Defenders of Bozhkov, Vassilev and Prokopiev populate so-called Anti-Corruption Fund

An incubator for mouthpieces publicly defending the theses of the indicted and charged oligarchs in Bulgaria – that is what the so-called Anti-Corruption Fund is. Instead of doing the investigative work it received a grant four years ago to do, it serves society articles designed to vilify the public institutions that have been going after the NGO’s mentors so that those people can make themselves out to be victims instead of the criminals being prosecuted for their shady deals that they are.

Similarly to the infamous online platform ktbfiles, whose establishment was a testament to the union struck between the kaolin king Ivo Prokopiev and fugitive banker Tsvetan Vassilev, the aforementioned NGO is evidence of the united front formed by the oligarchs against the government and the justice system. It is no coincidence that both of these supplements to the behind-the-scenes clique’s media machine for manipulations were founded about the same time in 2016.

The NGO was set up and is managed mainly by individuals from Prokopiev’s close circle, while its so-called investigations are authored by Nikolay Staykov, who used to work for the indicted oligarch at the weekly Capital. Under the guise of “fighters against corruption”, representatives of the NGO regularly make public appearances to defend theses favouring the kaolin king and the rest of the shadowy players in the country who are finally being prosecuted for their crimes. 

The most recent such example came on 2 July. A female journalist from bTV, which has been dubbed Bozhkov TV because of its ties to the indicted gambling tzar, did a story insinuating that somehow not he but the state is responsible for his failure to pay BGN 700m in taxes. This is actually the theory that Bozhkov himself is peddling in his attacks against the public institutions.

The bTV story featured a short interview with attorney Greta Ganeva, who said, “It is not the companies’ duty to calculate how much they owe the state (in taxes). That is the job of the State Commission on Gambling.” The piece also conveniently failed to mention that, according to the investigation itself and the indictments, former heads of said commission worked together with Bozhkov to bend the regulations so that Bozhkov, who has since been slapped with 18 charges, could avoid paying hundreds of millions of levs. Instead of replenishing the state budget, the money was used in part to fund the former ombudsman Maya Manolova’s campaign in the mayoral race in Sofia. It also funded purchases of high-end items and arranging for all sorts of people in Prokopiev’s close circle to go on private cruises and to luxury resorts, including the executive director of bTV Florian Skala, as was revealed by the testimonies of Tsvetomir Naydenov, former associate of the gambling tzar and now a lead witness against him.

Another key element was left out of the bTV story – Greta Ganeva was presented simply as an attorney, omitting the fact that she has been with the Anti-Corruption Fund since its very inception as well as the reports that this year she was appointed as head of its legal office. It is unlikely that the omission was an innocent mistake. This was clearly an attempt to hide the connections between the NGO and the media outlets gravitating towards the indicted and charged oligarchs so that this story and other pieces could be promoted as “independent investigations” by the shadowy clique’s entire mainstream media machine.

Similarly, last year another member of the Anti-Corruption Fund – Yordan Karabinov – popped up in the supposedly foreign production Shadows of Sofia, a documentary by Kevin Booth, who presents himself as a Texas “investigative producer and director”, but is nothing more than a showman (See here). The documentary was touted by the oligarchy’s mainstream media machine – everyone from Capital to the website Frognews – as an example of “a documentary filmmaking illuminating the reality in Bulgaria”.

However, the first part of the film is an outright defamation of the entire country, which is painted as a concrete jungle teeming with drunk and high tourists and high school seniors, a place that almost every young person would like to escape. This image of the country has nothing to do with reality and is extremely distorted thanks to the joint efforts of Booth, Karabinov and a few other professional protesters, including Bivol, a website directly linked to the Russian propaganda (See here). The real goal of the film shines through in its second half, where the aforementioned group of people describes fugitive banker Tsvetan Vassilev, who embezzled billions from CorpBank and defrauded thousands of depositors before fleeing to Belgrade, as a “victim” of arbitrary rule and of a “corporate raid”.

Participating in such smear campaigns as well as creating and disseminating disinformation and manipulations masked as “investigations” is a trademark of the so-called “fighter against corruption” from the Anti-Corruption Fund. The NGO produces those thanks to a grant that it received from the American taxpayers in 2016, ostensibly to make quality investigations in line with the requirements for unbiased journalism that would shine a light on wrongdoings in the country. Instead, the NGO is using the money to pollute the entire public discourse with reports that do not meet any sort of objectivity criteria, do not present facts in support of their insinuations and actually serve the oligarchy’s interests pretty openly. To that end, they resort to fabrications concocted following Russia propaganda formulas (See here).

And so, over the years the Anti-Corruption Fund has shown itself to be a megaphone for the Bulgarian oligarchs’ attacks against their enemies. The list of targets of these smear campaign efforts is mostly fluid, but there are a couple of constants and one of them is lawmaker and Telegraph Media publisher Delyan Peevski. He has become a sworn enemy of the country’s oligarchs because of his legislative initiatives, which put a stop to the secondary plundering of CorpBank, and because of his publications’ long-standing policy to expose those same oligarchs’ shady deals and crimes.

This is exactly why the “investigations” of the Anti-Corruption Fund often mention the name of Peevski without any evidence to support the manipulations floated by the NGO and immediately picked up by the media outlets affiliated with Prokopiev, Vassilev, Bozhkov and the rest. There is no shortage of examples of this, with the latest one having come pretty recently. Several days ago, Nikolay Staykov – former Capital employee, former owner of a website selling condoms and sex toys, and now supposedly an independent “fighter against corruption” – released the second part in his elevator fantasy series The Eight Dwarfs, which is based predominantly on the claims of Iliya Zlatanov, who fled abroad after getting his son, wife, daughter and son-in-law into police custody. Similarly to the first part, the second is entirely based on the claims of the owner of Izamet – no fact-checking, no confirmation in Staykov’s journalistic piece. Zlatanov himself tells a story that resembles mystification and in which he uses hearsay to throw in the names of people that have nothing to do with it. The list includes Peevski. Neither Zlatanov nor the so-called team of investigative journalists provide any evidence. For the simple reason that there are none. However, this did not stop the so-called Anti-Corruption Fund from alleging a completely made-up involvement of the lawmaker in The Eight Dwarfs mystification, relying solely on insinuations. The lack of facts proving an existing connection between the MP and the script of the heavily produced fantasy is so obvious that even Capital admits that the connection has not been “verified”. To make the most out of a bad situation and serve its boss, Capital tries to paper over the blatant manipulation spun by the Anti-Corruption Fund by explaining that there was no way to  “verify” the story because it was a he-said-she-said situation. But this is a lie too because in his effort to make his story sound more plausible Zlatanov told tall tales that can be easily checked and debunked. But neither truth nor morality have ever been priorities with this group of “fighters against corruption” or their oligarchic bosses. The only goal is for the latter to use the NGOs they have created and the media outlets they fund, which together represent the oligarchy’s machine for media manipulations, as a shield and make themselves out to be victims in the hope that this will cause society to forget about the devastated resort town of Merichleri, the hundreds of ruined lives, the thousands of defrauded CorpBank depositors, and the hundreds of millions of levs stolen from the state and the taxpayers.  

While the indicted and charged oligarchs use their paid journalists and NGO “activists” as a cover for their own crimes, the latter pose as “fighters against corruption” and “investigative reporters” to conceal the propaganda nature of their words and fill the gaping void created by the lack of evidence by alleging they are victims of intimidation and threats in the hope that the public will actually buy that they are doing true investigative work.

Investigative journalism can really be a dangerous occupation. But that applies to real investigative journalism. Not manipulations. It is true that threats issued against any journalist are unacceptable. But it is also true that there are people who present strange things as threats, just to make themselves appear to be victims. For example, a while ago a prominent Bivol employee, who presents himself as chief editor of the website, alerted seemingly every public institution and international organisation out there that his life was in danger because he found… a large stuffed animal wolf (?!) on the hood of his car.

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