Bulgaria - in the Trap of the Wiretap, the Sequel
The wiretapping saga, dubbed the "Bulgarian Watergate," is doggedly sending shockwaves in the country.
The season premiere, named "Tapegate," was in February 2011, when a number of secret recordings were made public, the most notorious one implicating former Prime Minister, Boyko Borisov, in providing cover-up for tax breaches committed by the now-late owner of the "Ledenika" beer company, Mihail Mihov.
The second season, albeit delayed, was launched on March 28, 2012, when Sergey Stanishev, leader of the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), submitted a tipoff to Chief Prosecutor, Sotir Tsatsarov, about mass unauthorized wiretapping of politicians, businessmen, and magistrates which had taken place under Borisov and his Deputy, former Interior Minister, Tsvetan Tsvetanov.
The prosecution's probe in the tipoff showed "two thirds" of the information in it was true.
The really potent "round two" in the season started last Friday, after a fresh batch of recordings leaked to the media, having the effect of a blast sweeping the executive and the judicial power.
Despite the huge scandal in political circles and the media, "Tapegate" and "Watergate" have been both downplayed, with statements common Bulgarians do not care much about the recordings and are rather worried by the skyrocketing prices and the unemployment.
As we now have the full tapes, instead of transcribing the "drama," we will attempt to summarize for our readers the main things we learned from them.
Boyko Borisov – former Prime Minister of Bulgaria
Miroslav Naydenov – former Agriculture Minister
Nikolay Kokinov – former Sofia City Prosecutor
Supporting Characters (people mentioned in the conversation):
Sotir Tsatsarov – Chief Prosecutor
Bozhidar Dzhambazov – Deputy Sofia City Prosecutor, Head of the Special Unit dealing with EU Funds Fraud
Roman Vasilev – Deputy Sofia City Prosecutor
Nikola Filchev – former Chief Prosecutor
Margarita Popova – Vice President of Bulgaria, former Prosecutor at the Supreme Prosecutor's Office of Cassations, former Justice Minister in the GERB Cabinet
Kalina Ilieva – former CEO of the State Fund Agriculture, dealing with payments of funds from the EU SAPARD program, sentenced to probation for forging her own university diploma
Svetoslav Simeonov, former CEO of the State Fund Agriculture and key witness against Naydenov
Diana Damyanovoa – owner of the PR Agency "D&D" and spokesperson for Lukoil Bulgaria
Ana Ruscheva – PR of media mogul Krasimir Gergov
Boyan (Tomov) – Operational Director of Standard daily, currently PR Advisor of caretaker Transport Minister, Kristian Krastev
Svetlana Dzhamdzhieva – Editor-in-Chief of Trud (Labor) daily
Sasho – the Capital daily writes this is most likely Alexander Staliyski, (initially erroneously named in media reports Stoyan Sariiski aka Stanly), a businessman known to be close to Borisov. His father was a Minister in the right-wing Cabinet of Filip Dimitrov in the 90s, appointed on the request of the ethnic Turkish party Movement for Rights and Freedoms, DPS.
Kristina Spasova – former PR of Miroslav Naydenov and former manager of the EU project for advertising the EU Program for Rural Areas Development on Facebook and Twitter
What did we learn:
What Separation of Power?
The conversation took place in an early morning in Borisov's own home in the Sofia suburb of Boyana, as he himself admitted, despite saying he refuses to read the transcripts and listen to the tapes.
Borisov has obtained in breach of the law findings of a prosecution probe before the Prosecutor's Office officially made them public.
The findings were handed to him in person by Kokinov.
Kokinov, who resigned as prosecutor, calls the ex PM "Boss," shamelessly begs him to make him Sofia Appellate Prosecutor, and gently reproaches him for not making him Chief Prosecutor as he was promised.
Kokinov wines that he is being blackmailed for money and that he is subjected to disciplinary proceedings aver some energy sector cases; he portrays himself as the hunted victim and martyr, who could not learn Tsatsarov's plans.
Kokinov reports what he knows about the progress in the corruption case against Naydenov. He also reveals what the key witness, Svetoslav Simeonov, has said and what he plans to say.
Kokinov offers advice to Naydenov on how to avoid prosecution and assuages him the case would not hold water in Court.
Kokinov confirms suspicions and media reports about Tsatsarov being handpicked by Borisov. ("Don't smirk, you handpicked him," Kokinov is heard saying.)
While talking with Naydenov and Kokinov, Borisov answers a cell phone call where someone else also reports to him the findings of the Prosecutor's Office from the probe in Stanishev's tipoff. He relays these findings to the other two.
What Independent Media?
The conversation provides insights into the blueprint used to hold media on a short leash.
Naydenov admits that the criteria for media to bid for EU financing had not been written by experts at the Agriculture Ministry, but by Krisi (Kristina Spasova) and Boyan (Tomov, referred to as Sasho's - Alexander Staliyski's "gay").
These criteria had been produced under the watch and the coordination of Diyana Damyanova and Ani Ruscheva with Damyanova making the decisions on the winning bids.
They have been written after Krisi had reached under the table deals with media that should have been granted the funds.
The mentioned winning bidders are the dailies "Trud," "24 Hours," "Standard," and the largest private TV channel bTV (allegedly owned by Ruscheva's boss, Krasimir Gergov).
"We gave them so much money and they are now dragging us in the mud," Naydenov complains.
Kokinov and Borisov voice alarm that "Krisi" might start "singing" if pressured by the prosecution, but Naydenov is bursting with faith she is loyal to him. He worries more about the other people (calling them with a derogative name) involved in the scam (Ruscheva, Damyanova, Boyan, the Trud Editor-in-Chief Dzhamdzieva).
Tomov "Stole" the Orphans' Money
When Boyan's (Tomov) name is mentioned, Borisov tells how during his term as Chief Secretary of the Interior Ministry, Boyan, in his capacity of coordinator for the charity campaign for the children of police officers who died in the line of duty, had "stolen BGN 60 000 from the orphans," and since then had been banned from going anywhere near the former PM. (It remains unclear why Boyan is now PR advisor in the caretaker Cabinet of a Minister who was a Deputy Minister in the Cabinet "Borisov").
From Naydenov, we learn that Boyan has been recommended by Sasho (Alexander Staliyski), and that the latter is obviously considered a person to whom a Minister could not say "no."
Kristina Spasova (Krisi), 25, Naydenov's former PR and current live-in girlfriend (as he says in the conversation) also deserves special attention.
They young lady has a Bachelor's Degree from the University in the southwestern city of Blagoevgrad. She became popular for winning a bid in the amount of BGN 50 000, in a competition with two other brand new companies, to advertise the EU Program for Rural Areas Development on Facebook and Twitter, which was just the first step in her speedy ascension to significant wealth.
According to several journalistic investigations, months after leaving her State servant job, the former PR purchased from a private company (believed to be linked to Damyanova) 2 luxury offices in Sofia for BGN 0.5 M (repaid only in 7 months), shares in a profitable plant for processing wild berries, and large farming land plots.
After the publications, the National Revenue Agency, NRA, announced they will probe the sources of income of the people involved. The prosecution also announced a probe, but currently it is still waiting for the NRA findings. The EU anti-fraud office OLAF began an investigation as well - Naydenov denied it at first, only to confirm it later.
Its results remain unknown, but, according to what the former Agriculture Minister says in the conversation, it is much larger than the notorious Facebook and Twitter profiles and involves big public tenders under the Program for Rural Areas Development.
Naydenov is also heard stating he did not have anything to worry about OLAF. Borisov, however, tells him: "This is your problem because it boils down to EU money," implying misuse of EU money is more risky than embezzlement of public finances.
Other "Curious" Things Emerging from the Conversation:
Margarita Popova was the one to vouch for notorious Kalina Ilieva (26 at the time) to become CEO of State Fund Agriculture. Media have previously written she got the post because her father was the Sofia Fire Brigade Chief and friend of Borisov (who is a former firefighter).
Most in the high echelons of power is done under the table and everyone is somebody's person - "The President is after me because he sees me as "Boyko's person," Kokinov says, while Naydenov wonders who could have been the mastermind behind "the attack" on him leading to the corruption charges.
Those who don't side with the leading characters or who are not liked by them are gay (prosecutors Dzhambazov and Vasilev, journalist Mitov).
Borisov is on good terms with notorious former Prosecutor Nikola Filchev – "Nikola Filchev told me Dzambazov's entire story. You know Filchev, he is like a computer, you press the button and he begins giving you stories and dates," he says.
Key witness Svetoslav Simeonov, who has testified that Naydenov had given him bribes and had asked him to commit perjury, is called "The Crazy."
The "Boss," who controls it all, might have made a mistake by "giving" Tsatsarov the post as the latter had become emancipated too quickly and is not acting as expected.
A senior intelligence officer visits the former PM in his home – a voice is heard telling Borisov that the "important man from the intelligence agency has arrived."
The former country leader, the former minister, and the top prosecutor are biased, xenophobic, and vulgar. They discuss people's private lives and call others with the most derogative names. In the discussion about Krisi, Borisov and Naydenov wonder who her former boyfriends might have been (someone from TIM is mentioned) as they could be seen as a threat. "I don't really know. She had boyfriends; you realize we don't take them virgin," Naydenov says.
These are the things we know. We still don't know, but wish to know:
Who and how leaked the recordings to the media – the opposition, organized crime linked to police employees, or policemen fed up with the breaches at the Interior?
Are they authentic? (This question has been answered to a great extent, much faster than in the in the "Misho the Beer" case, where the authenticity was never conclusively proven. Kokinov resigned, Borisov is complaining about being recorded in the restroom, and Tsatsarov said he had no doubt such conversation took place. Furthermore, the voices on the tape sound very familiar to those who have followed public appearances of the three and the conversation is an hour and half long making it hard to manipulate and mount.)
If the recordings are authentic, are the participants going to be prosecuted and is the scandal going to turn into Tsatsarov's chance to become "national hero," given the inactivity of all of his predecessors?
(According to legal experts, there is a long list of crimes stemming from the conversation such as obstruction of justice, trading influence, corruption in public tenders, abuse of EU funds, leaks of classified information, and unauthorized spying.)
How was Borisov's house bugged, when it is guarded by the National Security Services (at least one guard is heard coming in and out), and what is the overall state of Bulgarian police, other law enforcement entities, and the intelligence services?
If expert reports that Naydenov himself brought the bug are true, why would he do it as the recording exposes him as well? (Borisov is firm the former Minister was not involved.)
If it was Naydenov, how was Borisov recorded using the bathroom?
Will we ever find the answers?
Tsatsarov's reactions are just a fragile light in the very dark and long tunnel of pessimism.
Borisov recently wondered why he is the only Prime Minister of Bulgaria to be targeted with special surveillance devices.
It does sound like a rhetorical question – maybe because during his term spying reached uncontrollable dimensions; maybe because in a 2011 TV interview he said it was more than fine to eavesdrop on ministers. It backfired.
Because Bulgarians now joke that when they pick up the phone, they say: "Hi, and hi to you Tsvetanov."
To be fair, previous governments have been corrupt as well, but it seems that they have been shrewder in their graft.
More names mentioned in the conversation:
Alexander Arabadzhiev – former Constitutional Judge and Member of the Parliament from the Bulgarian Socialist Party, BSP, currently Judge at the European Court in Luxembourg
Malena Filipova – former Head of the Inspectorate at the Supreme Prosecutor's Office of Cassations
Boyko Naydenov – Head of the National Investigative Services
Kalina Nakova – Prosecutor at the Special Unit dealing with EU Funds Fraud at the Sofia City Prosecutor's Office
Angelina Mitova – Prosecutor at the Supreme Prosecutor's Office of Cassations, Head of the Speacial Unit dealing with EU Funds Fraud
Snezhana Kopcheva – Prosecutor at the Sofia City Prosecutor's Office
Zoya Velinova – journalist at the Bulgarian National Television
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I certainly hope they WILL be voted back in, not just from fear of the Commies but also "faute de mieux".
I'm also looking forward to seeing the Russki mafia exacting revenge on Stanishev and his fellow-travellers for failing to deliver what they were paid to - "pour encourager les autres" ;)