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Bulgarian Reporter Threatened, Shady Montenegrin Bank Exposed

Plus, Moscow plans to beef up its military in the Arctic and Azerbaijan says it foiled a plot against Eurovision. 

by Barbara Frye and Joshua Boissevain 31 May 2012

1. Bulgarian journalist once again under threat

 

A Bulgarian journalist who reports on organized crime, and for whom media monitoring groups have sought protection, appears to again be the target of threats.

 

Lidia Pavlova
A car reported by different media as belonging to Lidia Pavlova or her son was set on fire last week. Pavlova has followed the case of the so-called Galevi brothers, Angel Hristov and Plamen Galev, who have been in and out of court on organized crime charges. Their convictions and sentences were upheld this year, but the two men disappeared in early May before they began serving their time. 

 

Pavlova, who the Sofia News Agency reports was a witness in the trial of Galev and Hristov, has said in the past that she fears for her life, and in a letter more than two years ago to Bulgaria’s prime minister and interior minister, the South East Europe Media Organization urged that she be given protection. The letter noted the serious beating of Pavlova’s son in 2010 and attacks on her car in 2009 and 2010.

 

“She does not believe that anyone is willing to protect her in Bulgaria,” SEEMO Secretary General Oliver Vujovic wrote as the Galevi brothers’ trial was about to begin. “According to her, policemen in the city work at the same time as bodyguards for persons involved in the ‘Galevi’ case.”

 

In April, representatives of SEEMO met with Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov to once again urge that Pavlova be protected.

 

2. Montenegro bank propped up by taxpayers has been cash machine for VIPs

 

Milo Djukanovic
As Montenegro gears up for EU accession talks, an investigation has spotlighted questionable practices at a bank controlled by the family of Milo Djukanovic, the country’s former prime minister and president.

 

Prva Bank, or First Bank, was woefully mismanaged after its privatization in 2006, getting to the point of collapse before being bailed out by taxpayers, according to an investigation by the BBC and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project.

 

First Bank handed out loans to VIPs that offered interest-free grace periods, were poorly secured, or even allowed lump-sum payments “years down the road” instead of installments, while those debtors’ deposits earned interest at unrealistic rates of 8 to 10 percent, the report says.

 

First Bank’s “deposits of public money including municipal, governmental, and state company funds, had grown from 23 million euros ($28.5 million) in November 2006, when the prime minister’s brother privatized the bank, to 127 million euros ($158 million) within a year,” according to the investigation.

 

The Central Bank repeatedly warned about First Bank’s shoddy practices and requested documentation, which often was withheld or incomplete. First Bank even continued to give out loans after the Central Bank ordered it not to. The bottom fell out with the real estate crash and credit crunch in 2008. 

 

The bank received a 44 million euro taxpayer bailout. “The repayment of the bailout has never been investigated despite the Central Bank’s requests that prosecutors do so, and despite questions about the [repayment] plan,” according to the report.

 

In an assessment released last week, the European Commission noted some progress in Montenegro’s fight against corruption but said it remains “an issue of serious concern.”

 

3. Azerbaijan says it stopped Eurovision terror plot

 

Baku says it thwarted a planned terror attack on the Eurovision Song Contest but waited until after the event to make the announcement to avoid spooking visitors.

 

Baku says terrorists targeted Crystal Hall, on the left in this photo, which was newly built to host Eurovision. Photo by Gulustan/Wikimedia Commons.

 

According to the BBC, the Azeri National Security Ministry says it arrested 40 people who were planning to attack Baku Crystal Hall, the new venue that hosted Eurovision from 22 to 26 May.

 

Other targets were apparently the Hilton and Marriott hotels in Baku. The ministry linked the would-be attackers to Dagestan, the Russian republic in the North Caucasus that is in the grip of a violent Islamist insurgency.

 

In a development that may or may not be related, Azerbaijan has recalled its ambassador to Iran after Iran had done the same with its ambassador in Baku last week. Relations between the two neighboring countries are increasingly tense after Azerbaijan blamed Iran in January for a hacking attack against government websites and a plot to kill foreigners in Baku.

 

4. Russia seeks to strengthen military presence in Arctic

 

Russia is taking out of mothballs military airfields in the Arctic that had been closed down after the collapse of the Soviet Union, RIA Novosti reports.

 

A military aircraft partly obscured by snow on Novaya Zemlya. Photo from www.belushka.narod.ru/main.htm.

 

The news agency says Russia is beefing up its armed force “to protect its political and economic interests in the Arctic region by 2020.” The country plans to submit a bid by the end of next year to the UN establishing the borders of its undersea territory in the Arctic. Citing the Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Oil and Gas, RIA Novosti reports that Russia’s sea shelf could contain 13 billion tons of oil and 87 trillion cubic meters of natural gas. The country’s current proved gas reserves amount to 47 trillion cubic meters.

 

According to an aviation commander in Russia’s western military district, two airfields could open this summer: one on Novaya Zemlya, an island in the Kara Sea northwest of the Yamal Peninsula, and the other in Naryan-Mar, west of Novaya Zemlya on the mainland.

 

5. Romanian police nab Anonymous hacktivists

 

Police in Romania say they have broken up a Romanian branch of the global hacking collective known as Anonymous, according to Mediafax.ro.

 

The group, made up of 14 people, is believed to be responsible for illegally accessing 29 online computer systems in Romania and abroad to deface websites or copy confidential information. Officials announced 29 May they arrested 12 people from 10 cities across the country who are suspected of being part of the cybercriminal group, including its founder, 24-year-old Gabriel Balaeasa, who goes by the online alias lulzcart.

 

Earlier this year, hackers affiliating themselves with Anonymous, among them one going by the Twitter handle lulzcart, announced they had broken into websites of several Romanian public institutions, including the Romanian National Institute of Physics and Nuclear Engineering and the Bucharest city hall, according to IDG News.

 

 

The Anonymous group has grown more active in Romania over the past few months, according to Balkan Insight. The group targeted government websites during this winter’s anti-austerity protests and intensified its attacks after Romania signed ACTA, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement. One month later, the group claimed responsibility for breaking into websites belonging to of government agencies and the International Monetary Fund.
Barbara Frye is TOL's managing editor. Joshua Boissevain is a TOL editorial assistant.

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