Written by Dilyana Gaytandzhieva; Originally appeared at Arms Watch
The UK group caught manipulating data in order to slander actual investigative journalism
Bellingcat, an online investigation organisation headed by Eliot Higgins, has deliberately and with malicious intent manipulated evidence by hiding crucially important documents in order to slander me as a journalist and misrepresent my investigation, 350 flights carry weapons for terrorists, as “intentionally incorrect”.
On 23 November 2019 the group published an article entitled, “The Dreadful Eight: GRU’s Unit 29155 and the 2015 Poisoning of Emilian Gebrev”. According to Bellingcat’s Investigation Team, the Bulgarian arms dealer Emilian Gebrev, owner of Emco Ltd., Bulgaria, was poisoned by GRU agents in 2015 ( a claim which so far is based only on the Gebrev’s words). Bellingcat ignores the statement of the Bulgarian Attorney General and all Bulgarian institutions that there is no evidence of such poisoning taking place.
Bellingcat goes on further and attempts to implicate me as a journalist in a deliberate attempt to discredit Mr. Gebrev internationally as his company Emco appears in a previous investigation into Silk Way diplomatic flights carrying weapons for terrorists in Syria. My investigation was originally published on July 2, 2017 by the Bulgarian newspaper Trud Daily. My sources were diplomatic documents from the Azeri Embassy in Bulgaria and the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry which were leaked online following a cyberattack.
The authenticity of the leaked documents was later confirmed by the Azeri Embassy which announced that it had been subjected to a cyber attack and urged the Bulgarian authorities to investigate. The Bulgarian National Security Agency (DANS) did launch an investigation. Three years on, no one has ever questioned the authenticity of these publicly leaked documents. Bellingcat has not questioned them either, but has used them to fabricate a false story, by deliberately hiding facts and omitting crucially important documents.
The Bellingcat article includes the following 6 lies about me and my investigation:
According to my investigation based on the leaked documents from the Azeri Embassy to Sofia, on 6 May 2015, an Azerbaijani military aircraft flew from Burgas (Bulgaria) to Incirlik (Turkey). It carried military cargo from Bulgaria to Turkey with the consigner: EMCO LTD, Sofia, and consignee – Ministry of Defense of Azerbaijan.
Bellingcat writes that this is false and fabricates lies by not showing the actual diplomatic note (dated 5 May 2015) with which Bulgarian officials authorized this diplomatic flight (see the document below). Bellingcat mistakenly shows a previous diplomatic note (30 April 2015) about arms exports from other companies.
Bellingcat Lie 1: “We have reviewed correspondence between the Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Embassy of Azerbaijan from April 2015 which does show that Emco’s name was fraudulently – or erroneously – included in the export request.”
Bellingcat claims that this is an MFA letter to the Azeri Embassy (see the document below) correcting the name of the actual export applicant initially listed as Emco. In this diplomatic note there is no such information about correction of the names of the companies. Here, Bellingcat inserts their own words into the narrative which appears to be designed to change the meaning and context of the letter in question. In fact, there is nothing in the document that even suggests what they are positing. This is an invention by Bellingcat.
1. This is a diplomatic note about two other Bulgarian companies, Alguns and Transmobile, and it has nothing to do with “correction of the name of the exporter Emco”.
2. The letter from the Azeri Foreign Ministry to its Embassy in Bulgaria about the flight export application of Emco is dated 28 April 2015, one day after the date of the Azeri diplomatic note (AZN /111/15 from 27 April) shown by Bellingcat which is about two other company, not before that as they claim (Bellingcat Lie 2), meaning that no correction or mistake with Emco could have ever taken place.
3. Bellingcat intentionally hides the export application of these other companies which were submitted before the application of Emco, as proven by an e-mail dated April 9, 2015 to the Azeri Embassy in Bulgaria.
4. The Bulgarian ministry writes that “the actual BULGARIAN exporters” have informed that they were not ready for the requested diplomatic flight on 5-6 May 2015 and they ask for later dates. The reason why this is written is that the exporter is a US Company and USSOCOM contractor – Purple Shovel (as proven by documents not shown by Bellingcat) but the subcontractor is a Bulgarian company which actually exported the weapons.
Documents hidden by Bellingcat:
As these two companies Transmobile and Alguns were not ready for the export on the requested diplomatic flight (5-6 May 2015), the Foreign Ministry of Azerbaijan informed with a letter dated 28 April 2015 its Embassies in Sofia and Ankara to start a new procedure and submit a new export application with the exporter being Emco Ltd., Bulgaria for the requested flight on 5-6 May 2015.
The Azeri Embassy in Sofia sent a diplomatic note AZN 114/15 dated 4 May 2015 to the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry and received a diplomatic note from the ministry the next day that the diplomatic flight was approved. However, Bellingcat did not show this document because it proves that there was no mistake with Emco and no false application and that this flight did take place with a diplomatic permit 194-45 dated 4 May 2015.
Bellingcat Lie 3: “it is beyond doubt that during 2015, 2016 and 2017 there were attempts to discredit Emco internationally, including through an English-language article in a Bulgarian newspaper that used the false export license application to implicate Emco in arms exports to ISIS-linked militants.”
The documents which Bellingcat deliberately does not publish prove that the export license application was not false, meaning that I have not intentionally discredited Emco as I have shown a genuine document from the Foreign Ministry of Azerbaijan.
Bellingcat Lie 4: “The journalist who authored the article incorrectly implicating Emco cited documents allegedly leaked to it from a little-known organization calling itself “Anonymous Bulgaria”.
Again, Emco was not incorrectly implicated, as proven by the documents above.
Bellingcat Lie 5: “After being dismissed from the Bulgarian newspaper over the incorrect reporting, the journalist launched an English-language website called Armswatch.com”
I was not dismissed by Trud Daily over “the incorrect reporting”. I was dismissed the same day after I was interrogated by the Bulgarian National Security Agency about my source of the leaked information and a week before my planned assignment in Syria where I should have continued my investigation into illicit arms trafficking on the ground. My firing prevented me from pursuing one of the biggest state-sponsored international arms trafficking operations seen to date. Trud Daily did not provide an explanation about their decision to terminate my contract. However, they gave a statement that they did stand behind this investigation. This is further evidenced by the fact that 3 years later my investigation has not been redacted or retracted and is still accessible on the Trud Daily’s website.
Suffice to say, the only incorrect reporting on display here comes from Bellingcat.
Bellingcat Lie 6: “Armswatch.com publishes information and unverifiable claims”
Arms Watch is a media organisation which investigates war crimes and arms trafficking. Two months ago I published a series of investigations based on leaked documents from the Serbian arms factory Krusik. The information was verified as genuine as the whistleblower Alexander Obradovich who leaked these documents was arrested and charged with disclosing trade secrets. No body has so far questioned the authenticity of this leaked information.
Based on the above evidence of a deliberate smear campaign by Bellingcat (defamation, slander and data manipulation in order to damage my reputation) I demand that:
- Bellingcat publish my whole letter with all documents presented here as they did not contact me before their publication and allowing for my right to respond.
- Bellingcat apologize publicly, admit their intentional and reckless mistake and retract all of these 6 false claims made about me, my investigation and Arms Watch.
- If they fail to do so I will pursue legal action against Bellingcat.