Prokopiev’s mainstream machine takes money to promote EU and NATO values, spews pro-Russian propaganda instead

The question is when US institutions will realise how their grants are being spent

Tsvetan Vassilev, Ivo Prokopiev, Sasho Donchev and Ognyan Donev

The main cogs of the mainstream media controlled by indicted oligarch Ivo Prokopiev have received millions of dollars in grants and other funding to promote EU and NATO values espoused by Bulgaria, fundamental among which is the rule of law. Instead, they are peddling the talking points spread by Prokopiev and his cronies – other oligarchs on trial or with charges brought up against them – by inundating the public consciousness with manipulations against any attempt of the state to bring a certain group of people who have defrauded the Bulgarian citizens to justice. And with outright pro-Russian propaganda.

Nikolay Malinov, who has been charged with spying for Russia, recently appeared on the morning show of bTV, ostensibly invited to speak on the decision of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to ban a judge of the Specialised Criminal Court from entering the US because of permitting Malinov, who heads the National Movement “Russophiles”, to travel to Russia and be personally presented with an honour by President Vladimir Putin. In reality, for half an hour Malinov, who was not challenged at any point by the programme’s host, was defending the magistrate in question, Andon Mitalov, and himself and, at the same time, talking about how he has daily phone conversations with GRU general Leonid Reshetnikov. The same Reshetnikov who, together with Russian oligarch Konstantin Malofeev, has been slapped with a ten-year ban to enter Bulgaria. The two are also considered the main drivers behind the annexation of Crimea and the failed coup in Montenegro as well as having involvement in the infamous downing of a Malaysia Airlines flight.

In the meantime, Atanas Chobanov, Bivol journalist married into a Russian family with serious ties to the Kremlin, fired off a series of Facebooks posts, several minutes apart, criticising the decision of Pompeo to declare Mitalov a persona non grata. Chobanov, alongside his Bivol partner Assen Yordanov, uses the website (and other avenues) to serve the interests of Tsvetan Vassilev, who is on trial for embezzling CorpBank and is a partner of Nikolay Malinov.

The Bulgarian desk of Radio Free Europe (RFE) published an analysis explaining how gambling czar Vasil Bozhkov, who has been charged with tax evasion and is also being investigated for money laundering and ordering assassinations, is supposedly a victim of persecution similar to that of oligarchs in Russia. The analysis is headlined: “Bozhkov’s most precious. How antiques hunting ruined an oligarch.” The text describes the gambling czar as someone who promotes art and appreciates antiques. This analysis was preceded by the first of dozens of Bozhkov interviews that inundated the public consciousness since the gambling scandal broke. In this particular case he was interviewed by Polina Paunova – currently a member of the Bulgarian desk of the RFE, a former employee of Mediapool, which is part of the Capital circle, and a frequent collaborator on projects with another former employee of Capital – Nikolay Staykov from the Anti-Corruption Fund.

What connects these journalistic pieces and media outlets, otherwise claiming to be perfectly unbiased and independent? The fact that the authors and their platforms belong to the mainstream media machine controlled by the indicted publisher Ivo Prokopiev and his oligarchic cronies Tsvetan Vassilev, Ognyan Donev and Sasho Donchev. That same mainstream media is composed of journalists, entire publications, TV channels and radio stations and dozens of websites taking money from Prokopiev, who explained in the ARGO-gate shorthand records that he was dictating the public agenda by arming various cogs of that machine with talking points, topics and mouthpieces. Mainstream media turned into a machine for propaganda and smear campaigns against those who expose Prokopiev and the rest of the oligarchs.

The darlings of this factory for lies and fake news have been well-known for years – all people serving the interests of the oligarchic clique in question. And so certain media outlets have been turned by Prokopiev & Co. into an incubator for convenient politicians and NGOs and a dry cleaning service for the tainted reputation of dubious businessmen who have one thing in common – strong Russian ties. This kind of protection from Prokopiev and his mainstream media machine is enjoyed by his partners – the oligarchic publishers Ognyan Donev and Sasho Donchev, as well as Tsvetan Vassilev, with whom Prokopiev publicly joined forces in an interview for the ktbfiles platform, and a bunch of other individuals with indictments and charges. It is a long list, with Bozhkov the newest name on it, but it will surely grow in the future to include other prominent figures from the country’s transition to democracy, whom the country has already held or is about to hold accountable for their crimes.

The enemies are also clear – everyone who dares to expose the oligarchic clique or seek retribution for the shady deals that defrauded the Bulgarian taxpayers. The list of enemies is mostly fluid, with the exception of several constants. Those include lawmaker and Telegraph media publisher Delyan Peevski, who has become he №1 target of the clique for several reasons. First, because his media outlets have for years been making revelations about the shady deals done by these oligarchs who stole from the Bulgarian citizens. Second, because of his legislative initiatives, which put a stop to the secondary plundering of CorpBank and allowed for BGN 1bn in assets to be returned to the lender’s insolvency estate, and provided for complete transparency in the financing of media outlets in the country.

The media financing is the key to deciphering the howling and screaming of the captured mainstream media. When the new law is finally put into effect, obligating Bulgarian media outlets to disclose their sources of funding, it will shed light on the grotesque duplicity of all the publications that make up the libel machine built around the Capital circle ran by Prokopiev and his partners. As it turns out, they receive money from the American taxpayers to supposedly promote EU and NATO values in Bulgaria, of which fundamental is the rule of law. At the same time, they take money from the oligarchic clique, which has Russian roots and rubles jingling in its pockets, to mould their editorial policy around propaganda theses.

The starkest example is the RFE, who is directly funded by the US Congress but whose Bulgarian desk is entirely staffed with people with allegiances to Prokopiev. Their ties to the Capital circle and its editorial policy are more than obvious and shine through almost every article on the RFE website. The sources cited most often are Capital and its satellite media outlets.

But this is far from the only publication from the fabrications factory that enjoys US funding. A visit to the official website of the America for Bulgaria Foundation shows that a large portion of the money that currently supports key cogs in Prokopiev’s mainstream media machine came from the foundation itself. In 2018 Economedia received BGN 1,500,060 for its commitment to quality journalism. The grant extends to 2021, but it is evident that it will not serve its purpose, as evidenced by the hacked e-mail of Prokopiev and the talking points found there, which revealed exactly who Dnevnik and Capital defend. In February 2018 a grant also extending to 2021 and targeting the same mission was received by the Info Space Foundation, which publishes the website Mediapool owned by former PM Ivan Kostov’s one-time spokesperson Stoyana Georgieva. The financial injection was to the tune of BGN 1,360,820. Meanwhile, the company Zebra.BGN, through which Ognyan Donev publishes the website Club Z, received BGN 120,000 for the period between June and October 2018. The Bulgarian branch of the Association of European Journalists took a BGN 214,000 grant for providing media education in classrooms. Just what the AEJ-Bulgaria can teach students is pretty clear considering that the association is made up of journalists representing Prokopiev’s mainstream media machine. The same machine that defends Bozhkov, Tsvetan Vassilev and Nikolay Malinov (who has been charged with spying for Russia). Speaking of Malinov, it is worth noting that America for Bulgaria has also funded the media outlet that regularly gives him a platform, including for his latest performance. bTV received $26,500 in sponsorship in 2016 to cover the US presidential elections.

This is the appropriate time to note that America for Bulgaria is supported by the Bulgarian American Enterprise Fund established in 1989 on the basis of the Support for East European Democracy Act passed by the US Congress that same year. The fund started out with $55m of American taxpayers’ money. According to its official website, America for Bulgaria was founded in 2009 with money the BAEF raised from the sale of the Bulgarian American Credit Bank.

In conclusion, American funding allocated specifically for promotion of EU and NATO values is being used by the benefactors to peddle pro-Russian propaganda. The question is when the US institutions will realise how their money is being spent.

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