Bulgarian Jewish leader sues website for defamation

The president of the Organization of the Jews in Bulgaria “Shalom”, Associate Professor Alexander Oscar, is lodging court action for defamation against a Bulgarian website that sought to link him to organised crime figures and alleged that his professional career was boosted by political patronage.

The court action is being taken in response to two posts on March 10 on the PIK website.

“The items posted by PIK amount to a complete distortion of the facts, in a way clearly maliciously meant to cause damage to the reputation not only of Dr Oscar but that also harms the Bulgarian Jewish community as a whole,” Shalom said in a statement.

The items allege that Dr Oscar traded off, without consulting the rest of the leadership of the Bulgarian Jewish leadership, the community’s interest in the Rila Hotel in Sofia against a cut-price apartment built by an individual close to Vassil Bozhkov. Bozhkov, a controversial businessman vastly wealthy from gambling and other interests, is currently being sought by Bulgaria on a number of serious organised crime charges.

Shalom said it was false and defamatory to allege that Dr Oscar had renounced the organisation’s claim on the Rila Hotel property without notifying the organisation. Dr Oscar has been president of Shalom since 2016, ten years later than a court ruling against Shalom on the Rila Hotel issue.

Before the final court order, Shalom’s board had been presented with a proposal to let go of its interest in the property in return for money. Dr Oscar, then a member of the board, had vehemently opposed this move. This could be verified by checking the minutes of the meeting, Shalom said. At the time, Shalom was headed by Emil Kalo, who was quoted in one of the items on the PIK website.

Shalom dismissed as “ridiculous” the attempt to link Dr Oscar’s property acquisition to the Rila Hotel matter. It emphasised that he had acquired his apartment in Sofia long before being elected president of Shalom, and the price was definitely nothing other than market value.

As to allegations of political patronage in the advancement of his career, Dr Oscar, head of the Ophthalmology Department of Alexandrovska Hospital in Sofia, pointed out that he had graduated with academic honours, his PhD had been earned summa cum laude, his promotions awarded with commendations and his appointment as department head had been unanimous.

Commenting on the posts by PIK, Shalom said: “Whatever the motives for such malice, it will not be allowed to pass without a response through court action, just as no attempt to discredit the Bulgarian Jewish community and its leadership will go unchallenged.

“Finally, it is especially distasteful that the item was published on March 10, the day of commemoration of the rescue of the Bulgarian Jews in 1943 from being deported to the death camps of the Holocaust, and a day on which Bulgarian Jews pay tribute to the courage and heroism of those who carried out that rescue. Again, everyone must wonder why this day was picked to launch a discrediting attack.”

The Sofia Globe staff

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