The Bulgarian Financial Supervision Commission has ordered Bivol.bg, a Bulgarian news website that specializes in investigating corruption, to reveal its sources for recent stories about questionable bank loans or face a fine.
WikiLeaks’ partner in Bulgaria, Bivol.bg received the order in the form of a letter sent by email on 8 December. And today Bivol.bg received an email from the central bank retracting an undertaking to investigate the claims that the website made in these stories. Responsible for ensuring banking stability and transparency, the Bulgarian Financial Supervision Commission asked Bivol.bg to provide not only its sources but also the names and addresses of its reporters and supervising editor within three days. The letter acknowledged that the website was not legally obliged to reveal its sources but nonetheless warned that the commission could impose a fine ranging from 1,000 to 4,000 euros if it did not comply. The commission’s letter was prompted by three articles (available in English here, here and here) raising questions about the legality of loans by a Bulgarian bank called First Investment Bank (Fibank). The commission said it was investigating the possibility that the website was guilty of “trafficking in confidential information” and “market manipulation” under the law on financial abuses. The weekly Capital received similar letters from the commission earlier this year after publishing stories about the Bulgarian banking sector. “The Bulgarian Financial Supervision Commission is assuming an authority that far exceeds its powers,” Reporters Without Borders programme director Lucie Morillon said. “It is forgetting the public’s right to be told about possible bad practices by a bank that is quoted on the main Sofia stock exchange and recently received a 600 million euro state loan. These demands on Bivol.bg are unacceptable and unworthy of a public body tasked with ensuring banking sector transparency. They must simply be withdrawn.” The letter emailed today to Bivol.bg by the Bulgarian National Bank, the country’s central bank, not only retracted its earlier promise to verify the claims made the website but also contained a warning. It said: “We draw your attention to the fact that the dissemination of false information makes you liable under the law, especially when companies quoted on the stock exchanges are concerned.” This grotesque U-turn shows how determined the banking regulators now are to silence Bivol.bg. Bulgaria is ranked 100th out of 180 countries in the 2014 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index – the lowest position of any European Union member.