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Yoncheva hits at Bulgaria’s mafia ‘capo’

Yoncheva and Borissov. combo picture [ClubZ]

Bulgarian journalist and politician Elena Yoncheva, who is targeted by the prosecution, didn’t make her case easier by taking aim at the Prime Minister. Krassen Nikolov has the story.

“I would like to tell you the story of a boss, who has been directing a mafia for 10 years and has been winning state contracts for years. The man in question is Bernardo Provenzano. The boss of the Sicilian mafia for 10 years.” Thus began former journalist and current MP from the Bulgarian Socialist Party, Elena Yoncheva’s speech before the BSP’s party convention. After that at she made a direct comparison between the Sicilian and the Bulgarian mafia.

Without mentioning PM Boyko Borissov by name, she said a “capo” was governing Bulgaria.

“The capo governing Bulgaria says: ‘There is corruption in Bulgaria just as there is corruption all over Europe’. The problem in Bulgaria is not the corruption, it is the enormous amount of embezzlements: €11 billion a year”, Yoncheva continued. She further made a point about the thousands of Bulgarians who leave the country every year because of the low incomes and widespread injustice.

Yoncheva was in the center of the public’s attention last week, after she was charged with laundering money from the Corporate Commercial Bank (CCB), which collapsed back in 2014. The Prosecutor’s Office claims Yoncheva used €330,000 to finance her TV reporting from hotbeds of tension and that that this money was stolen from the Corporate Commercial Bank (KTB of CCB), which went bankrupt in 2014.  At the time Yoncheva was working for TV7, a channel solely financed by the CCB’s owner, Tsvetan Vassilev.

Yoncheva says the charges against her are a form of “repression”, and that the Prosecutor’s Office is executing GERB’s wishes. She promised to publish new reporting, uncovering corruption schemes in this government. Yoncheva will likely lead BSP’s ballot for the European elections. The accusations against her emerge at a very convenient time for GERB. The whole story looks very dubious.

EUElectionsBulgaria analyzed the case and found some very strange circumstances. Yoncheva is accused of laundering €330,000, which the prosecutors claim were stolen from CCB. The problem here is that nobody has been charged for such a theft. This should mean that as far as the Prosecutor’s Office is concerned, there is no stolen money. How is it possible then to launder money, whose origin is not proven to be illegal?

The only logical explanation is that the state prosecution is eager to charge Yoncheva before the European elections. She is the most likely candidate to lead BSP’s list, at a time when Borissov’s party and the socialists are neck and neck.

The second disturbing circumstance is that the indictment copy-pastes an accusation made by three GERB MPs in the summer of last year.

The third big problem is named Nikolay Barekov.

In 2013 the current MEP Barekov was the TV7’s executive director. This was the channel, for which Yoncheva worked at the time the alleged money laundering took place. He was Yoncheva’s boss and had access to a much larger chunk of CCB’s capital.

In 2014 Barekov established the political party Bulgaria Without Censorship and coalesced with VMRO-BND. The alliance brought its fruits and Barekov was elected MEP together with Angel Dzhambazki from VMRO-BND. The banker Vassilev has admitted that he has supported Bulgaria Without Censorship financially. This was also confirmed by witnesses in the criminal trial for CCB’s bankruptcy.

The witnesses in the case have many interesting stories about what happened. Nikolay Barekov and Bulgaria Without Censorship’s financial officer, Hristo Tsirkov has testified in the case. According to his testimony he has been working with Barekov since 2012.

Tsirkov also said that in late 2013 he began making visits to the office of one of CCB’s heads (Bisser Lazov) and after that carried special white envelopes for Barekov. In the beginning Tsirkov was not certain if the envelopes contained money or documents.

“At one point the envelopes began growing thicker. Then, when I took them in my hand, I realized that most likely they contained bank notes. Only the first couple of times I wasn’t sure what I had been carrying. Later I knew it was money”, Tsirkov told investigators, as cited by Capital Weekly. He said that over time the money, which he carried came in larger envelopes, then in bags, and eventually – in a sack with dimensions approximately 60 x 30 cm. The sack was handed to Barekov days before the European elections in 2014.

Tsirkov claims the money he took was never declared, and the payments were made only in cash. The money went to the profit of people close to Barekov according to his instructions. The indictment for the CCB case says a total of 25 million leva (€12.5 million) of CCB’s funds has ended up in Barekov’s political party. The investigators for the case claim these funds were stolen from the bank, but no charges have been filed against the MEP to date. The National Revenue Agency probed Barekov in the past for illegally funding his party also, but the inquiry has not led to anything.

How could Yoncheva be charged for laundering €330,000 without this being preceded by a conviction for embezzlement of CCB funds; and at the same time, how could Barekov not be charged, even though there are witness testimonies to that effect in the CCB court case?

One possible explanation why Barekov is immune to the justice system dates back to 2013. In late May 2013 Barekov was TV7’s executive director. Then he organized a protest in support of Prosecutor General Sotir Tsatsarov in front of Sofia’s main courthouse building. Barekov and the people close to him held signs “Tsatsarov – We Stand with You” and “At last: An Honest Prosecutor General”. Even now, the MEP has never dared to criticize the Prosecutor General.

The same can be said for PM Boyko Borissov. 

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