Lozan Panov launches political attack on judicial system

The behind-the-scenes clique is in a state of panic over the expectations that the EC’s monitoring mechanism for Bulgaria will be scrapped

The infamous head of the Supreme Court of Cassation (SCC) Lozan Panov has launched yet another well-planned and targeted campaign against the judicial system. In interviews for two different media outlets, which were published simultaneously and featured identical questions, Panov attacks politically every single figure in the judicial branch of government and the Bulgarian media who is inconvenient to him.

The offensive began about ten days ago, when an NGO affiliated with the failed minister of justice and unsuccessful political leader Hristo Ivanov came out with a report defaming media outlets that dared to criticise Panov for his unacceptable behaviour. Ever since he was elected to lead the SCC, the magistrate has been acting as a politician, keeping too close communication with media outlets and organisations linked to indicted oligarchs, and regularly slandering the state abroad.

In addition, Panov is currently being investigated by the Inspectorate of the Supreme Judicial council on suspicions of exerting pressure on judges hearing the Ivancheva case and by the Anti-Corruption Commission for Illegal Assets Forfeiture (ACCIAF) for possible gross tax evasion. Meanwhile, he was sentenced by a court of first instance for not filing a property statement, as is the obligation of all senior public officials in Bulgaria.

Despite these serious infractions of the Judicial System Act committed by Panov, the NGO’s report tries to describe him as a martyr in the name of the judiciary’s rights and purposefully overlooks all his wrongdoings. However, on Wednesday Panov talked to carefully selected media outlets in an attempt to wash his hands of his infractions, claiming the consequences for them constituted pressure exerted on him by the institutions. His reasoning is essentially that he is the only fighter for justice in Bulgaria.

The two interviews given by the infamous SCC head are very telling for several reasons. First, they are evidence that Panov is keeping a steady course as a politician in the judicial system. He passes judgement on magistrates, labeling them “good” or “bad”. He parrots the theses of the scandalous oligarchic circle Capital, with whose representatives he has disturbingly close relations. At the same time, Panov skirts extremely important topics. For example, asked about his spouse Elisaveta Panova, he says that she was used in a series of attacks against him. However, he never mentions how her name rose in the public consciousness in the first place.

Panov might have forgotten that her name was used by Hristo Ivanov as an argument against the idea that the head of the SCC should be put forward as a candidate for the 2016 presidential election. At a secret meeting, which became known as ARGO, Ivanov, together with indicted oligarch Ivo Prokopiev and a dozen more activists and politicians, was engaged in crafting a new political role for Panov.

The stumbling block turned out to be his wife Elisaveta, which Ivanov dubbed “the black swan”. The description proved to be apt, as the lady appeared to have a criminal past. Now is the time to note another circumstance – in his interviews Panov deftly hides the fact that the newspapers Monitor and Telegraph won a lawsuit against his wife at a court of first instance. Instead of admitting to that, however, the scandalous SCC head simply mumbles that his wife is currently in a court battle with the two publications.

Actually, Panov’s choice of media outlets to talk to is no coincidence either. The two interviews, obviously planned as a coordinated attack, were with the Sega daily newspaper, owned by the natural gas boss Sasho Donchev, and the Bulgarian desk of Radio Free Europe, currently headed by Ivan Bedrov, a pawn of the pharmaceutical boss indicted for tax evasion Ognyan Donev.

On the surface, Panov did interviews with two completely unrelated media outlets. In reality, because of the behind-the-scenes ties of the abovementioned bosses in control of the publications, these outlets are nothing but cogs in the disinformation machine created by indicted oligarchs such as Ivo Prokopiev, Tsvetan Vassilev and Ognyan Donev. In confirmation of this, Capital, Denvnik, Mediapoll, Frognews, Banker and Club Z – all outlets whose ownership and financing is tied to the three bosses – immediately copy-pasted Panov’s interviews.

The goal of this campaign is clear and it reflects the state of panic of the behind-the-scenes circles in Bulgaria. The panic is caused by the expectations that the European Commission’s Cooperation and Verification Mechanism for Bulgaria will be scrapped. If that happens, one of the oligarchs’ last remaining instruments for exerting pressure on the state will be taken away at a time when they desperately need it.

Presently, these bosses are under investigation or already indicted for serious financial machinations like tax evasion for millions of levs, illegal privatisation deals, and an engineered bank collapse that cost the state and taxpayers over BGN 3.5bn. Obviously, all these oligarchs would like to avoid jail; hence they trot out Lozan Panov, who is neck-deep in ties with them.

Hristo Ivanov’s NGO lends a helping hand

An active role in Lozan Panov’s attack against the judicial system played Hristo Ivanov’s NGO, Bulgarian Institute for Legal Initiatives (BILI). The organisation is currently headed by Ivanov’s protégé Bilyana Gyaurova-Wegertseder.

In line with the timing of the attack, on Wednesday Wegertseder gave a press conference together with her expert Teodor Slaveev on the topic “What kind of a prosecutor general do citizens want?” Naturally, they took advantage of the opportunity to attack the incumbent Sotir Tsatsarov, noting that Bulgarian citizens gave his term a C grade. However, the BILI representatives did not specify how big of a sample was used for the poll and whether the unhappy respondents might be all connected to the indicted bosses Prokopiev, Vassilev and Donev, who have ample reason to hate the state prosecution.

Ivanov’s protégés also failed to disclose another important detail – their connection with the unsuccessful former minister of justice and the Capital circle he serves. They also did not mention that some time ago media reports revealed that the lady routinely violated legal requirements for transparency of financing. According to the revelations, Ivanov made the chief secretary of the Ministry of Justice to falsify the Central Registry of Non-Profit Public Benefit Organisation and backdate BILI statements. The employee in question was fired after refusing to commit this crime.

Another circumstance incriminating BILI and its director is that the organisation has business ties not only with Hristo Ivanov but also the indicted oligarch Ivo Prokopiev. Wegertseder and Ivanov were partners in the consultancy company Bili Consulting, specialising in acquisition of enterprises and shareholder stakes. Wegertseder’s brother, Angel Stefanov Gyaurov, who is also a legal practitioner, became the manager of Business Park Sofia after his predecessor, businessman Rosen Plevneliev, entered the executive branch of government in 2009. Angel Stefanov Gyaurov is also linked to Alfa Finance Holding owned by the publisher of the weekly Capital – Ivo Prokopiev. Alfa Finance Holding owns 50% of the shares in Sofstroy. The other shareholder is the Malta-incorporated company Balto-Slavic Ventures Limited, which is represented by Angel Gyaurov.

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