Police officers are seen at the specialized criminal court in Sofia, Bulgaria, on January 17, 2018. Publisher Ivo Prokopiev is expected to receive a verdict in a fraud case against him tomorrow. (AFP/Nikolay Doychinov)

Verdict expected in trial of Bulgarian publisher Ivo Prokopiev

New York, June 27, 2020 — Bulgarian authorities should immediately drop the charges against publisher Ivo Prokopiev, which are retaliatory in nature and intended to stifle critical reporting, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. 

Tomorrow, Prokopiev, who owns the independent news website Dnevnik and business weekly Capital, is set to appear before a criminal court in Sofia, the capital, to receive the verdict in a fraud case stemming from a business deal from the early 2000s, according to news reports

Prokopiev maintains his innocence, saying the charges are politically motivated and intended to “influence the independent editorial policy of Capital and Dnevnik and their critical stance,” according to a report by the U.S. Congress-funded broadcaster Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Bulgarian service.

He has been free during the trial, according to those news reports; if convicted, he could face up to ten years in jail.

“The criminal case against Ivo Prokopiev is clearly aimed at silencing Dnevnik and Capital, two truly independent media outlets that have provided much-needed investigative journalism in Bulgaria,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator. “Bulgarian authorities should drop their charges against Prokopiev and allow him and the journalists at Capital and Dnevnik work freely and safely. If Bulgaria wants to be seen as a peer among EU nations, it must cease retaliating against journalists and news outlets.” 

Dnevnik and Capital have both covered allegations of official corruption in Bulgaria since the early 2000s, including alleged malfeasance by members of the ruling Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria party, according to CPJ’s review of the outlets’ reporting and a 2018 report by the Columbia Journalism Review

The Bulgarian Commission for Illegal Assets Forfeiture, an anti-fraud body, opened an investigation into Prokopiev and ordered a freeze on his assets in late 2017, according to Reuters. The commission alleged that Prokopiev had illicitly profited from the privatization of a company in the early 2000s, according to that report.

Two former government ministers are also facing fraud charges over that deal, according to RFE/RL.

The trial had been ongoing until June 20, when the Specialized Criminal Court in Sofia unexpectedly announced that proceedings would end without testimony from three defense witnesses, according to those news reports. 

CPJ emailed the Bulgarian specialized criminal court and the prosecutor general’s office for comment, but did not immediately receive any responses.