Chief Prosecutor Evasive About Investigation at Bulgarian Mass-Circulation Dailies

Crime | October 20, 2011, Thursday // 13:11|  views

Bulgarian Chief Prosecutor Boris Velchev has refused to disclose details about the ongoing investigations at mass-circulation dailies Trud and 24 Hours. Photo by BGNES

Bulgarian Chief Prosecutor Boris Velchev has said that local prosecuting authorities have been investigating signals related to the acquisition of the Trud and 24 Hours mass-circulation dailies for a few months.

Approached on Thursday to comment on the latest twist in the scandal with two of Bulgaria's largest print media outlets, he refused to go into details about the content of the tip-offs.

On Wednesday it was reported that prosecuting authorities were conducting a secret investigation on the grounds of two tip-offs about money-laundering allegedly carried out by Lyubomir Pavlov and Ognyan Donev.

The signals were said to have been submitted by Hristo Grozev, Karl Habsburg and Daniel Rutz, the three former majority owners of Media Group Bulgaria Holding.

Earlier the same day, a private law enforcement officer accompanied by police entered the  Polygraphic Factory to apply a freezing injunction over the assets of the Trud and 24 Hours dailies and the 168 Hours weekly and the printing facility used by the newspapers.

Speaking before Thursday's session of the Supreme Judicial Council (VSS), Velchev told journalists that it was not a job for the prosecution to interfere in shareholder disputes, although it had become a regular occurrence over the past few years.

Velchev explained that whenever a serious economic, commercial or shareholder dispute had to be resolved, each of the parties tried to get the prosecuting authority involved.

"We must carry out a number of activities before we can say that the case is not our concern," he said, specifying that the facts of each case determined whether the prosecution's intervention was necessary.

The two signals in the notorious print media scandal were filed to the prosecution on the basis of a private investigation carried out by Grozev, Habsburg and Rutz aimed at proving doubts that Lyubomir Pavlov had laundered huge sums of money through offshore companies based in the UK and Cyprus immediately after the shady sale of Municipal Bank.

The three men suspect that the criminal proceeds were used to buy WAZ Mediengruppe assets.

The tip-offs are focused on D & G Assets EOOD, a company said to have been fully acquired by Pavlov immediately after the first money-laundering signal, which had reportedly been governed by his associates up until that moment.

In April 2011, Bulgaria's competition watchdog, the Commission for Protection of Competition, KZK, gave the green light to the acquisition of WAZ Mediengruppe assets in Bulgaria by Ognyan Donev and Lyubomir Pavlov, who were accused by Grozev of an attempted corporate mini-coup.

The ruling cemented the decision of Bulgaria's Registry Agency to register 83% of the mass-circulation dailies "Trud" and 24 Chasa 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 Trud and 24 Hours newspapers, changed 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 at the end of March after 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: Lyubomir Pavlov, Ognyan Donev, Trud, 24 Hours, Chief Prosecutor, Boris Velchev, Daniel Rutz, Karl Habsburg, money laudering, offshore companies


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