Ombudsman: TV7 case ‘perhaps act of personal revenge’
Bulgaria’s national Ombudsman Konstantin Penchev said that he had the feeling that someone wanted to close down TV7, perhaps as an act of personal revenge.
A day after a controversial raid by debt collectors and a large contingent of police on the television station, in a bid to confiscate equipment stated as collateral for an debt in arrears of millions of euro to Corporate Commercial Bank, political fallout was continuing.
At the close of the day of drama, the television station had been given a further week to deal with the arrears debt, while two top Sofia police officers had resigned after furious criticism – including from Prime Minister Boiko Borissov – over the conduct of police during the raid.
Penchev, interviewed by public broadcaster Bulgarian National Television, called for greater transparency and clarification in advance of the decisions by the trustees of Corporate Commercial Bank so as not to leave the impression of behind-the-scenes dealings.
TV7 itself portrayed the episode as the latest in a continuing clash between CCB majority shareholder Tsvetan Vassilev, now in Serbia pending extradition to face criminal charges – he denies wrongdoing – and Delyan Peevski, the controversial figure widely perceived as having built an empire as a media mogul.
TV7 staffer Atanas Atanassov, interviewed by Nova Televizia, said, “If someone wants to punish Vassilev and Peevski, punish them. We are employees and have nothing to do with them”.
The station had sought to portray the action against it as a freedom of speech issue. Those who descended on its Sofia headquarters to collect on the debt allegedly sought to remove a server that would have taken the station off air.
Seen as having been close to Vassilev, who always has denied being a media owner, TV7 had its assets distrained in 2014 and is currently under the supervision of a receiver. Report said that some weeks ago, the National Revenue Agency also had had TV7 property attached in connection with tax issues.
Justice Minister Hristo Ivanov said on April 30 that if a specific complaint was received about the conduct the previous day of the debt collectors – known in Bulgarian parlance as private enforcement agents – it would be investigated thoroughly. Up to now, no complaint had been received, Ivanov said.
Opposition and minority parties seized on the TV7 raid as an opportunity to criticise the government and in particular, Deputy Prime Minister Roumyana Buchvarova, who in March took over the Interior Ministry portfolio.
Buchvarova went in person to the TV7 offices on the afternoon of April 29, with Borissov announcing later that he had ordered her to withdraw the police contingent from the building.
Zhelyu Boichev, an MP for the opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party, said that the events at TV7 the previous day had been the “first gaffe” by Buchvarova.
“Will this be the approach to companies that have debts to CCB? I have no explanation for what was a show of force,” Boichev said.
To the defence of Buchvarova came Atanas Atanassov, head of Parliament’s public order committee and a member of the Reformist Bloc, the centre-right coalition that is part of the government.
Atanassov said that the Buchvarova’s reaction had been appropriate and said that he was sure that she had not known about the decision to deploy police during the raid. The decision had been taken at lower level, he said.
The temporary trustees of Corporate Commercial Bank said that in view of the media coverage and to avoid “any speculation” that this was a targeted act against the television station, they had ordered the private bailiffs to postpone by a week action in regard to the assets pledged in favour of CCB.
The one-week delay was an exception, they said. They said that they hoped that during this period, the debtor to the bank would take action in regard to the unserviced debt.
“After the expiry of the one-week period, we will proceed with all legal actions to protect the property and creditors of CorpBank. First and foremost among them is the Deposit Insurance Fund, ie, the Bulgarian taxpayer,” the trustees said.
Finance Minister Vladislav Goranov said that the week had been granted to counter speculation that there was an attack against the television station.
He said that he hoped that the owners would find a way to keep the station going and to pay what was owed to CCB.
Goranov, commenting on police having roamed around the station’s studios during live broadcasts, said, “uniformed police officers have no place on the airwaves. This was a limit that should not be overstepped”.
Goranov, who was attending a business social event, was asked whether there should be a more delicate approach to TV7 so that people did not think that the government was infringing on freedom of speech, said that the government was “very far” from infringing on freedom of speech. He dismissed such an allegartion as “speculation”.
Dessislava Atanassova, head of Parliament’s temporary committee investigating the CCB affair and an MP for centre-right majority party GERB, said that the biggest creditor of the bank was the Deposite Insurance Fund, to the amount of 3.6 million leva.
She said that she believed that all actions following decisions by the trustees, if they were in line with the Bank Insolvency Act and the Commercial Act, against various legal entities, were lawful.
(For full coverage of the CCB situation from The Sofia Globe, please click here.)