Disinformation under the shadow of fake Russian ties

The oligarchy launches a foreign-territory attack against Peevski and Bulgaria

The MEP candidacy of Delyan Peevski, a lawmaker of the opposition party Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF) and Telegraph Media publisher, set off a true cannonade of smear campaign operations against him last week. It ranged from the already disproven fake news items about how the ALDE supposedly did not want Peevski in Brussels to the old refrain (also disproven dozens of times) about Russian ties of the lawmaker.

Extremely concerned by the very real prospect of Peevski being elected to represent Bulgaria in the European Parliament, a group of shadowy oligarchs activated all of their pawns to form a united front against the MP. All sorts of fabrications, fake news and communist-style false reports that the oligarchs and their hired pens have spewed over the past decade were thrown in the smear campaign. Those efforts had a singular purpose – to send to the foreign public the message that Peevski is the embodiment of evil. Only in this way can the behind-the-scenes political and economic circles guarantee themselves protection against the lawmaker’s revelations about their shady deals. It is an old trick, in which the thief cries “catch the thief” in the hope that that would stave off retribution.

It would seem that this goal is of vital importance to the behind-the-scenes circles in Bulgaria because neither money nor effort has been spared in chasing it. All kinds of foreign contacts are being employed to spread the oligarchs’ fabrications. And so, thanks to the right connections and other means, these ominous figures (indicted for serious financial offences) managed to even get to influential publications such as Independent. At the end of last week the UK publication ran an article entitled “Are Bulgaria’s strings still being pulled by the Kremlin?” In his long piece, the author Borzou Daragahi, who has been short-listed for the Pulitzer Prize a total of three times, paints a rather unpleasant picture of Bulgaria, practically suggesting that the country is controlled by Russian interests. Peevski’s name somehow found its way to that text.

What is incorrect about the article? Actually, the more difficult task is finding what the text has gotten right. Real events and facts are jumbled together with fabrications and propaganda theses in a way that throws almost any semblance of truth out the window. Naturally, the Peevski example sticks out like a sore thumb. His name is mentioned in exactly one sentence – “The vast television and newspaper empire owned by lawmaker and oligarch Delyan Slavchev Peevski, who has been linked to the Kremlin, began publishing stories alleging he was corrupt.” This sentence is prime material for journalism classes as an example of an outright lie.

First – Peevski does not have a “vast television and newspaper empire” and that has been established hundreds of times. The author must not be particularly skilled in using databases because a simple visit to the country’s Commercial Register would have shown him what kind of businesses Peevski owns. The lawmaker is the publisher of Telegraph Media, which encompasses six print and two online media outlets. True, among the publications is the Telegraph newspaper, which boasts the largest readership in Bulgaria. Together with the newspaper Monitor, it has never backed down from exposing the crimes of the oligarchs in Bulgaria over the years – with documents and evidence. It is because of these investigations that the oligarchic circles in the country are so threatened by Peevski and have targeted him as their enemy №1.

The second lie that immediately stands out in the Independent article’s one sentence about Peevski references Russian ties that he supposedly has. The young lawmaker was born long after the era of the State Security agency and the so-called transition to democracy – a period during which the oligarchs, who nowadays try to pass as businessmen espousing European and NATO values, amassed their first million with the blessing of former PM Ivan Kostov and the remnants of the communist security services in Bulgaria.

“…I am not the oligarch here, I am not the one who bought the state-owned Kaolin and Sopharma for cents on the dollar, who owns solar farms that produce expensive power, or gas transmission networks, unethically profiting from the fees regular people pay, who uses pension funds' financial resources for personal financing, who sells unjustifiably expensive drugs or evades taxes, and I surely have not filed lawsuits against my own country nor slandered it in Brussels and across the Atlantic. I, dear oligarchs Prokopiev, Donev and Donchev (Ivo Prokopiev, sasho Donchev and Ognyan Donev – editor’s note), own only media outlets with which to unmask people like you, and I will continue to do so because I believe in truth, in one's right to express their opinion freely, I believe in Bulgaria's future and I am not part of the so-called transition-to-democracy clique, which plundered our country and to which you belong,” the lawmaker wrote in an open letter a year ago.

The oligarchs Peevski mentions by name, together with the indicted banker hiding in Serbia Tsvetan Vassilev, are the real faces of Russian influence in Bulgaria. For years, Vassilev has been entangled in serious shady deals with representatives of the Kremlin influence around the world such as the oligarch Konstantin Malofeev. The two have been conspiring against Peevski. This information is also public domain and the author Borzou Daragahi could have easily ascertained that there is no way the MP could be tied to the Kremlin, given that he has drafted and proposed a series of bills intended to fight off the attempts of the knee-deep-in-Moscow-ties oligarchs to plunder the state. In that sense, Peevski has been more of an opposing force to that policy – with his actions both as an MP and a publisher, who has always supported European and NATO values.

This is not the first time that Daragahi has had trouble with his Bulgarian sources. In 2013, as a correspondent for the Financial Times at the time, he speculated that Israel probably paid Bulgaria to accuse the Shi'a Islamist political party and militant group Hezbollah for the terrorist attack at the Sarafovo airport. He apologised for his words a day later. “Sincere apologies and regret for ill-conceived Tweet yesterday about Israel and Bulgaria,” Daragahi posted on Twitter. The sources that led him to come out with the speculation and the ensuing apology were never revealed, but his abovementioned Independent article clearly shows where the author gets his “information” about Bulgaria. Just as was the case in 2013, those sources cannot be described as reliable by any stretch of the imagination. The lineup includes people known for their shadowy connections like Radan Kanev, Tatyana Doncheva and Ognyan Shentov (head of the grant-funded Centre for the Study of Democracy – editor’s note). It is interesting to see Kanev and Doncheva teaming up publicly in a bid to protect their mentors – the former has been pretending to be a democrat with liberal values for years, while the latter, who is now a lawyer, was a long-time member of the Bulgarian Socialist Party. After leaving the BSP ranks, Doncheva established her own political party – a decidedly pro-Russian socialist organisation. Apparently, in her comments to foreign journalists Doncheva forgets that role of hers because she confidently states: “When you look at the lineup of our political scene and the lineup of our economic scene, all roads lead to Moscow.”

It is unclear which of the three aforementioned figures gave Borzou Daragahi information about our country but whoever it was they managed to mangle the facts so badly that the MRF, which is clearly a liberal party, is described as pro-Russian, while Traycho Traykov (a failed presidential candidate now indicted for the sale of the remaining state-owned shares in the power distribution company EVN) is made out to be a fighter against Russian influence. The article also contains factual mistakes like the claim that Traykov has been acquitted by courts of three instances in the EVN case. The deal itself reeks of corruption, while the case against Traykov (the other defendants in which, Ivo Prokopiev and Simeon Djankov, are conveniently not mentioned – presumably not to betray Traykov’s ties to the Bulgarian oligarchy – editor’s note) is still being heard by the court of first instance. The British publication would find it interesting to peruse the records of the court hearings where the witness testimonies reveal that Djankov and Traykov acted to the detriment of the state and to the benefit of the oligarch Prokopiev.

An interesting detail, also absent from the Independent article, is PM Boyko Borissov’s remark that Prokopiev managed to install some of his people in the premier’s first cabinet. Djankov and Traykov are among those pawns and they obviously worked entirely in favour of the oligarch and not as Independent writes “to help give his gruff centre-right party a technocratic sheen”.

What is made obvious by the Independent article, and other similar pieces of journalism of the past several days as well, is that the oligarchs are terrified by Peevski’s MEP candidacy and will do anything to thwart it.

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