A sideshow of mudslinging has broken out after Corporate Commercial Bank majority shareholder Tsvetan Vassilev, one of Bulgaria’s wealthiest business people, told an Austrian newspaper that President Rossen Plevneliev was a product of the “Kapital circle” and looked only after the interests of individual corporations instead of the national interest.
The “Kapital circle” is a reference to a Sofia-based Bulgarian-language newspaper of that name, which in the description of the company that owns it, Economedia, is “the most influential business weekly in Bulgaria”.
Economedia is owned by Ivo Propokiev, proprietor of a number of other business interests, who was targeted in Vassilev’s interview with Der Standard.
Vassilev said that Plevneliev – who was recruited to Boiko Borissov’s cabinet in 2009 after a private sector career, subsequently being elected head of state on the ticket of Borissov’s party – was a product of circles around Kapital that Plevneliev used to have business interests with in the past, as well as some NGOs, among them the Open Society Foundation.
Vassilev said that Plevneliev owed his place to Borissov’s charisma and implied that Plevneliev would not survive in politics if he had to head a political party.
“This president defends corporate interests and not the interests of the nation. Even if I am saying this, I would not undertake anything against the state or the government. I have not done so in the past either. As a majority shareholder of one of the largest banks and investor in various important spheres, I am interested in stability and not street protests. Such events may help people like Ivo Prokopiev,” Vassilev said.
He said the ownership of newspapers by Prokopiev and Ognyan Donev – the Sopharma boss who a few years ago along with Lyubomir Pavlov acquired the mass-circulation 24 Chassa and Trud titles – was intended to support the respective political ambitions of Prokopiev and Donev.
Vassilev was quoted as saying that newspapers did not match the influence of internet news website and television, and claimed that the Economedia websites were managed by Plevneliev’s wife (Juliana Plevnelieva left Economedia’s employ in early 2012, soon after Plevneliev became President).
The Vassilev interview took place against a background of long-running sniping, especially in media outlets owned by rival interests, which have seen allegations of Vassilev’s bank acquiring a disproportionately overwhelming share of state business. In 2012, there were a number of dramas around media groups, especially those that were relentlessly critical of Borissov and business interests allegedly close to him. Many observers also saw grappling over messages in the media as being linked to the 2013 parliamentary elections in Bulgaria.
In the interview with Der Standard, Vassilev rejected claims that CCB was the unofficial bank of the state, saying that the bank had taken advantage of opportunities by making competitive bids while other banks were more competitive.
Vassilev said that rumours about the alleged concentration of deposits of state-owned companies in CCB were also spread by the Kapital circle and regarded companies in the energy sector.
Economedia said on March 25 that it was sending a response to Der Standard, and said that Vassilev’s attacks had begun in 2009 when Kapital wrote articles about politicians using Bulgarian taxpayers’ money to buy themselves media comfort, supporting CCB and through it, the New Bulgarian Media Group. This is a reference to a media stable that tended consistently to run coverage supportive of Borissov.
Economedia said that its articles had resulted in constant media attacks and institutional harassment for almost four years.
Vassilev had been an informal coalition partner of almost every government in Bulgaria irrespective of its ideology and goals while Kapital, in Economedia’s description, “had proven its objectivity throughout the 20 years of its existence”.
According to Economedia, Vassilev had feared that state-owned companies would withdraw some of their funds from CCB and this was the reason for the attacks by media close to Vassilev against Plevneliev while the President was in the process of forming the caretaker cabinet.
Plevneliev and his media office declined to comment on the Vassilev interview, Bulgarian-language media said, while Tsvetan Tsvetanov, campaign chief for Borissov’s party, said that there was no tension between the President and GERB and said that he could not say who was behind the attacks on Plevneliev.
(Photo: Brano Hudak/sxc.hu)