Publisher denounces pressure on few remaining free media in Bulgaria

Ivo Prokopiev [Dnevnik]

The publisher of two Bulgarian newspapers, Ivo Prokopiev, has asked that an international prosecutor or international observers get involved in the recently launched investigations involving his businesses, Bulgarian media reported on Monday (29 October).

On Friday, the state prosecution announced that it had pressed money laundering charges against Prokopiev, the publisher of Dnevnik and Capital, in relation to the sale of his company Kaolin to the German group Quarzwerke.

In 2012, Prokopiev was reportedly forced to sell Kaolin, the most profitable business of his holding. With the funds obtained, he paid the accumulated debts of his media group Economedia, of which the weekly Capital and the website Dnevnik are part.

In December 2011, a newly-created state body, the Commission for the Confiscation of Unlawfully Acquired Property (KONPI), seized Prokopiev’s properties.

Prokopiev said the charges against him are absurd and that the accusations would not hold in court. He added that he had referred the confiscations to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

KONPI began investigating the Kaolin deal one year ago, on the assumption that the proceeds of the deal were illegal, because, in its view, Kaolin was illegally privatised in 2000 to Prokopiev’s benefit, and hence all subsequent transactions with the company were also unlawful.

Speaking to bTV on Monday, Prokopiev recalled that Kaolin’s privatisation had been investigated many years ago, the Prosecutor’s Office had filed its claims and the court had ruled that there was no violation of the law.

The publisher said there was a link between the fresh attacks against him and an investigative article published by Capital the previous week, about what appears to be a transaction with public property to the benefit of a Plovdiv-based businessman which apparently earned him an estimated profit of around €50 million.

Prokopiev sees the attacks against him as part of a bigger effort to silence the few remaining independent media in Bulgaria, via attacks against their publishers. He mentioned that the daily Sega and the magazine and website ClubZ had also been targeted.

EURACTIV has reported about the alleged attempts to silence and close down media considered unfriendly to the government of Boyko Borissov as early as in December 2017.

Press freedom in Bulgaria under attack ahead of EU Presidency

Bulgarian opposition parties exposed on Tuesday (12 December) what they see as an attempt to silence and close down media considered unfriendly to the government of Boyko Borissov. Bulgaria will take over the rotating Presidency of the Council of the EU from 1 January.

Media freedom has constantly deteriorated since the country joined the EU in 2007. It now occupies the 111th place in the 2018 ranking of the Reporters Without Borders media freedom index.

Bulgaria is last on media freedom in EU and in the Balkans

Bulgaria, which currently holds the rotating EU Presidency, ranks last among all EU countries in terms of media freedom. It is also the worst in the Western Balkans, a region Sofia hopes to bring closer to the EU.

The European Commission will present its report on rule of law in Bulgaria under the so-called Mechanism for Cooperation and Verification on 13 November.

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