Bulgaria: MEP Under Fire for Targeting Journalists

MEP Nikolai Barekov, a former TV presenter, has been strongly criticised for accusing a media freedom organisation of corruption and reporting journalists to the public prosecutor for alleged bribe-taking.

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

The Association of European Journalists (AEJ-Bulgaria) 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 was leading a group of citizens who wanted to stand up to corruption in the media.

He filed a complaint at the prosecutor’s office against Anna Tsolova, a prominent journalist at private network Nova TV, who Barekov’s group allege took bribes in order to purchase a house.

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.

“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, adding that most Bulgarians live on less than 1,000 euros a month.

The AEJ-Bulgaria responded to Barekov’s allegations on Monday by calling on prosecutors to be cautious and highlighting the fact that the Bulgarian National Revenue Agency has stated that Barekov did not a tax returns for 2007, 2009, 2010 and 2011.

The AEJ added that the Revenue Agency established in 2014 that Barekov owed the Bulgarian state over 35,000 leva (around 18,000 euros).

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.

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.

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.

16 August 2017

Balkan Insight

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