started materializing. The first “bad apple” – CCB – collapsed ostentatiously. The affairs of its majority shareholder Tsvetan Vassilev and his former “business partner”, shady DPS lawmaker Delian Peevski, remained on the radar of Bivol throughout the year – from the acquisition of Petrol, through the use of armies of trolls to the explicit exposure of the mechanism of financing the media empire of Delyan Peevski and his mother Irena Krasteva by CCB (see here, here and here). Tsvetan Vassilev, who denied funding these media, was exposed as a liar (see here). Bivol’s revelations about the cycle “government money – media – political influence – government money prim”, sustained by CCB with the complicity of the “State”, represented by the governments of Stanishev, Borisov and Oresharski, were cited repeatedly by prestigious international publications such as DPA, Le Temps, Der Standard and Forbes.

Long before CCB’s collapse and before rulers, who until very recently cared for it as their darling, unanimously proclaimed it to be a pyramid scheme, Bivol published documents proving its criminal genesis (see here). After the collapse, we followed carefully Peevski’s maneuvers in transferring his loans to another Bulgarian private lender, First Investment Bank, FIB, (see here), while a company connected to him and credited by CCB, began building an impressive seafront “seraglio” (see here), designed by Kalin Tiholov, the architect known as the mastermind of the plan “Dune Gate” to destroy sand dunes (see here). We published a documentary investigation, proving how conservators of Commercial Bank Victoria, appointed by the central bank (Bulgarian National Bank, BNB), are draining it through dubious service contracts and colossal wages (see here). We explained accurately and showed why and how the assignments of loans from CCB are actually a double robbery (see here). A strong political shake-up followed our publication as well.

Several months before the public interest focused on the accounts of politicians in CCB, Bivol published an investigation entitled “Tsvetlin Yovchev: CCB, Properties and Dangerous Liaisons”. It showed that CCB has granted a loan to a company owned by Yovchev, former Head of the National Security Agency (DANS) and former Minister of Interior, who somehow managed to repay a mortgage in record time, in instalments of 3,000 euro a month. This would be of benefit for every State servant, but CCB has granted loans only to the chosen ones, about whom we are yet to learn all the details.

The agony of South Stream

The other major topic of the year was the suspension of the Russian-sponsored South Stream gas pipeline. Bivol found out in April that the symbolic pipes, used in a groundbreaking ceremony, have disappeared (see here). In July, we disclosed how the government of Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski has hastily set aside and sold cheaply huge forest plots for the construction of the pipeline, while FIB has acquired adjacent sites at prices fifteen times higher. We also published the full version of the Bill, edited in Russia and handed to BSP, to exclude 60 km of Bulgarian territory from European regulations (see here and here). After the final halt of the project, we published jointly with Novaya Gazeta an investigation in how South Stream Transport purchased from FIB the land near the Pasha Dere beach for 100 million euro (see here) in a deal that will be spoken and written about for a long time, as well as about the given-away State forest.

On Strandzha, Coral, Karadere

Forests, nature and beaches of Bulgaria remained priority topics for Bivol this year as well. As early as January, we exposed the scams of another infamous DPS lawmaker, Yordan Tsonev (nicknamed Dancho the Fraud) and of architect Kalin Tiholov with dubiously acquired lands along the Strandza Mountain’s coast. This evidence was also strongly reaffirmed by the prosecution, which found that the appropriation of 700 decares of lucrative land plots between Tsarevo and Rezovo has been committed through criminal means – with falsification of land registries and of documents of heirs. Immediately after that, the same land plots have been acquired by companies and associates of Tsonev and Tiholov (see here). This massive theft remains unpunished because of expired legal prescription and inactivity (for now) of the prosecutors to investigate by “following the money”, despite obvious evidence of profiteering by the “Fraud” and by Tiholov.

We paid special attention to the blanket and outrageous felling in Strandza and other locations in Bulgaria (see here and here), and to the “feudalization” of forests that happened after lobbyist laws were passed by former lawmakers known by nicknames such as “Emo the Cigarette But” and “Miro the Carrion” for concessions of forest and hunting estates. These are laws that urgently need to be revoked, while there is still some surviving ancient forests and wildlife, and tugs, who seized the forests, must be condemned and banished forever (see here).

2014 also saw good things. After persistent media and public pressure with a decisive contribution from Bivol (see here and here and here) and the involvement of heavy global media artillery, namely Euronews, caretaker Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva stopped construction on the wild beach Coral (see here) and referred it to the prosecution, which declared it illegal (see here) The “liquidator” of Strandza, Petko Arnaudov, was removed from his post as boss of the forestry in Tsarevo (see here) and the office of Park Strandza in Tsarevo, slated for closure, was saved.

In 2014, the wild beach Karadere was also subject of the appetites of dubious investors and subject of special monitoring by Bivol. In February, the government “Oresharski” hastily granted an investor class certificate for a giant construction project on the beach, whose author proved to be the brother of Sergei Stanishev – Georgiy. Bivol unraveled the offshore owners of the companies behind the project and found out that they do not have the necessary funds for such investment (see here and here). These “investors” have already built illegally a vacation complex near Shabla and have been sanctioned, but their previous “merits” did not become an obstacle to receiving State support (see here).

In early October, Bivol was the first one to alert about the scandalous decision of the Head of the Regional Inspectorate of the Environment and Waters (RIEW) in Burgas (see here), authorizing the construction of a huge camping site without an environment impact assessment. The public pressure led to the withdrawal of the decision (see here), and the illegal detailed urban plan (PUP) of Byala North was referred to the prosecution.

In the case with Karadere, the oligarchic interests mobilized one more time (but hardly for the last time) paid pseudo-eco activists, however, Bivol definitely exposed their links with the mafia (see here) and deep financial dependence on the “bad apples”.

Bivol’s efforts were appreciated in the country through another prize for environmental journalism bestowed by the Biodiversity Foundation (see here).

Resistance to attacks on media freedom

Bivol became one of the co-founders of a new journalistic organization – Network for Free Speech – some sort of a Corps for a Quick Reaction of the guild against institutional pressure on journalists (see here). Unfortunately, again there was no shortage of such cases this year (see here). There were still anonymous attempts to intimidate journalists such as the second arson of the car of TV host Genka Shikerova. There are legal cases against journalists for large amounts (see here and here). There is also an open institutional pressure – a reaction in the wrong direction because of revelations about irregularities in the banking system. Apparently, they have explosive potential because of their cogency. However, through action and inaction, Bulgarian State institutions permanently discredit themselves before the international community as accomplices in the severe banking crisis. Despite the total media silence about the case, Bivol is “ripping the curtains of censorship with its horns”. For the first time in several years, due to BNB and the Financial Supervision Commission (FSC), Reporters Without Borders again publicly and specifically addressed the case in Bulgaria in negative context.

Across the globe and in our country, yesterday and tomorrow…

In 2014, we continued our successful cooperation with partner media within the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP). Together with our Romanian partners, we followed the Bulgarian business of the infamous Ukrainian oligarch Rinat Akhmetov (see here), entangled with the son of Yanukovych in schemes for sales of coal through Swiss companies. We discovered, together with the Czech Center for Investigative Journalism, the scandalous origin of the capital of the owners of Energo-Pro (see here).

The now proverbial case with the “French Unemployed” Ivan Danov also evolved in 2014 (see here). The French Ambassador promised an investigation (see here), and one of the largest French televisions broadcast a report in which Minister Danov frankly admits that he has received welfare in France while working in Bulgaria (see here). The case is not closed and Bulgarian authorities are also investigating.

Old investigations and publications of Bivol continue to be of interest for global media. It is sufficient to mention the extensive publication in Le Monde about the Russian enclave Rosenets (see here) and the portrayal of Boyko Borisov made by the Austrian newspaper Kurier, titled Borisov the Brute Buddha (see here). The former and current Prime Minister received pardons from the prosecution for his past sins and specifically for the infamous case known as “Misho The Beer”. Bivol, however, neither forgets nor forgives. With persistence regarding access to information, we revealed that key documents from this investigation are missing – the report from the Customs probe in the brewery of Misho The Beer is gone (see here).

We continued to unravel the deeds of the former Burgas Regional Governor and leader of BSP in Burgas, Pavel Marinov, who has concealed that he is partner with senior Russian intelligence and military industry officials through offshore companies (see here). The Committee on Conflict of Interest in the previous Parliament confirmed the data from our investigation, but declined to sanction Marinov. Unlike the political body, the prosecution saw sufficient grounds to launch an investigation over our publications against the politician who is involved in questionable corporate and business liaisons (see here). This did not prevent Marinov from remaining in State office and even from illegally nationalizing, according to lawyers, 42 decares of land in the Sunny Beach resort (see here). This creates more work for the “independent” Prosecutor’s Office. The deal is not broken until today. Eventually, after three terms in office, the senior partner of the Russians and officer from the Communist secret services (State Security, DS), Pavel Marinov, was replaced as Governor of Burgas, despite the strong political support from both the BSP and from leaders from Borisov’s ruling centrist Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB) party.

Bivol in foreign media

The analyses and the expertise of Bivol’s journalists are rarely sought by Bulgarian media, but are appreciated throughout the world. In 2014, Assen Yordanov became one of the 100 Information Heroes of Reporters without Borders. His interviews about the political situation in Bulgaria were broadcast by ARD and Euronews (see here) and Ostpol published his original review article on the Bulgarian Transition Period. Yordanov was invited for an interview by the leading German publication Der Spiegel and quoted in an extensive and strongly-critical article How Europe Is Helping Dictators which describes how the presentation BalkanLeaks and Bivol at the World Congress on Democracy of the Council of Europe was outrageously censored, due to pressure by affected local politicians.

Atanas Tchobanov won the audience award “Free Electron” bestowed by the Blue Link Foundation for contribution to the use of the Internet to defend human rights and noble goals. He analyzed the banking crisis for Der Standard (see here) and revealed for the French TV M6 “the double life of unemployed Minister Ivan Danov (see here). His investigation in the “golden” SIM cards of power was published in Norway, (see here) and the Russian Novaya Gazeta published the investigation titled Ruble Pipeline, co-authored with the globally-renowned investigative journalist Roman Anin.

Topics for 2015 – “Bad apples” and destroyers of nature, again!

At the end of the year Bivol exposed the fraud schemes in the next, after CCB, “shelter” of Delyan Peevski – the “bad apple” FIB. In 2014, it was rescued by a powerful financial injection from the State (see here). Bivol proved with documents that companies connected to its majority shareholders Tseko Minev and Ivaylo Mutafchiev have received huge loans from FIB (see here). Instead of repaying the loans, they grant multimillion loans to Cypriot offshore companies (see here). And all this is done with the blessing of BNB which refuses to probe what is happening under the nose of the banking supervision, if there is any. The investigation also shed light on the relationship of these offshore companies with Yulen, the concessionaire of the Pirin Mountain and with the infamous company Vitosha Ski, which sparked the protests on the “Eagles’ Bridge” intersection in the capital Sofia.

The aggression of Yulen for new pogroms in national parks has become the status quo, serviced by those ruling the country, instead of the latter probing with what money and at what cost this is being done. As things are developing, the protests will happen again and at a much larger scale, because the impudence of the “banksters” and the arrogance of the institutions that should control them are in exact proportion to each other. This is something that we will demonstrate in the first days of 2015 with an exclusive upcoming investigation “Bad Apples” 5 in 1: CCB, the Court, BNB, FSC, the Prosecution, all united to carry out frank robbery and to disguise it.

Cheers dear readers for the new 2015 and for our inevitable victory!

PS The year of Bivol in numbers:

In 2014, Bivol published over 300 articles.

Bivol updated its site and keeps a regular English version with translations of all articles in the language of Shakespeare.

The site’s Facebook fans exceeded 100,000.

Donations, which are the main financial source, are getting close to 20,000 levs

*Bivol in Bulgarian means buffalo


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