56,000 levs – this is the amount for which Monica Stanisheva (former Yosifova) is suing Bivol for damage inflicted on her by publications about the grant that her company received from the European Parliament. The civil suit she filed against the publishers of Bivol started on February 15, 2016, in the Sofia City Court. The hearing of witnesses and the parties in the case will continue on June 13.
Monica Yanova – Yosifova – Stanisheva is a former reporter of 24 Hours daily, where she followed news about the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP). Subsequently, she became the wife of the owner of the failed First Private Bank, Ventsislav Yosifov, a former agent of the Communist secret services (State Security – DS) and socialist candidate for mayor of Sofia in 1995, during the “legendary” term in office of Socialist Prime Minister Zhan Videnov. Their love story is described by the former editor-in-chief of Trud (Labor) daily, Tosho Toshev (DS agent Bor) in his memoirs The Lie – Zhan, Ivan and the Others“. Twenty years ago, Monika was widely known by the nickname “Mandolin Monica” and sat on the banker’s knee during public celebrations, Toshev recalls in his book.
The claimed amount is probably trivial for Stanisheva’s multimillion business turnover, but for us it is impossible. It is much more than the annual budget of our website, which exists thanks to donations from readers, sale of T-shirts, symbolic advertising and personal funds. Advertisement is symbolic because Bulgarian companies are afraid they might get into trouble by being displayed on the site of the permanent enemy of all authority, which, as is known in Bulgaria is not from God, but from the Mafia. Even the English version of our site is done with the free labor of friends.
Monica Stanisheva was in her glory days of “distributing portions” for the media during the term in office of the government of her husband Sergei Stanishev and the next socialist-endorsed one of Plamen Oresharski, which, with the nomination of Peevski and other brazen appointments, received its deserved place in the Mafia pandemonium in recent Bulgarian history. Before retreating with her husband to Brussels, she had accumulated more than 20 million levs in profit, mainly from public procurement with her company “Active Group”. Accustomed to receiving appetizing pieces of the pie from State ministries and institutions, she reached for European money directly from Brussels. At the end of October 2013, Bivol revealed that “Active Group” has won a grant of 60,000 euro from the European Parliament to promote the upcoming 2014 European elections. But there was a small problem – Monica’s husband is not just anybody, but Sergei Stanishev, the Head of the Party of European Socialists (PES). To be precise, at the time of winning this European grant, she was not officially married to him, but had publicly announced that de facto she was living with the President of PES and they even had a child together. These are sufficient grounds for us, as journalists, to ask whether there was conflict of interest, which we did. We investigated and found that the cost of the project is not at all straightforward, as the site that was created with an old version of an open source software, graphics for 60 euro and contains information copy-pasted from the EU institutions own websites.
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We asked Monica Stanisheva herself for her viewpoint, according to the ethical and professional criteria of journalism. She said in a phone conversation that she appreciates the work Bivol is doing very much; promised to examine the project and to provide an opinion that we never received. Instead, speaking before mainstream media, she echoed her husband Sergei Stanishev, who said conceitedly that it was not worth reading Bivol (see here). That was a clear signal to complaisant media awaiting their share of the pie of advertising funds. The topic became taboo in Bulgaria. The Head of PES even exerted pressure to censure our presentation about this case before the Council of Europe (see here).
Such an inadequate response provoked new public interest towards Monica Stanisheva because of new revelations of Bivol. The scandal with the “talking points” of BSP broke in early November. Leaked correspondence of MPs from the left-wing unveiled that in 2009 Monica Yosifova led a campaign of black PR against the center-right party Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB) because of the landfill in the town of Suhodol (see here). The art of PR, practiced by Ms. Yosifova, included rigged media appearances of famous activists of the Socialist Party, but also of initiative committees, experts and environmentalists, creating an illusion of inclusion of civil society in media programing. This caused then outrage among GERB and personally of its leader Boyko Borisov, who said he had sent official information about this unethical campaign to the EC.
For us these revelations became an occasion to take a look from another angle at the issue of conflict of interest with the grant. Since Monica Yosifova acts as backstage political engineer in favor a particular party, is it appropriate to absorb European Parliament money to promote elections in which the party led by her husband is running?
Bivol again requested answers from the administration of the European Parliament. Its representatives initially claimed that they did not see a conflict of interest and everything with the project was legitimate. Then they refused to provide details about the project of “Active Group”. The correspondence with EU officials lasted for months and we had to reshape it to fit Regulation 1049 in order to obtain Monica Stanisheva’s declaration of conflict of interest.
A short publication in Der Spiegel magazine at the end of 2013, which Bulgarian media noticed only after overcoming the hangover from the winter holidays, became a turning point in the affair. It raised the issue of the controversial grant and quoted German MEP Inge Grassle. Unlike the administrators of the grant, she was not convinced that there was no conflict of interest. Ms. Grassle logged an official inquiry in the European Parliament on the EU funds acquired by PES’ First Lady.
“European Parliament staff under the direction of Socialist President Martin Schulz handing out a contract worth 60,000 euro to the wife of the European Socialist Party President – this smacks of political favors. The conflict of interest was obvious even before Mr. Stanishev announced he would be a candidate at the European elections,“ Grassle, who is also EPP spokeswoman in the European Parliament’s Budgetary Control Committee, stated.
This was followed by a classical political scandal with new publications and two questions to Martin Schulz in the European Parliament, which he did not answer. In the end, because of the growing international scandal and probably not to sabotage the re-election of her husband to lead PES, Monica Stanisheva dropped the grant and announced she was returning the money to the European Parliament.
Boyko Borisov commented on the return of the money, labeling it “a shame for Bulgaria”. The former and current Prime Minister, to whose exposure as an ex-organized crime figure Bivol had a significant contribution, turned our revelations into his own political benefit, while just a year earlier, like Stanishev, he snarled in public that it is not worth to read Bivol’s findings. For us and for our local and international readers these repeated blunders of our dictators are a direct recognition of our independent and high-quality work.
Monica “The Upset” Stanisheva
The endorsed by Stanishev government miserably went down in history and with neglect of the publications. Only a year and a half later, Monica Stanisheva decided that the investigations of Bivol had caused her moral and material damage and discomfort to the point of seeking retribution for a large amount through the Court. Interestingly, she is suing us for the exact same amount that she decided to return to the European Parliament because of our investigation. As revealed by the testimony of her brother during the Court session on Monday, February 15, she became upset and cried for six months. The specific texts that upset the former wife of the head of the “gloriously” bankrupt First Private Bank, Ventsislav Yosifov, are specified in her claim – that the site for the project (which no longer exists) was created with an open source software and graphics for 60 euro (see here) and the comment that Monica Yosifova was “distorting public perceptions” with talking points and rigged media appearances (see here).
The facts on which these statements are based are not denied. The report of legal experts proves conclusively that the version of the open source software WordPress system at the time of the publication has already been outdated, while the common price for the graphics ranged from 50 to 70 euro. The second “upsetting” statement does not require evidence, though Bivol can provide for examination Monica Yosifova’s correspondence with senior BSP executives, who have used government email addresses that have mandatory backup. However, the claimant’s purpose is hardly to expose the whole truth about her methods and backstage moves. It is rather an act of revenge and pressure on Bivol in order to obstruct our work as investigative journalists. Everyone knows that a legal process is entails defense preparation, travel expenses and stress.
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