Bulgaria's Top Dailies 'Unhurt' by Freeze on Publishers' Assets

Crime | June 14, 2012, Thursday // 10:42
Bulgaria: Bulgaria's Top Dailies 'Unhurt' by Freeze on Publishers' Assets Lyubomir Pavlov, former chairman of the Sofia-based Municipal Bank and now a co-owner of 24 Hours and Trud dailies, is pictured here as he enters on Tuesday the National Investigative Office for questioning. Photo by Sofia Photo Agency

Bulgarian authorities are to freeze the assets of the publishers of a major press group, formerly owned by WAZ Mediengruppe, but this will not hamper its operations, prosecutors have said.

"There are no grounds to fear that the demand for a freeze on the two partners' assets will hamper the operations of Media Group Bulgaria Holding and the publishing of its high-circulation newspapers, including 24 Hours daily and Trud daily," Rumyana Arnaudova, spokesperson of Sofia City Prosecutor's office, explained.

"It is impossible to demand a freeze on corporate bank accounts – the law just does not permit it. Criminal responsibility is personal and the prosecution may act with respect to the assets of the defendants, regarding them as individuals only," she added.

The prosecutor's office said on Wednesday it is about to approach the anti-crime commission, which may demand that the court imposes a freeze on real estate, stakes in companies, cars and all bank accounts of Lyubomir Pavlov and Ognyan Donev.

The two have been charged with money laundering and document fraud charges.

The news came just a day after Lyubomir Pavlov and his partner Ognyan Donev were summoned by investigators and both appeared for questioning at the National Investigative Office.

Prosecutors were approached by Donev and Pavlov's former partners Hristo Grozev and Austrian Karl Habsburg.

The allegations reportedly implicate Pavlov and Donev in a money laundering scheme, thanks to which they purchased by WAZ Mediengruppe assets in Bulgaria and staged an illegal corporate take-over of the newspapers.

In April last year, Bulgaria's competition watchdog gave the green light to the acquisition of WAZ Mediengruppe assets in Bulgaria by Ognyan Donev and Lyubomir Pavlov even though they were accused of an attempted corporate mini-coup.

The ruling cemented the decision of Bulgaria's Business Registry Agency to register 83% of the wide-circulation dailies "Trud" (Labor) and 24 Chasa (24 Hours) as property of Ognyan Donev and Lyubomir Pavlov, former chairman of the Sofia-based Municipal Bank.

The ownership of WAZ Mediengruppe assets in Bulgaria, which include the two wide-circulation Trud and 24 Hours newspapers, changes hands just four months after Vienna-registered BG Privatinvest Ltd acquired a majority stake in the publisher, while the remainder was held by local businessmen Lyubomir Pavlov.

The conflict between the former partners flared up in March after Hristo Grozev, who represents the Vienna-registered BG Privatinvest Ltd, controlled by him, Austrian Karl Habsburg, and German Daniel Rutz, accused their Bulgarian partners of an attempted illegal corporate take-over of the newspapers.

Bulgaria's trade registry initially blocked the allegedly illegal transfer of a 83% stake in the holding at the insistence of Grozev, but later, following the intervention of the Justice Ministry, gave it the green light.

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Tags: Presa, 24 Hours, Hristo Grozev, WAZ, Ognyan Donev, Lyubomir Pavlov, Tosho Toshev, Finance Minister Simeon Djankov, Corporate Commercial Bank, DTT, EIBank, Central Cooperative bank, Irena Krasteva, Finance Ministry, European Commission, Brussels, CIBANK, Union of Publishers in Bulgaria, Bulgarian Media Union, Trud, Presa daily, Karl Habsburg, charged, fraud, National Investigative Services, National Investigative Office
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