On 2. August 2019, the Bulgarian investigative news outlet and IJ4EU grantee ‘Bivol’ again became the target of a government investigation. As part of an inquiry into the largest data breach in the Bulgarian history this year in July, the government filed an European Investigation Order (EIO) in France, where Bivol’s editor in chief Atanas Tchobanov resides. The circumstances of the hacking attack still remain uncertain until today.
The prosecutor Evghenia Stankova is trying to link Bivol with the current main suspect Kristian Boykov who works for the TAD Group, a US cyber security company and released images as alleged evidence of the connection.
Tchobanov himself has denied all kinds of links to the suspect and the hacking attack itself. In the aftermath of the so called “ApartmentGate” series, in which Bivol revealed corruption involving the highest Bulgarian offices, they have been the target of defamation and criminal investigations. The real estate affair included Bulgaria’s Prosecutor-General Sotir Tzatsarov as a leading figure of alleged corruption. Bivol’s investigations have also done some severe damage to the reputation of the ruling GERB party, and lead to the resignation of important party figures such as Tsvetan Tsvetanov, the former chair of GERB’s parliamentary group.
The latest government move against Bivol is another sign of attempts to silence the investigative news outlet.
„The pattern of intimidation tactics is the same, and we experience a similar smear campaign and shitstorm attack after each big investigation,“ Tchobanov told OCCRP. He suspects that the whole investigation against the TAD Group will be mis-used in order to gain access to Bivol’s computers and servers.