On February 2, 2016, Prosecutor Dimitar Petrov from the Sofia City Prosecutor’s Office questioned the owner of the site (Bivol) Assen Yordanov and the editor-in-chief Atanas Tchobanov in connection with the case known as “Yaneva Gate”. The journalists handed an official translation of the examination of the recordings done by the lab “Acustek“. After the questioning, Assen Yordanov and Atanas Tchobanov gave interviews to the media.
Assen Yordanov in the political talk show The Hour of Milen Tsvetkov 02/02/2016
Milen Tsvetkov: What is happening?
Asen Yordanov: What is happening is the collapse of public allegations of Prosecutor General Sotir Tsatsarov that some expert report had proven that the recordings are manipulated. No one has seen this expert report. No one knows who did it. Which is more alarming is that not only the public does not know, but even the members of the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) are not aware of this. So we commissioned an expert examination that is official, here it is, I brought it with me. It was presented today as official evidence, as a new circumstance in the investigation in the recordings carried out by the prosecution, though I personally I do not understand what it is that they are investigating. But as we were summoned for questioning, we provided this expert report. This is one of the most prestigious worldwide laboratories named Acustek. The expertise is 17-pages-long and was carried out by one of the best specialists in the world Ivan Siparov. In fact, he is a specialist-expert from the University of St. Petersburg.
MT: What does this expertise show?
AY: This expertise clearly and strongly shows that there is no manipulation.
MT: You mean there is no manipulation whatsoever? Not even one of Yaneva’s words has been deleted or placed somewhere else, because people are not very aware?
AY: Yeah, the most important thing we wanted to know is whether there is a manipulation of acoustics events, i.e. hATe the conversations been tempered with?
AY: There is no manipulation of the content of the conversations.
MT: They follow their normal course.
AY: The expertise is very accurate, very precise, it explains this very well. It uses several methods of analysis.
MT: Well, well, let’s not go into details.
AY: I’ll just read it, really, I’ll just quote it: “Analysis of continuity and simultaneity of audio acts and events, background acoustics did not reveal any editing or manipulation features… “
MT: So, what should this tell us?
AY: It tells us that the lab whose services are used by the security services of several European countries…
MT: And have you seen some document, something in black and white that says: “Based on this expertise we say that these recordings are…”
AY: No one has seen such a thing, not just us. No one has seen such a thing. But now, this thing here is a document. This is a document with all the requisites of an official document, from this lab whose services are used by security services, ministries of justice, of defense in most major European countries…
MT: What did they actually ask you today? Or is this some secret thing?
AY: … It says that there is no manipulation. So, today, as I understood it, the questions to me and to my colleague Tchobanov have been similar. They gravitated, although we have no right to say what we talked about, but they gravitated, this should not be secret, around how were the recordings obtained, how they have reached us.
MT: How were they obtained?
AY: We havee written about this. Clearly, the recordings were received through our platform for anonymous sharing of documents Balkanleaks, which works on the principle of Tor Browser, SecureDrop, i.e. it uses…
MT: Someone left the files.
AY: Sends the files via the platform Balkanleaks, then we need to do validate them through our methods. We had to call the concerned parties; we havee done all this before we ever published these recordings.
AY: After we made sure that these recordings represent real conversations…
MT: Who confirmed that?
AY: Yaneva did not deny it; Chenalova confirmed. Georgi Kolev, for example, said: “Whoever said whatever should bear the responsibility.” Ultimately, to this day, the existence of these conversations has not been denied; it is rather confirmed. All the facts and circumstances confirm that such conversations havee taken place. The only ones who denied it are the Ethics Commission at the SJC, who cited some expertise X which is unknown…
MT: But, as I understand they do not deny that such conversations were held. They deny…
AY: They say that the recordings are manipulated.
MT: This is something completely different.
AY: Which means that if the recording is manipulated, it does not constitute a representative sample of the conversations. For this reason, they refused to conduct a further probe whether there are violations of the ethics rules and whether a crime has been committed.
MT: More on the subject after these commercials on Nova TV…
AY: It’s a lab that deals with analysis of acoustics material.
MT: The recordings are authentic, OK.
MT: We arrive, however, at what all this means. What I understand about the very publication of the recordings, because everyone when releasing something, assesses it somehow and says, “Ah, the public must hear this because it has this and that value.” Right? In this case, I suppose that your explanation is that these recordings show political influence in the judiciary, trading influence, abuse of power, etc. Right?
AY: Yeah, and not just that. First and foremost, they reveal the vicious work model of the judicial system in Bulgaria.
MT: Okay, but when Ms. Chenalova was here as a guest on the show, I told her the following thing. From the very beginning, as I listen to these recordings, they sound to me like a radio declaration. Slightly in the style of what we called “radio play”, if you recall. Something like: “We were part of this system, which operates in such and such a way, and now we sit down and tell it all.” I have no idea who recorded what. Whether it was manipulated or not manipulated. But to me it somehow sounds like some kind of dry cleaning.
AY: There is evidence to suggest that these recordings have been taped with Special Surveillance Devices (SSDs). They are two-channel, there are traces of markers, sound beeps, which are used when taping with SSDs. There are traces of two microphones, which means that
MT: You don’t understand anything of what I am saying.
AY: No, on the contrary, I am trying to answer what you tell me. Whether these recordings were in advance…
MT: Yes, because then there is no need to cut this word and to put it somewhere else; there is no need when things have been planned in advance…
AY: Everything leads to the conclusion that these are spontaneous conversations. It’s a conversation that represents, I would say, kind of a confession of Vladimira Yaneva in front of two people who are close to her.
MT: Somehow this seems very deliberate to me.
AY: Well, it is hardly deliberate…
MT: That is what I told Ms. Chenalova, somehow, that’s all…
AY: It never happened to you to be in a situation where you feel wronged; you go and share with someone what happened; what injustice befell on you; how someone betrayed you; how someone refused to help you and etc.? I do not think Yaneva was aware that this thing was being recorded due to one simple fact. She is risking to be discredited personally by these recordings. There is hardly anyone would be such a masochist to make such recordings and make them public, provided that they can discredit them, to some extent their family, to some extent the people they know. This is about people who are from the same friendly circle. They both have their lobbies in the judiciary. These are friends. I cannot accept that such recordings could be made under any scenario.
MT: OK, thank you and the show continues with the next topic…
Atanas Tchobanov in an interview conducted by Sylvia Velikova for BIT Television’s talk show eMission Bulgaria 03/03/2016
Sylvia Velikova: As the site that actually put on the agenda, with a bit of difficulties when it came to politicians, but somewhat easier when it came to the media, the topic of the conversations between Vladimira Yaneva and Rumyana Chenalova, what is your interpretation? How would you comment on the inability, as Ms. Yuliana Koleva from the SJC phrased it, of the SJC to investigate violations of the code of ethics in this type of communication between people from the highest echelons of the judiciary?
Atanas Tchobanov: I will be a little abrupt. I say this is hypocrisy. And I will give an example right away. Ms. Koleva said that the prosecution to finish should conclude their probe, so that they can…
SV: Possibly reopen their probe.
AT: Eventually, yes. But the probe was “finished” on grounds of some partial information from prosecution – some expert report concluding that conversations are manipulated.
SV: Just to clarify – did your give your expert report to the SJC or when it was ready, they had already closed the case?
AT: That expert report that we just gave to the prosecution was not ready when the SJM completed their probe. When it became ready, on January 20, we reported it; we immediately published a copy in English and said that we were submitting the expertise for translation and when translated we will give it the prosecution. And this coincided with our visit to the investigative services.
SV: Yesterday you were summoned for questioning, yes.
SV: This seems to me somewhat illogically late. Such probe should first start with a conversation with the source. Or was it done now simply because you live abroad?
AT: I cannot tell you. I was summoned in December last year, but it was impossible for me to come to Bulgaria then and the supervising prosecutor Dimitar Petrov and I agreed to meet on that date.
SV: So what were you asked and had your expert report not existed, was there anything else to talk about?
AT: It was a very interesting conversation. From what I heard and from the questions I asked, because I was also asking questions, I realized, for example, that Delyan Peevski has not been questioned in these pre-trial proceedings.
SV: Yes, he was interrogated in another case.
AT: So, we can conclude that there are other pre-trial proceedings that we should conditionally call Yaneva Gate 2 because they are linked to this scandal; that is, Delyan Peevski, himself, said in a statement that his questioning was related to the recordings and the words of Ms. Chenalova. These are his own words, Delyan Peevski’s.
SV: Just to clarify that because the above was a questioning that was deeply hidden and kept secret…
AT: Yes, it is a very interesting moment.
SV: The suspicion is that this is rather related to media interviews of Rumyana Chenalova, in which she said that the judiciary personnel policy has been decided in Delyan Peevski’s office and that in fact he is deciding who is going to be promoted and who is not going to be promoted.
AT: Yes. In the conversations between Vladimira Yaneva and Rumyana Chenalova at one point, we can hear the following: “Delyan has spoken with both.” The “both” are: Sotir Tsatsarov and Prime Minister Boyko Borisov. And “Delyan” is Delyan Peevski.
SV: But he has not been questioned over this.
AT: This is exactly what must be clarified. Are there other pre-trial proceedings, when were they launched, who is the supervising prosecutor and what is happening? Who else is being interrogated in addition to Mr. Peevski in this case?
SV: Perhaps Ms. Yaneva for whom there is no information that she had been questioned in your case?
AT: Maybe. But if you look at the logic of an investigation, everyone involved should be questioned, including the “both”…
SV: Yes, at this point.
AT: This means – Sotir Tsatsarov and Boyko Borisov, Yaneva, Mondeshki, Chenalova, Milka Itova, Yassen Todorov, Dimitar Uzunov, Georgi Kolev, and the Chief of the Appellate Prosecutor’s Office, I forgot his name …
SV: Hristo Dinev.
AT: “Itso-o-o,” as Ms. Yaneva called him.
SV: And the dog.
AT: Yes, and the dog.
SV: The dog, as Tsatsarov said, is the most well-intentioned participant in the talks. Do you suspect that this is actually an imitation of an investigation?
AT: Now my suspicion is … I have no information whether they have questioned other people, and there is no way I could find out as it is causal secret, I guess. But what I realized is that the prosecution was interested how the conversations were received, who sent them? This is a question that we cannot answer.
SV: Why did you publish them with such timing?
AT: Why did we publish them in that order? This is a question to which we answer that the scenario is being written in our editorial office and we are having so much fun when seeing that the institutions become entangled in their own lies. Which is rather sad. But this approach enables us to unearth other tensions and scandals in the SJC. You saw this shameful scene when Boyko stormed the SJC meeting and they all met him standing on their feet. The battalion ready for the commander, right? Except…
SV: Almost all.
AT: Yes, almost everyone. The scandalous text message Borisov sent to supreme judge Lozan Panov is something related to the scandal Yaneva Gate; to the developments in this scandal.
SV: Yes, it is, even the favorite expression of the Prime Minister about “the two women talking” was featured in the text message.
AT: If we … I told the prosecutor quite frankly that we monitor public interest and seek to get the maximum response from the publications. Had we released them all at once, this would have been long forgotten; people would not understand the essence, the causes, we would not have had an investigation.
SV: Now, do you think that at least this public effect has been made achieved?
AT: I think that it has been achieved and this thing already turned perpetual, so to speak, in the report of the European Commission, in whose, both, draft and final version, Yaneva Gate is read laud and clear, not even between the lines. There is the very concrete issue that we have an institutional problem and there is no one to investigate. Who can investigate the Prosecutor General?
SV: We just saw what is happening in Romania. How a prosecutor resigned only because he had abused power.
AT: Exactly. This is one example, and other good things are happening in Romania. In Romania, they charge bosses of agencies for theft of EU money; in Bulgaria we know who stole them, but Sotir Tsatsarov is not pressing charges because he must charge people who are in power.
SV: You mentioned … Things are a little personal between you and him. He also pays lots of attention to you, with qualifications. Just to clarify this.
AT: There is nothing personal. We have not sold or donated apartments to him. Back in time, when he was appointed Prosecutor General, we revealed that he owns some property and breaches can be established in this ownership. We checked the other candidates as well. He obviously has interpreted this very personally because his were the most in number and the most scandalous.
SV: So be it, but he is linking you to a specific political force that is attacking the prosecution.
AT: That is also attacking us, let’s not forget this…
SV: What are your relations with the right-wing party Democrats for Strong Bulgaria (DSB)?
AT: Well, DSB labeled us the evil, a site that aims to mar a nice coalition government. They said this at a press briefing in the height of the scandal “Yaneva Gate”. So, what attitude should we have towards people who fail to see the essence of the problem that emerges from these conversations?
SV: Subsequently, they changed their position.
AT: They accused us… No, I have not seen a different official position; they accused us of being a media that publishes scandalous things, and the reaction should have been that the content is outrageous, not the one who is the messenger of this content.
SV: Yes, this is an old topic, it started a while ago with other recordings…
AT: It started with Watergate … Since then recordings have been published.
SV: What were their questions: Why now? How did you get them or what is being said in these conversations? Did you face a dilemma whether to release these recordings, especially the more intimate part, which was the most recent revelation.
AT: About the intimate … We had a dilemma about the intimate part and decided that career promotion through the intimate part is still a form of corruption. And this is exactly what is being said in the recordings – that ladies with whom the Prime Minister had relations are being appointed to posts in the Council of Ministers; are receiving gifts in the form of real estate abroad. Sorry, but this does not sound like private life, as this money and these appointments are still made possible with taxpayers’ money.
SV: But there is still no probe.
AT: So, the public interest prevails. There is no probe, but after the publication of the report of the European Commission, we have every reason to turn to the Spanish prosecutor’s office, because if it is true that there is a home for a million and a half euro, bought by the Prime Minister for someone in Spain, this is money laundering. Borisov has no way of proving the origin of the million and a half euro, according to his tax returns.
SV: So, you are planning to do this?
AT: Yes, as we will go all the way to clarify every element of this conversation. Not only that. There are other things. There are many outrageous things in them that we forget as time passes. But we have made a list with violations of the law, since some fall under the Penal Code, other are ethical violations that SJC should examine in the Ethics Committee, and will go all the way, we will not stop and forget.
SV: What is your strength besides writing?
SV: Because in this situation it is unlikely that the SJC will open the topic. It is clear that the prosecution will be probing for a long time.
AT: We are only at the beginning of the limitation period.
SV: So, we have time.
AT: I think we have time. We heard in the conversations that the gentleman that is involved, they say he is lawyer Momchil Mondeshki…
SV: Rumyana Chenalova said it.
AT: Yes, one acoustic examination will quickly prove who he is.
SV: You will commission it?
AT: Well, we will find Mondeshki’s voice. He cannot hide forever. At some point he will say a few words in front of a microphone and we would compare them, as we did with Vladimira Yaneva. We recognized the voices of Vladimira Yaneva and Rumyana from their media appearances. He says in the recordings that there was a report that Boyko Rashkov was going to submit to Brussels and he was told to look at the report to see what should be submitted and what should not be. Who is Momchil Mondeshki? Does he have access to classified information in order to see this report?
SV: Sorry, but in this case…
AT: It is an offense that calls for jail time.
SV: So just to recall…
AT: If one looks at a report to be submitted to Brussels and which may contain classified information…
SV: So, when we listened to the recordings from “Bankya Gate” and we heard how prosecutor Nikolay Kokinov reported by phone to former Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov what will be said at a press briefing, nothing happened except Kokinov paying the price.
AT: But we remember Sylvia, we remember and we remind.
SV: You rely on us remembering?
AT: Yes, I do rely on remembering because there is a buildup. This cannot be shoved under the rug, be forgotten, yet these people count on having their sins forgotten someday and on returning on a white horse, just like, for example, Florov returned yesterday; he was acquitted, actually not acquitted, but all charges were dropped.
SV: So, as they did not press charges, now the case is officially closed.
AT: Yes, yes, Tsvetan Tsvetanov is innocent, Hristo Biserov is innocent. All politicians are…
SV: But the Prosecutor General says that these acquittals are problematic. He is also alarmed by them.
AT: And what if the Prosecutor General is the problem? After he lied a while ago that he had asked information on Biserov’s Swiss bank account, it turned out that he had not yet done it. That is, the request has been lost somewhere between his statement and what was actually done by the prosecution.
SV: Well, if one must…
AT: People from Viber answered in five minutes. I can show you a printout of my email. I asked a question and five minutes later they answered: Send subpoena, that is a prosecutor’s request or a request from a judge for disclosure of metadata and they provide them. At yesterday’s questioning, I had to explain how I contacted Viber’s support… Well, through Viber’s website. There is a button. You click on it and you write to them.
SV: Which means that the prosecution had not taken any action in this direction?
AT: Maybe it had not taken, yes.
SV: So, let’s actually summarize. And again with a view to Romania. We mentioned how high-profile cases conclude. We talk about how the investigation progresses. But ultimately, the prosecution is one that should provide those answers. Should someone fall out of favor, become opposition, become inconvenient in order to act?
AT: I think Monica Macovei made a very interesting statement, now I realize how right she was. We need one prosecutor to have the courage to do their job well, to gather enough evidence and to press charges…
SV: In the centralized Prosecutor’s Office?!
AT: Yes, nothing prevents even one unknown junior prosecutor, having enough evidence, from pressing charges against Sotir Tsatsarov. He has no immunity. And once he is indicted, SJC needs to “finish” him. Exactly in the same way he indicted Yaneva and she was suspended on the very next day. Isn’t the law such? Yes, the prosecutor above this junior prosecutor may cancel his act, but imagine the scandal. Someone just needs to start. So how come, I am not sure, but I think that we have three times more prosecutors than the Netherlands, where the population is three times larger … With such ratio and with so many prosecutors, how come we cannot not find a man brave enough, conscientious, competent, to do the job? We can’t because of the entire hierarchy; you see that the SJC’s staffing policy works to make sure that there is no such person.
SV: Right so.
AT: And things are assigned to…
SV: At least the one at top to have control.
AT: They are assigned to prosecutors who are specially selected for … God forbid, for not going as far as undertaking something that the hierarchy had not sanctioned in advance and is unknown. I asked prosecutor Petrov how come Sotir Tsatsarov knows that Chenalova is not disclosing anything before the prosecution. Is Mr. Tsatsarov going to read what I tell you now? He said: “No, come on, please, there is secret of the investigation.” Well, how come than and from where Tsatsarov knows that Ms. Chenalova is a talker before media, but when she needs to talk to the prosecution, she says: “I do not know, I did not see?” He said that he had prepared a reference for the SJC. So, I therefore understand that the SJC has received partial information. But does the SJC have a right to look into this…?
SV: Generally, the SJC has no right to look into cases that are in pre-trial phase.
AT: And in their expert report, which I call “No Such Expert Report” because we neither know its author, nor what methods were used, nor…
SV: We do not know, but based on the data received from the prosecution, the SJC has closed the probe.
AT: Here, this IS an expert report – 17 pages with graphics, with references…
SV: We should wrap this up, one final sentence: What is the source of optimism? Your personal impressions?
AT: Well, because I think that if they can, we can too and because I know that there are some parallel cases that are mentioned in the report. These are investigations that are conducted in parallel in Bulgaria and Romania, possibly in other European countries. In Bulgaria, nothing happens, but there are arrests in Romania. I know about a specific such case and I hope that under pressure from OLAF, the European Union, there will be action in Bulgaria, which will lead to collapse of the pyramid.
SV: And I do want to remind our viewers that there were times when we wanted to be disconnected from Romania, because we felt that we were ahead of them and more developed, now we find examples that what is happening in Romania, could happen to us. Thank you for being with us. Investigative journalist Atanas Tchobanov from the site Bivol was my guest; we also heard what the SJC is doing a week after the EC report, which was the most critical precisely towards this institution.
This post is also available in: Bulgarian