Published with the permission of author Vesselin Zhelev, “Trud” (Labor) daily’s correspondent in Brussels. This is the original article from his blog. We emphasize that Bivol has not investigated this particular case.
Bivol has no special sympathy for President Plevneliev, a personality in the story about the bribe of 1 million levs, asked by GERB councilors, which he failed to report to the prosecution. At the time the story emerged, we even signed a request to the Chief Prosecutor to conduct an investigation. Plevneliev was summoned for questioning, but the scandal was eventually crushed. We have not forgotten how Plevneliev concealed the hunting exploits of his predecessor, Georgia Parvanov AKA DS agent Gotse, in Uzbekistan, either; hired for himself advisors from the red “aristocracy (see HERE and HERE); popped up in “Dunes Gate,” and ignored public interest in the case “Coral” over 20 levs (all links, in Bulgarian, have been published first in Bivol).
But we have always insisted on quality and objective journalism, as it is rarer and rarer in our country.
In a previous attack, where Plevneliev was accused by Peevski’s media of possession of offshore companies, Bivol’s investigation found that a number of the published documents were clumsy forgery. The investigation of our colleague Vesselin Zhelev shows that this is another attack, based on bungling translation from Greek and its arbitrary interpretation.
The Campaign against Plevneliev: Heavy Diagnosis for Bulgaria
So far, the smear campaign against President Rosen Plevneliev, about how he bought his house in Greece, is not based on any evidence of a crime and is another alert that our society, politics and media are seriously ill.
There is nothing in the so-called investigation of TV7 to support the conclusion that Plevneliev has done something illegal when buying a property of 5000 square meters and a house with an area of 400 square meters between the villages of Nea Roda and Ouranoupolis on the Khalkidhiki peninsula in 2007, when he was still a construction contractor.
The “investigative” party, and its “commentators’” chorus, justify the accusations with Plevneliev paying for the purchase in cash. They point at a facsimile of the title documents, published by the site afera.bg, as major proof. The purported and published proof is said to be a photocopy of the document in Greek and its certified translation in Bulgarian.
Let’s say, we start by even assuming these facsimiles are the original documents and they have not been tempered with.
Here they are:
http://afera.bg/razsledvania/50557.html (the facsimile to the article is from this publication – -editor’s note)
However, a number of questions arise just from them, and, inexplicably, no one is looking for and offering an answer.
The Greek text describes the payment method as follows (this is a copy and paste, literally, with just one spelling error, which I will discuss later): που καταβλήθηκε ολόκληρο απο τον αγοραστή και έλαβαν οι πωλήτες σε μερητά. Literally translated in Bulgarian, this means: “which was deposited in full by the buyer and which the sellers received in cash.
The Bulgarian translation of the facsimile in Afera, however, reads: “which was paid in full by the buyer and which the sellers received in cash.” (The underlining is mine – V. Z.)
The correct translation of “was paid in full” in Greek, which is used in legalized notary documents, is πληρώθηκε.
Καταβλήθηκε is the past tense form of the reflexive verb καταβάλλω (deposit). Πληρώθηκε is the same form of the verb πληρώνω (pay).
The Greek notary says explicitly that the payment between the two sides has been made outside his office i.e., he has not witnessed the transaction.
I am not an investigative journalist, but if I was, the first question I would ask to myself would be: Is the Bulgarian translation inaccurate or is it a forgery?
After that, I would have called the notary to request information on what has exactly happened. I would also try to find out the sellers of the property.
It is striking how “cash” is written in the facsimile of the Greek document – σε μερητά. The letter τ is missing; the correct spelling is σε μετρητά.
Such mistakes are not typical for notary documents, where every letter and number are being factitiously verified.
If I was an investigative journalist, this for me would be grounds to ask myself: is this document authentic? It could be, but it also could not be.
Let’s assume that the photocopied documents are authentic. From their content, it is logical to presume that Plevneliev either deposited the amount in a local bank in the sellers’ account or gave them cash.
“The investigation” does not provide an answer about which one of the two has happened. However, is one or the other a crime?
At the time the deal was inked, both Bulgaria and Greece were EU members. I presume that even those in TV7 know that there is free movement of capital in the EU. It is provided in article 63 of its contract and is applied directly, meaning it does not require national legislation.
It states …all restrictions on the movement of capital between Member States and between Member States and third countries shall be prohibited.”
For more detail look HERE:
The following two clauses in the contract list the restrictions of transfer of currency across the border from one EU Member State to another and to third countries, which different Member States can impose through local legislation for different reasons.
In the case of Greece and other countries in the EU, the Bulgarian Currency Act requires citizens who take across the border currency valued at over 10 000 euros to declare it only if asked by the Customs authorities.
This regime has been introduced by an amendment in 2011. A decree of the Finance Ministry, postulating that everyone carrying currency of over 10 000 euros across the border is mandated to declare the full amount and its source and to present a proof from the National Revenue Agency, NRA, that he/she does not have outstanding debt, has been effective after June 15, 2007.
But where is the evidence that Plevneliev has violated this provision, carrying undeclared money in excess of the permitted limit?
Whence it follows that he could not have that amount of cash available in Greece without transferring it there illegally? Wasn’t he able to borrow it on the spot?
What would have prevented the opening of an account in a Greek bank; wiring money to it from Bulgaria, and then withdrawing cash in Greece and delivering it to the sellers? Or making a bank transfer to their accounts?
Just think how many branches Greek banks have in Bulgaria. Is it impossible to withdraw in Greece money that has been deposited in these branches?
If I was an investigative journalist, I would research all legal and criminal ways to make such transfer and ask the Bulgarian Customs and border police when exactly in 2007 has Plevneliev crossed the border and what had he declared.
The publications don’t indicate that these questions were ever asked.
The “investigation” is hinting that Plevneliev may have paid the money using an account of a Cyprus offshore company, which was registered to his former wife.
Leaving aside whether there was/is such company, offshore firms are completely legal and exist in the EU and beyond.
It is illegal to conceal income in them or, for that matter, anywhere, to avoid paying taxes. But the mere possession of an offshore account and a payment from it thereof, are not a crime.
If I was an investigative reporter, I would ask: What law might have been breached by the Bulgarian President, if he really had an offshore account and has bought a house in Greece with money from it? I have not seen any discussion on this issue.
Let’s assume, however, that as a former businessman, Plevneliev concealed undeclared income in Cyprus and then used it to buy the said house in Greece. Resignation is the least action that should follow such an act. However, where is the evidence that he has done this?
The ambition of the “investigators” requires much more justification.
Offshore accounts are subject to harsh criticism around the world as poor people have to further deprive themselves to pay the debts of their States and banks. However, this is mostly moral criticism. It is unacceptable for investigative journalism to delete the line between what is morally approachable and a crime.
I guess people in TV7 might even know that the EU has not been able to force its own Member States, such as Austria and Luxembourg, to lift in full banking secrecy and automatically exchange information with other countries about deposits of their citizens in these two countries.
True, this is a specific subject and is normal for the public to not be aware of it. But this topic is a binding context when writing about offshore companies. It is unworthy for an investigative journalist to take advantage of the ignorance of their readers in order to make political persuasions.
What Are the Conclusions?
“The investigation” established that the President is a rich man under Bulgarian standards. He has a house in Khalkidhiki which costs 700,000 euros and it is claimed that he had paid for it in cash.
So, there are suspicions but no solid evidence that Plevneliev has violated any law.
Over a year ago, TV7 discovered that the former publisher of “Trud” (Labor) daily, Lyubomir Pavlov owns a house on the French Riviera. Something like a gallery of bad people with houses abroad starts to form. The worst thing that unites them is that they are rich amid mass poverty.
The revelations about Pavlov suspiciously coincided with his complaint to the European Commission that the Bulgarian government provides illegal aid to Corporate Commercial Bank, KTB, and New Bulgarian Media Group.
The complaint was followed in Bulgaria by legal charges against Pavlov and his partner Ognyan Donev for document forgery and money laundering. These charges were not proven and flopped together with the government of Boyko Borisov.
It turned out that to own a house on the Riviera is actually not a crime, but as consequence Pavlov and Donev agreed to sell “Trud” and “24 Hours.”
To demand somebody’s resignation only on the facts established by TV7 boils down only to proletarian hatred against the rich.
And such TV should not be linked to Delyan Peevski and the President of KTB, Tsvetan Vassilev, because they are wealthy capitalists, not proletarians.
These “revelations” are grounds for nothing in a country that claims to be European and with rule of law.
They contain reasons for questions, which journalism has full right to aggressively pursue, and which the Head of State is interested to “address” in the most detailed and open manner. He owes this not only to the “investigative journalists,” but to all Bulgarian citizens.
It is in Plevneliev’s interest to ask the competent authorities to probe him and even open his bank accounts, if needed. Because libel settles just fine where there is a vacuum of truth and transparency.
Meanwhile, let’s don’t forget that his most fervent detractors today, were the most enthusiastic apologists of GERB when he ran for president and won the election.
We should not be prejudiced to the investigative efforts of TV7, but we should not forget as well how many times it changed positions to flow with the political tailwind.
Question to all Bulgarians: Do you want such television to humiliate your Head of State and the presidential institution?
What is the most amazing in the whole story is how seamlessly this campaign developed.
One cannot find any journalism, be it investigative or common (aside from the editions of “Economedia”), to look in the facts with precision and ask the ensuing questions.
One cannot find any institution, politician and political party to treat them in a responsible manner. Either they run after the rumors, or gloatingly hunker down alongside.
And the issue here is not refuting or confirming the allegations of a TV channel. This concerns the integrity of the President. This is about trust in him. This is a matter of the highest public interest. And the public speaking about him is at the most substandard level.
This issue reflects the depressingly low standards of journalism and politics. They fit more Third World countries and the so called “Failed States,” but not Europe.
If this is the level of those who inform us and govern us, the situation is dire. Emigration will not fix anything. We need evacuation. Because Bulgaria is moving as a blind person, both in media and in politics. We are inconspicuously becoming a kingdom of lies – of fat, patchwork lies.
We must remember well who the holders of these standards are and ask whom do they benefit.
It is high time to start thinking; to see while watching; to hear while listening. Otherwise, we will have no one to blame.
If people like Delyan Peevski and Nikolay Barekov are seen as credible, those who trust them, totally deserve them.
This post is also available in: Bulgarian