One of the most active MPs of the largest opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), Elena Yoncheva, presumed leader of list for the European elections, was charged on Tuesday (22 January) with “money laundering”. Prosecutors say she made use of “stolen money” from the Corporate Commercial Bank (KTB of CCB), which went bankrupt in 2014. Krassen Nikolov has the story.
As this website predicted, the Bulgarian prosecution will be playing a role in the upcoming European elections.
Yoncheva was a very popular journalist, famous for having reported from may war zones, and a former partner of PES leader Sergey Stanishev. She became MP from the Bulgarian Socialist Party in 2017 (from the BSP civil quota) and got prominence as one of the best BSP speakers. Previously, Yoncheva worked in the electoral team of President Rumen Radev.
Stanishev, the leader of the Party of European Socialists (PES) may not lead the list of the BSP, the party of which he was the leader. His name may even not appear on the list, due to ideological differences with the new BSP leader Kornelia Ninova.
Many believe Stanishev’s former partner will replace him as leader of the BSP list. But this was without counting on the unpredictable activism of the prosecution. BSP is expected to take the decision about its candidates in March, after consulting its electorate, which gives advantage to Yoncheva, a popular figure.
The allegations about Yoncheva’s relationship with Corporate Commercial Bank are obviously political. They came from GERB deputy Delyan Dobrev, who linked Yoncheva’s name to KTB bank.
Previously, Yoncheva was actively involved in the public exposure of Dobrev, who was involved in a scandal with family appointments in the municipality of Haskovo – his hometown. She has embarrassed GERB with exposure about abuses in the construction of the defensive fence along the border with Turkey, and produced a documentary about this infrastucture. Yoncheva was also very active exposing corruption in road construction.
Last July, Dobrev filed a signal to the prosecution against Yoncheva. In November, the prosecutor’s office demanded that the ex-journalist’s immunity be canceled because of her links with the CCB.
Yoncheva called “absurd” the money laundering claims. She commented that she had a contract with CCB for the purchase of television equipment for filming documentaries in Syria, Turkey and Ukraine. In 2012 she authored a film about the civil war in Syria. At that moment she worked on TV7, which was supported by the banker Tsvetan Vassilev, owner of CCB.
Yoncheva says the TV equipment she still exists and that there was no grounds for money laundering caharges.
“The Government and Boyko Borisov has started to use the Specialized Prosecutor’s Office, established and controlled by them, to intimidate, threaten, publicly humiliate their opponents,” Yoncheva said.
The state prosecution claims that in 2012 Yoncheva set up a joint venture with an offshore company from the British Virgin Islands. The offshore company has reportedly paid over BGN 650,000 (€325,000) from CCB to accounts managed by Yoncheva. It is said that Yoncheva knew that money was stolen from CCB by the former head of the bank Tsvetan Vassilev.
By 2012 Tsvetan Vassilev was still the most influential Bulgarian banker. About 50% of state-owned companies’ money was deposited with the bank. At that time, the first cabinet of GERB was on power, bringing the state money to the CCB coffers. In 2011 Banker Vassilev was named “Mr Economics” and in 2013 he was named “Banker of the Year”.
This did not prevent the prosecution from claiming that Yoncheva was aware that she was financed with “stolen money”.
Corporate Commercial Bank went bankrupt in the spring of 2014. The bankruptcy was preceded by a coordinated attack form media, controlled by DPS member of parliament Delyan Peevsky, and by the prosecutor’s office. This has sparked a huge hype, with CCB depositors panicking and withdrawing their money from the bank. Now, Vassilev is prosecuted for theft from the bank to the amount of€1 billion. The banker has been hiding in Serbia for five years. The neighbouring country refuses extradition.
GERB’s Dobrev, however, managed somehow to escape all the scandals around him. He kept his MP seat, despite the scandals in Haskovo. Dobrev is accused of financial wrongdoing related with the project for construction of the Belene nuclear power plant in 2016. His case however has not yet reached the court.