On October 6, 2018, Bulgarian presenter and administrative director of local television channel TVN, Viktoria Marinova, was found dead in a park by the river Danube in the town of Ruse, 300 km (185 miles) northeast of the capital Sofia; she had been raped, beaten, and strangled, according to media reports. She was 30 years old, the reports said.
Marinova’s last broadcast was an interview with Romanian journalist Attila Biro from the investigative news website Rise Project and his Bulgarian counterpart, Dimitar Stoyanov, from investigative news website Bivol, who were looking into allegations of fraud involving EU funds for the global investigative reporting platform Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), Bulgarian news site Terminal 3 reported. The two reporters had been detained by Bulgarian police for several hours in September, CPJ documented at the time.
At a press conference on October 7, 2018, the Ruse prosecution office and local police stated that they would look at "all versions" of the murder, and said that it was not clear whether the murder was linked to Marinova’s journalistic activities, Balkan Insight reported. Marinova’s mobile phone, car keys, glasses and some of her clothing were missing, Ruse regional prosecutor Georgy Georgiev said, according to the Guardian.
On October 10, 2018, the Bulgarian chief prosecutor announced that a Bulgarian man was detained in Germany. Bulgarian authorities filed charges of rape and murder, and were expecting Germany to transfer the suspect to their territory, Reuters reported. According to the Guardian, Bulgaria’s interior minister identified the man as Severin Krasimirov and said there was physical evidence to link Krasimirov to the murder. The minister said investigators had spoken to the journalist’s family and friends and added that there was no evidence to suggest that the murder was related to Marinova’s work and there was no information she had been threatened, according to reports.
On October 17, Germany extradited Krasimirov, 20, to Bulgaria, according toreports. On October 19, Bulgarian prosecutors charged Krasimirov with murder and the district court in Ruse ordered him held in custody pending trial. According to reports, some prominent investigative journalists in Bulgaria said they were concerned about the investigation and did not trust the authorities’ version of events.
In April 2019, CPJ traveled to Bulgaria to speak with Marinova’s colleagues and other journalists.
Marinova’s closest colleagues and ex-husband, Svilen Maximov, who owns the TV station and an internet provider in the region, told CPJ they thought that the investigation was professional, and agreed with the prosecutor’s assessment that it was not motivated by her work. However, some journalists said they think there were unanswered questions.
Just before her death, Marinova hosted “Detektor,” which was intended to be a weekly flagship news program for TVN. The show aired just once—on September 30. “Viktoria was the face of the show, but the interview was my idea and I recorded it,” Ivan Stefanov, the show’s producer, told CPJ. “If somebody could have been killed, that is me.” He added that the station had not received any threats over the show.
Stoyanov, a reporter for Bivol, who appeared on Marinova’s last show, said his outlets still had questions. “We do not believe that the murder is fully investigated, we are still looking into possible links to organized crime and investigating who might have ordered the murder,” Stoyanov told CPJ.
Bivol raised doubts in November about the official investigation, saying that with the authorities under enormous public pressure to produce results quickly, they could not have conducted an independent investigation that looked into all possible leads.
Stoyanov told CPJ in April 2019 that he and the Bivol team still believe there are too many coincidences in the case to not suspect there was something else behind the murder.
Prosecutors said they believed Marinova’s killing was unrelated to her work. The journalist’s colleagues at TVN told CPJ they agreed with that assessment. Maximov told CPJ via email that he found the investigation “very thorough.”
On April 22, 2019, the regional court in Ruse—the first instance court—sentenced Krasimirov to 30 years in prison, U.S. Congress-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported. In entering a guilty plea, he escaped the maximum penalty of life imprisonment, according to the RFE/RL report. According to local media, the verdict can be appealed within 15 days. On May 9, 2019 local media reported that Krasimirov decided not to appeal.