Bulgaria: How Peevski and Bozhkov React to US Sanctions

Politics » DOMESTIC | June 3, 2021, Thursday // 14:56
Bulgaria: Bulgaria: How Peevski and Bozhkov React to US Sanctions

Peevski dismissed the designation as "an absolutely inadmissible, biased act that is at odds with the spirit and meaning of the Magnitsky Act. “This is so because I have done nothing to harm internationally recognized human rights, I am not a civil servant and have not participated in corrupt acts, and the listed reasons for the imposed sanctions do not state a single true fact," he siad in an open letter to the media, released late Wednesday evening, adding that he will challenge the sanctions in court. The businessman blamed "a media oligarch and privatizer" who "brags of his contacts" and "has spent considerable financial and political resources" on this campaign. He did not name that person but was most probably referring to the Capital weekly publisher Ivo Prokopiev. The two and their media empires have been locked in a long-drawn feud.

The Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF), on whose candidate list Peevski has been elected in four successive parliaments between 2009 and 2017, said in a statement circulated on Thursday morning that until MRF sees the facts and evidence that prompted the US administration to impose sanctions on Peevski, the party remains in solidarity with the personal position expressed by Peevski on Wednesday.
 
"It is claimed that Delyan Slavchev Peevski is an oligarch who before that was a Bulgarian MP and media tycoon and was
regularly involved in corruption, by resorting to influence peddling and bribes to protect himself from public scrutiny and to exert control over key institutions and sectors in Bulgarian society," the MRF noted in its statement. "[It is also claimed that] In September 2019, Peevski worked hard on the exertion of negative influence on the political process in Bulgaria during the local elections of October 27, 2019, and he agreed with politicians to provide them with political support and positive media coverage in exchange for protection against criminal proceedings," the party said. The MRF argues that, considering Peevski has not held a senior public office since 2009, he could not have possibly been involved in corruption as defined by the Bulgarian law.

In 2013, Peevski served briefly as Chair of the State Agency for  National Security, triggering a public outrage and mass street
protests which later led to the resignation of the Plamen Oresharski Government that nominated him for the position.

In a televised interview on Thursday morning, former Bulgarian ambassador in Washington Elena Poptodorova said that Peevski was not nominated by the MRF in the April 4, 2021 parliamentary elections probably because the party had been warned about his forthcoming exposure.

In the same interview, expert Tihomir Bezlov of the Center for the Study of Democracy, noted that, unlike Bozhkov, who faces 19 criminal charges in Bulgaria and is hiding from justice in Dubai, Peevski has not even been questioned as a witness by the Bulgarian prosecution service despite widespread allegations about his wrongdoings.

Bozhkov

In a Facebook post, Vassil Bojkov thanked the US for taking notice of his alert, which he describes as "the first official
testimony of gross racketeering and extortion on the part of the  [former finance minister] Vladislav Goranov". Bojkov claims
credit as being the first whistleblower against what he calls "the junta" to all international law-enforcement institutions.
The gambling mogul promised to give a news conference later in the day.

In its press release, the USDT said that Bojkov has bribed government officials on several occasions, including "a current
political leader". Approached by bTV, the DOS declined to identify that individual. Bezlov supposed that this is Communist
 Party of Bulgaria leader Alexander Paounov, a record of whose conversation with Bojkov has been released by the prosecution
service. According to Poptodorva, Bulgaria should "do its own homework": to locate that person.

Link to Elections?

The US designation and sanctions come a month an a half before the July 11 early parliamentary elections in Bulgaria. Bojkov's brainchild, the Bulgarian Summer party, has recently won definitively a case against prosecutors' challenge of its
registration and will run in the July 11 elections. At the same
time, the USDT designated Bulgarian Summer as one of 58 entities registered in Bulgaria that are owned or controlled by Bojkov or one of his companies.

Meeting the media on Wednesday evening, however, visiting USDT Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Paul Ahern, denied that the sanctions were a political action. He argued that when the US launched the investigation, it could not have possibly known that there will be elections in July. The US was clear that it should act as soon as work on collecting evidence was completed, he said.

Russian Connection?

The USDT said that "Bozhkov also planned to provide an ample sum of money to a former Bulgarian official and a Bulgarian politician earlier this year to help Bozhkov create a channel for Russian political leaders to influence Bulgarian government officials."
On the other hand, the bTV correspondent in the US recalled that banker Tzvetan Vassilev filed a complaint under the Magnitsky Act with the DOS against his former partner Peevski. Vassilev's lawyers reportedly claimed that their client had been unjustly subjected to a criminal repression in Bulgaria, for which Peevski and then prosecutor general Sotir Tsatsarov should be
sanctioned. On Thursday, Poptodorova noted that Vassilev, who is being tried in absentia for forming and leading a criminal
group, allegedly responsible for embezzling some 2,700 million leva from his Corporate Commercial Bank (Corpbank), plus a total of 146 other criminal offences, is successfully fighting Bulgaria's bid to have him extradited from Serbia because he
enjoys Russia's protection.

Telltale Sign from US?

Political scientist Petar Cholakov sees the sanctioning as "the US's categorical verdict about the MRF's role, and indirectly
GERB's, in the Bulgarian political system".

He notes that the designees include Alexander Manolev, who served as deputy economy minister in the GERB government in
2017-2019 and resigned after becoming implicated in a EU funds abuse scandal. Two other former officials that were sanctioned,
Petar Haralampiev and Krasimir Tomov, were appointed to the State Agency for Bulgarians Abroad as nominees of GERB's
coalition partner VMRO. Two years ago, they got involved in an alleged Bulgarian citizenship selling scheme.

"This is a testimony of the powerlessness of the Bulgarian judicial system and prosecution service," Cholakov comments. "In particular, the White House seems to give very poor marks to the performance of the Prosecutor General, Mr Geshev. As far as the US is concerned, Bulgarian prosecutors and judges obviously need a babysitter because they cannot cope on their own." BTA

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