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News 12 Dec 17

Bulgarian State Freezes Assets of Critical Publisher

Ivo Prokopiev, publisher of the Economedia group, has accused the Bulgarian state of attacking independent media after his private and business assets were frozen by a state commission.

Mariya Cheresheva
BIRN
Sofia
Ivo Prokopiev. Photo: Gabriel VanHelsing/ Wikimedia.

The Bulgarian Commission for the Withdrawal of Illegal Assets, CIAF, has frozen the assets of Ivo Prokopiev, one of the founders and owners of Economedia – one of the largest media groups in the country, the publisher of the weekly newspaper Capital and news website dnevnik.bg, as well as other print and online outlets.

The private assets of Prokopiev and his wife, as well as three of his companies, among them the company that controls the major share in the media group, as well as his Civil Media foundation, have been blocked over an investigation of a privatisation deal he took part in back in 1999.

CIAF announced on Tuesday that Prokopiev bought Kaolin, a former state-controlled mineral mine, illegally, and so his profit from the sale of the company in 2012, worth 150 million leva (around 75 million euros), was illegal too.

The frozen assets of the businessman and publisher are worth 199 million leva (around 101 million euros), 14 million of which are private assets of unproven origin, the head of CIAF, Plamen Georgiev, told a press conference.

Prokopiev has three months to prove that the origins of his assets are legal before the procedure enters the legal phase.

The publisher held a press conference right after the one organised by the CIAF, accusing the state of breaching the law with the actions taken against him.

In a statement that he published on Monday, Prokopiev argued that the Commission does not have the authority to investigate privatisation deals, and that the ten-year period for any review of the deal expired long ago anyway.

He also told journalists on Tuesday that he and his family have undergone 27 tax reviews over the past few years and no violations were found.

“Everything that the Commission claims is an outrage and financial illiteracy,” he said.

He said he suspected this was an attack by the state because of his media, which are often critical of the government and powerful business circles in the country.

“The lack of political opposition makes independent media a very attractive target for state attacks,” Prokopiev added.

His wife Galya Prokopieva, executive director of Economedia, said that the 160 employees of the media group have been affected by the state’s actions and the reputation of the media group has been hurt.

In October, Prokopiev and other smaller publishers travelled to Brussels to alert their European counterparts of growing state pressure on critical media in Bulgaria.

Earlier on Tuesday, CIAF’s head Georgiev accused Prokopiev of trying to influence the commission’s decision and complained of an unprecedented leak of confidential information about the ongoing investigation.

Over the last decade, Bulgaria has dropped from 51st place in the Global Press Freedom ranking in 2007 to 109th in 2017 – the lowest position of any European Union member.

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