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News 17 Aug 17

Bulgarian MEP Attacks Journalists for Alleged Corruption

Bulgarian MEP Nikolai Barekov has sparked controversy by lashing out at several journalists, reporting them to the prosecutor’s office for alleged tax evasion and accusing them of accepting bribes from politicians.

Bucharest, Sofia
Nikolay Barekov. Photo: Recharge Bulgaria Press Center

The Association of European Journalists (AEJ-Bulgaria), a Bulgarian media freedom NGO, said in a statement on Tuesday that it will report Barekov for using inappropriate language in a press release and on social media.

“We let everyone decide whether it is acceptable for a member of the European Parliament to speak in this way. We will seek our rights in court, notify our international partners and address the European Commission and the European Parliament,” the AEJ-Bulgaria statement said.

Barekov, a member of the European Conservatives and Reformists’ Group in the European Parliament and a former journalist, wrote on Facebook last Friday that he has taken action or is planning to take action against several journalists.

Barekov said he filed a complaint at the prosecutor’s office against Anna Tsolova, a prominent journalist at private network Nova TV.

The complaint he filed, published on the MEP’s Facebook page, accuses the journalist of not paying enough in taxes.

It alleges that the income she declared to the state does not tally with the value of the house her family owns in Sofia’s expensive suburbs.

BIRN could not reach Tsolova for a comment by the time of publication.

The MEP also said he would file complaints against several other prominent journalists, including Tsolova’s colleague, Victor Nikolaev, as well as BTV anchor Anton Hekimian and his producer Anna Todorova, accusing them of corruption, but without further elaborating on his claims.

Barekov has not responded to BIRN’s request for additional information regarding his accusations.

In another Facebook thread, he called the journalists “servants” and “scum”.

Tsolova and Nikolaev are among the top anchors at Bulgaria’s leading private broadcaster NOVA TV.

The other journalist who was accused of being corrupt by Barekov, Anton Hekimian, hosts BTV’s morning political show.

“Let the prosecutors check the public’s legitimate suspicions and the facts and circumstances that we are providing and answer the questions sparked by the drastic differences between the official incomes of television management and what they actually own,” Barekov wrote on Facebook, adding that most Bulgarians live on less than 1,000 euros a month.

Irina Nedeva, the president of the media freedom organisation, told BIRN that the politician’s behaviour was dangerous because it could set a precedent.

“It could allow state institutions to use his complaints to put more pressure on private media and silence them,” Nedeva said.

“It is also very dangerous because people in power who want to escape accountability might use [Barekov’s] words to pressure and silence the media,” she added.

On Monday, the AEJ-Bulgaria called on prosecutors to be cautious regarding Barekov’s accusations against the journalists.

Barekov responded on Facebook on Monday night by accusing the AEJ of corruption and serving his political opponents.

He also accused it of libel and threatened to sue.

Berekov is a former manager of TV7, a Bulgarian television network that went bankrupt in 2016 after its sponsor, Bulgarian tycoon Tsvetan Vasilev, was indicted for allegedly setting up an organised crime group that stole over 1.4 billion euros of Corporate Commercial Bank assets.

The bank collapsed in 2014 and Vasilev was indicted along with several of his associates last year.

Bulgarian prosecutors also stated in the indictment, released to the press in October 2016, that Vasilev allegedly used some of the money from the bank to fund Barekov’s political party, Bulgaria without Censorship.

Barekov became a member of the European Parliament in 2014.

NOTE: The text has been ammended on Wednesday to add additional information on the journalists targeted by Barekov and his accusations. 

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