SOFIA, Bulgaria | Bulgarian police detain journalists probing EU funds fraud

SOFIA, Bulgaria  — Two journalists were detained overnight by Bulgarian police after they found burning and shredded documents while working on a story about suspected fraud involving European Union funds, one of the reporters said Friday. Bulgarian authorities confirmed the two were taken into custody and released.

Attila Biro, an investigative journalist with the Rise Project Romania site, told The Associated Press he and a colleague from Bulgarian investigative site Bivol had acted on a tipoff and traveled to an area southwest of the Bulgarian capital, Sofia, Thursday evening.

In a field there, Biro said he and Dimitar Stoyanov found sacks of documents, some burning and others shredded. As they took photographs, police appeared and handcuffed the pair, he said. The police removed the sacks.

He said the two were taken to a police station and released early Friday. Biro said police told him he was detained to “be identified.”

Bulgaria’s national ombudswoman Maya Manolova, responsible for protecting citizens’ rights, called the detention of the pair “unlawful and without sufficient grounds.”

She called for “full disclosure” and for police to be disciplined, if there was misconduct. The failure of authorities to explain the reason for the detentions left Bulgarians with “the impression that there was an attempt to prevent a journalistic investigation,” Manolova said.

Bivol said it was investigating high-level corruption and had informed anti-Mafia police that documents and computers had been removed from the offices of people implicated.

It said when the journalists got to the field, “they were jumped on by the police at the place where shredded docs, most likely evidence of fraud with European funds, were deposited.”

It said the chief officer of the Directorate for Combating Organized Crime, Yvailo Spiridonov, called Bivol’s editor-in-chief, Atanas Tchobanov, Friday and apologized for the lack of information overnight.

Bulgaria’s Interior Ministry said Friday officers had received a tipoff about “the intention to cover up corruption offenses,” by destroying public procurement documents and had acted on the tipoff, detaining the two journalists and a third person who were on the scene.

It said they were taken to the district police department for identification and to explain “the purpose of their stay in the area” before they were released.

By Associated Press