Atanas Tchobanov is a Bulgarian investigative reporter and a scientific researcher at CNRS, lab MODYCO, which is located in the University “Paris-West” (Université Paris-Ouest Nanterre La Défense). From 2010 and presently, he is the editor-in-chief of the site for investigative journalism Bivol (Bulgarian word for ‘bull’). Bivol won several prestigious awards for investigative journalism. Its investigations are focused on conflict of interests, corruption and state-mafia nexus in Bulgaria triggered some of the most prominent political scandals in the country for the past years. Tchobanov is also an official partner of Wikileaks and OCCRP (Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project) in Bulgaria.
Mr Tchobanov, we heard about the conversations between Judge Roumyana Chenalova, Vladimira Yaneva and Lawyer Mondeski in 2015 from a publication in Bivol. Could you tell us more about this exact period?
More specifically the scandal “Yaneva Gate” begun in October 2015. It is a period in which the judicial reform project was a profound question of interest. Crucial moments in this project, developed by Hristo Ivanov’s (Bulgarian Minister of Justice in the Second Borisov Cabinet from Nov 2014 to Dec 2015) team, was reducing the authorities of the Prosecutor General and the creation of an independent Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office.
The investigation into the “Yaneva Gate” recordings revealed its urgency. It is known that the Prosecutor General is not independent, but acts on the suggestion of the Prime Minister (PM) who ordered him to “finish” Vladimira Yaneva, that is to say to press her charges against the “Worms” affair and remove her from the post of a judge and Sofia City Court Chair.
Unquestionably Yaneva deserves to be investigated and accused, which is not a matter neither to the PM nor to the Prosecutor General to personally deal with dissociating, namely mitigating the charges against Yaneva due to a clumsy accusation. These two mechanisms of discreditation are tools of the Model WHO, who took over the judicial system only to guarantee itself survival and prosperity.
It is often said that the recordings were manipulated. Could you tell us more about your main source of information and if the records have been edited?
The content of the recordings is definitely not manipulated. There is no cutting and fitting of words and phrases. They may have been overwritten and converted from one format to another. On experts’ language, each data operation is a manipulation. So even downloading the recording from the recorder to your computer could be considered as a manipulation. But that does not change the fact that the content is authentic.
How in your opinion were the individuals involved in this case recorded?
It is hard to say accurately but there are a few important moments.
First of all – where and how it was recorded?
The conversations were carried out in Chenalova’s home, which is confirmed by herself. The recording device was not attached to Chenalova. As an evidence, we could hear twice how she comes out of the house and slams the door, but the recording goes on.
There were speculations that the microphone was installed onto Chenalova’s high heel. To make a record in such a way, she must have taken her shoes under the table before going out of the room. Clearly, the conversation took place over lunch. You can hear the clatter of cutlery. Chenalova offers wine and coffee. I assume that the microphone was under the table, as you can hear very strongly the barking and whining dog Benny. No doubt you can do spatial acoustic model to see who is positioned where to the microphone, which requires technical facilities and knowledge we do not have.
Secondly, the recordings are of good quality and they contain traces of periodic markers that are insurance against montage. We have met similar marks in other recordings made by the government such as those of “Misho the Beer”. The prosecution claims that those are not recordings of special investigative techniques. And yet Bulgaria has private structures that could afford professional equipment. The recordings are not amateur made.
Two investigations were conducted on whether and how the recordings were manipulated – those of the Prosecutor’s Office and Irish laboratory Acustek (recognised as a leading International implementation organisation for Audio Forensics Departments). How would you explain that the work of the prosecution, conducted by a Bulgarian expert, was concealed?
I suppose that the Bulgarian expert conclusions (making clear that no one has seen this expert report), whoever he might be (as no one knows who did it), substantiate what Acustek wrote, namely that there is no manipulation of content in the recordings. It was found out technical manipulation such as compression and fragmentation of longer records which is a reason for the prosecution, without specifying how, to claim that they were manipulated. This is the so-called subreption – suppression of evidence that should cause certain actions of the procedure.
From how Filip Zlatanov’s “secret notebook” disappeared we know that the Prosecutor’s Office has no fear to destroy evidence, and, if that is the only way, to even “finish” them. The prosecution in Bulgaria behaves like an organised criminal group which operates in the interests of the empowered ones. In the interest of #WHO.
What do you think was the most important dependency revealed by the wiretaps?
There is no separation of powers. This is one of the present-day systems of government model that clearly does not exist in Bulgaria. Power is being imposed according to some unwritten bandit rules. No justice, no security. Once the Judiciary is not independent, no one can rely on the law and the legal order, to ensure its safety, the safety of his family and his property.
All except the corpulent guys who got their hands on power and money only to be guarded by private and privatised militia of the National Service for Protection, paid by taxpayers.
Bulgaria is a member of the European Union, NATO, and the Council of Europe. Was there an international response to the “Yaneva Gate” scandal?
The “Yaneva Gate” recordings were criticised in the European Commission report on Bulgaria’s progress, prepared under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM). It was explicitly stated that a transparent and impartial investigation must be conducted. I suppose that this year we will receive such recommendations again.
Moreover “Yaneva Gate” is monitored by Western offices. Recently, there was a publication in a prestige news site of the intelligence community which quoted Judge Yaneva, saying:
“Secret services are controlled by Delyan”.
In other words, the Business oligarch, politician, and media mogul Delyan Peevski who has been head of the State Agency for National Security (DANS) for a short time. Entrepreneurs and investors monitor this site. Imagine what the reputation of a country would be where a certain subject who got rich unclear how controls the secret services.
No prime minister, no prosecution… there is “Delyan”. We also know that the same one is not afraid to threaten the businesses of Western investors. To misappropriate its shares. See the Tehnomarket scandal whereof four Western chambers of commerce wrote to the authorities, and the one with the Israeli investors which we published in Bivol. Their business was literally stolen from a company close to the same “Delyan”.
The model WHO permanently damages the authority of our country abroad, both politically and economically.
Are there still unpublished recordings and how do you intend on continuing the case?
We choose to publish the recordings thematically, piece by piece, to make a feature of individual topics of public interest. Unpublished recordings do not exist in the legal world. We intend to continue in the same way and insist on an independent investigation of all exported data records revealing abuse of power, to be conducted under the supervision of prosecutors from the European Union.
Interview by Biana Guncheva