Power and journalism in Bulgaria: Deflecting embarrassing issues

Valia Ahchieva in the Bulgarian village of Ablanitsa, in August 2019. [Georgi Gotev]

The Supreme Judicial Council of Bulgaria has blamed an investigative journalist for being “aggressive” in asking questions, disregarding her discovery that the head of the country’s largest court may be holding this post in breach of the law.

Bulgarian magistrates appear to be ignoring evidence that the president of Sofia’s City Court has no valid Bulgarian citizenship, and is therefore not eligible for this or any other judicial function.

This is the issue investigative journalist Valia Ahchieva raised in an article and a documentary video published with EURACTIV Bulgaria on Thursday (12 March). Ahchieva joined EURACTIV Bulgaria after her weekly TV programme on national television BNT was taken off the air without explanation.

Last April Ahchieva revealed that the Bulgarian citizenship of the chairman of Sofia City Court, Alexey Trifonov, is highly doubtful and that he may be vulnerable to Russian influence. Trifonov, born in the then USSR to a Russian mother and a Bulgarian father, grew up in Bulgaria but never obtained citizenship.

According to law, only a Bulgarian national can be a judge in the country. Breaching the law, if established, has very serious consequences: all the convictions issued by the Sofia City Court with an illegitimate chairman could be subject to legal challenge, as well as all decisions from two other courts where Trifonov has worked as a judge.

At the end of 2018, a vote was held by the Supreme Administrative Court (VAS) to elect the Sofia City Court chairman. The General Assembly of Judges in the Sofia City Court put forward its candidate – judge Evgeni Georgiev. But VAS opted for another contender – Alexey Trifonov.

After he took office, the deputy presidents of the Court resigned in protest.

Last July Ahchieva obtained additional evidence that the Trifonov lacks Bulgarian citizenship.

Her latest publication on Tuesday reveals that Trifonov was given documents for Bulgarian citizenship in 1988, in breach of the law.

According to the law applicable at the time, to obtain Bulgarian citizenship his parents had to file a request signed by both parents not later than one year after the child’s birth – which they did not do. Ahchieva was able to obtain his “birth certificate”, issued 16 years after his birth without legal grounds.

According to legal expert Katya Mateva, if Trifonov’s claim that he has no Russian citizenship is true, he is effectively a stateless person, as the documents obtained in 1988 have no legal value.

Ahchieva repeatedly sought a reply from Trifonov but he evaded her questions, so she confronted him in front of his home and asked him if he was a Bulgarian citizen.

Trifonov did not reply but the Supreme Judicial Council quickly convened and published a statement condemning Achieva’s working methods, her “aggressive” approach and the “violation of the judge’s private sphere,” because she approached Trifonov in the presence of his child.

Ahchieva says the Supreme Judicial Council never invited her to give her side of the story.

“Why is the Supreme Judicial Council silently standing and (perhaps) monitoring the case, instead of doing its own investigation of the matter?” she wrote and added that the magistrates are simply trying to divert the public attention from the embarrassing situation of Trifonov and the country’s judiciary towards the “aggressive” methods of a journalist.

“But people know – the silence of the institutions before the journalist always makes one think that the journalist is right,” she wrote.

(Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic and Benjamin Fox)

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