Bulgaria to Freeze Assets of Media Moguls on TrialCrime | June 13, 2012, Wednesday // 15:02| views
Ognyan Donev (R) and Lyubomir Pavlov (L) were questioned at the National Investigation Services before being charged with tax and document fraud. Photo by sbj-bg.edu
Bulgarian authorities are to freeze the assets of the publishers of a major press group, formerly owned by WAZ Mediengruppe, while they are investigated on money laundering and document fraud charges.
"This is what the law envisages and we will stick to it, regardless of who the defendants are and what they work," Sofia city prosecutor Nikolay Kokinov told the Bulgarian National Radio on Tuesday.
The prosecutor's office 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.
It is still to be seen whether 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.
The news comes 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.
Days before the indictment a scandalous tape recording, implicating publisher of Trud and 24 Hours dailies and chairman of the Union of Publishers in Bulgaria Lyubomir Pavlov, in trading in influence, was published in Presa, a newspaper from the arch enemy group.
According to the transcript Lyubomir Pavlov speaks with an unidentified person, telling him how he will use his media group to get away from prosecution.
He says he will be charged soon, but does not worry about the outcome of the trial because no prosecutor would dare touch him.
The authenticity of the recording has not been verified.
Presa newspaper is published by Tosho Toshev, who is also editor-in chief of the newspaper. Tosho Toshev was former editor-in-chief of Trud daily, which is now the strongest weapon in the hands of his enemies - Pavlov and Donev.
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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