Dirty money for dirty campaigns

Ivo Prokopiev and the Bulgarian Madoff pay for articles in foreign publications with money stolen from all of us

The oligarchs Ivo Prokopiev, Tsvetan Vassilev and Ognyan Donev and their creator, political engineer Ivan Kostov, have been using the money stolen from all of us to gain access to foreign media platforms in order to defame Bulgaria and their personal enemies. It is a well-established practice that notched anotehr peak over the past week, when different cogs of the Fake News Factory almost simultaneously published downright slandering articles. The gem in this media onslaught came courtesy of Der Spiegel – one of the oligarchy’s favourite foreign platforms for dissemination of lies.

The common denominator is that the articles are rife with fabrications and propaganda theses and are aimed at the same person – enemy №1 of the shadowy clique in Bulgaria, MRF lawmaker and our publisher Delyan Peevski. He has long become the oligarchy’s nemesis for two simple reasons. First, his media group’s outlets are among the few who dare to investigate the shady deals of the clandestine power players, all defendants. Second, as a lawmaker, Peevski has drafted numerous bills intended to finally stop the plundering of state assets and the defrauding of Bulgarian citizens by such criminal groups of political and economic origin. This is why the “attack Peevski” call has long turned into a doctrine for the oligarchs and their puppets operating the Fake News Factory.

But the goal of the media assault is not limited to sullying the MP’s name by painting him as the main villain in Bulgaria and the EU. It is also designed to insinuate that the oligarchs are the only ones who can deliver the country from this evil.

This is why the oligarchs reach deep in their pockets, full of billions stolen from all of us, to incentivise Bulgarian and foreign scribblers to create their coveted portraits of saints with media halos (Tsvetan Vassilev has a prolific history of such shameless moves, including the blasphemous act of having his image painted in a church – author’s note) and disparage the people preventing them from going back to robbing the state.

The paid authors’ main task, to depict their mentors as a counterpoint to Peevski, can produce tragicomic result. One example is the abovementioned Spiegel article, where Ivo Prokopiev represents the main point of view and is made out to be “the good oligarch” supposedly fighting the evil forces in Bulgaria. Whether such a thing as a good oligarch exists we leave to your own judgement. According to the Bulgarian unilingual dictionary, the word has a negative connotation because “oligarchs accumulate their fortunes illegally”. This definition most definitely applies to Prokopiev (who paid to be painted in a “good oligarch” light in Spiegel – author’s note) and Tsvetan Vassilev. The two are not only defendants in ongoing cases but their assets have been distrained as illegally acquired. This is why the shadow players are desperately trying to remedy their unmasking as oligarchs by slapping that label on someone else.

How is this transformation being pulled off? The seemingly chaotic spreading of media manipulations is actually part of a well-organised propaganda scheme meant to keep the public under the oligarchy’s thumb. Part of the masterplan is activating “sleeper cells” to contribute content for otherwise highly-regarded foreign publications and using them to sing the shadowy clique’s theses as gospel. These theses are thus presented as reliable to the European citizens, experts and even institutions so that the oligarch’s media outlets can then reprint them and point to them as a condemnation of the entire state. Normally, the paid scribblers are freelancers or editors of international sections who have long been in symbiotic relationship with Economedia and the rest of the Fake News Factory created by Prokopiev and Co. For example, one of the authors of the Spiegel article has worked with the Varna correspondent of Economedia on a piece covering the early 2013 protests. The well-known fact that the demonstrations were against the three energy companies controlling the market is not even mentioned in the article. Neither are the EVN partners of Ivo Prokopiev, Economedia’s publisher. Yet, these same media outlets launched an anti-government campaign in an attempt to protect the energy sector monopolists, using talking points formulated by Prokopiev and eventually leaked. So the fact that EVN is not mentioned in the article is easy to explain. It is also clear how much its author can be trusted to be unbiased. It is important to note that Prokopiev’s love for EVN does not come for free – he has been indicted in the EVN case for causing damages to the state coffers in the sale of its minority stake in the company. How are the paid articles funded? Far from complex, the scheme was revealed in its full glory thanks to the Anti-Corruption Commission for Illegal Assets Forfeiture (ACCIAF) and its request for nearly BNG 200m worth of Prokopiev’s assets to be confiscated as acquired with dirty money. The claim reveals that in 2008-09 Prokopiev authorised payments for BGN 610,000 in donations to the NGO sector in two tranches – of half a million and of BGN 110,000. The beneficiary of one of those is the Civil Media Foundation, affiliated with Prokopiev’s circle and more specifically Ivan Krastev, the Bulgarian pet of billionaire speculator George Soros. The organisation’s co-founder is Krastev’s spouse Desislava Gavrilova-Krasteva, who is the link between Prokopiev and another of Ivan Kostov’s media projects – Mediapool. The editor-in-chief of the website in question is Yassen Boyadzhiev, a leading contributor for the Bulgarian section of Deutsche Welle, which copy-pasted the abovementioned Spiegel article with the speed of light. ACCIAF is adamant that the money Prokopiev used to sponsor Civil Media was illegally acquired and therefore has to be forfeited to the state. In other words, Prokopiev stole from Bulgarian citizens and then used the booty to buy NGOs and media comfort home and abroad so he can disparage Bulgarian citizens. The sums in question are far from the only grants received by his satellite NGOs and media, as for years they have been getting money from EU funds and public procurements. Between 2007 and 2015 alone, Economedia got over BGN 250,000 in public contracts and over BGN 50,000 under the EU Media Professionalism Programme. Sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it? Unlike them, our media group’s members – Telegraph, Monitor, Politika, and Monitor Agency – have never sought or received such EU or public funding. And yet, our professionalism is proven, our journalistic investigations – based on facts, documents and evidence. This is exactly why we are hated. However, we will keep exposing the shady deals of Prokopiev and his oligarchic cronies regardless of their attacks.

 

 

Website of phantoms

 

 

Dimitar Stoyanov, a journalist known to present even his love woes as a result of his investigations, echoes Prokopiev’s points in the Spiegel article. He even cites these woes in the piece as proof that he is subjected to repressions. Lyrical digressions aside, Stoyanov poses, both before Bulgaria society and foreign reporters, as a contributor to the ‘journalistic wet work’ website Bivol. According to Bulgarian registers and the site’s financial statements since 2009, the so-called investigative journalism portal has not paid a single cent in remunerations for journalists. Neither have donations been declared, although the legend spread by Bivol’s publisher Assen Yordanov and Atanas Chobanov, exposed as a parasite on the French taxpayers, is that they get by on donations. Meanwhile, the site reported earnings of over BGN 210,000 from sales of services down to 2017. No need to guess what kind of services these are. It would suffice to remind our investigations into the racketeering of Black Sea mayors by the online publication. These shocking discrepancies in the figures make Bivol an excellent example of phantom journalism taking orders. However, so far none of the media outlets ran by Ivo Prokopiev, Tsvetan Vassilev or Ognyan Donev, or their foreign friends, bothered to examine Bivol’s dubious financial life. Conversely, they accept at face value the fables told by Stoyanov that he worked for free and lived on stipend. Any freshman can tell you how this is made possible – with a little help from sponsors.

 

 

Offshore brethren

 

 

It is a proven rule: where there is dirty money, there are offshore companies. So it would hardly surprise anyone that the publishers of both Economedia and Bivol have their own caches through which their money flows. The ACCIAF’s legal claim shows that with the looted money Prokopiev spread his net over a dozen countries, half of them known as tax havens. For instance, on the Isle of Man he sat up and ran three offshore companies. He is connected to one in Singapore, three in Luxembourg, and owned as many as nine in Cyprus. Here is the time to remind that immediately after ACCIAF distrained his property, Prokopiev called a press conference to deny having four offshore companies in Cyprus. Well, the claim tells us he was right – the number is not four but nine! Some of them, though, he shut down once his property became under audit.

The situation is equally entertaining with Bivol whose publisher Assen Yordanov to this day is an authorised agent of the offshore company owner of Image Advertising, the PR firm of his spouse, Alberta Alcalay. According to the documents filed with the Commercial Register, the company specialising in reputation polishing is wholly owned by Ideas for Young Image registered in the District of Columbia, US. But a closer look at the materials shows that the firm actually has no commercial operations in the US. The entry in “address of the main executive office” shows Belize, an offshore zone extremely popular among businessmen with dubious contacts.

Not only familial but also financial ties conjoin Bivol and Image Advertising like Siamese twins. Their owners, Assen and Alberta, use the two companies in a carrot-and-stick scheme. The PR company offers PR services to their targets, mostly mayors but also businesses. And if they reject the proposal, the stick is brought into play with Bivol throwing mud on these people in paid articles. The public registers provide another evidence of their close ties – the account of Image Advertising features a request by Alberta Alcalay for entering changes to Bivol. It was only logical that the Registry Agency refused to act on the request, reminding Alcalay that the document did not address the correct account.

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