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Seth Hettena: It would be a precedent for Bulgaria if journalists can be charged with crimes for writing stories

Seth Hettena
„It would be a terrible precedent for Bulgaria if journalists can be charged with crimes for writing stories that people don’t like.“, said to Frog News US journalist and writer Seth Heteena. The Bulgarian prosecutor's office has received a claim against him. The author of the accusation against Hettena is Krassimir Ivanjsky, bulgarian and the owner of Strictly Secret website.

Here's what else he said in response to FrogNews questions:


Mr. Hettena*, could you, please, tell us a little bit more about you and your work. How did you get involved into this situation with the Bulgarian Prosecution?


Ever since the election of President Trump, I have been writing about Russia. I wrote a book called Trump/Russia, about the history of the president’s connections to Russia and the Russian criminal money that flowed through his businesses. My work has been published in newspapers and magazines like The New York Times, Rolling Stone, The New Republic and others.


Lately, I’ve gotten interested in disinformation, a tactic long used by Russia to mislead both its own people and outsiders. The 2016 election awoke us here in America to the power of disinformation, although I suspect it’s something that Bulgarians are much more familiar with.


In December, I wrote a piece for The New Republic magazine about a man here in the United States who was running a site called whatdoesitmean.com. This site published what it claimed were secret reports from Russia written under the fake name Sorcha Faal. In fact, everything was made up and the whole thing was nothing more than a business that preyed on gullible people.


But what’s interesting is that the stories from a website written by a man in Tennessee were republished around the world, including in Bulgaria. I found his stories on a Bulgarian website I had never heard of before called Strogo Sekretno (Top Secret).


Strogo Sekretno is run by a Bulgarian man named Krassimir Ivandjiiski. Mr. Ivandjiiski is not well known here in the United States, but his son, Daniel, is making a name for himself. Daniel Ivandjiiski is one of the people behind Zero Hedge, which publishes a mix of US and world news, financial market coverage, and pro-Russia commentary. It is very popular with the right-wing and is championed by people like Nigel Farage and President Trump’s son, Don Jr.


Even though Zero Hedge was just a sentence in my story in The New Republic, I spent a lot of time learning about it. I found that the Zero Hedge website is registered in Sofia and Zero Hedge is owned by a company called ABC Media Ltd. ABC Media Ltd. is a Bulgarian company owned by Krassimir Ivandjiiski.


I thought all this was new and interesting so I published a separate story about Zero Hedge, Strogo Sekretno, and the Ivandjiiskis on my personal website, trump-russia.com


According to your Bulgarian legal defender, Mr. Nikolay Hadjigenov, you have been informed by Mr. Ivandjiyski, that he has lodged a personal complaint against you, before the Bulgarian Prosecution, and this complaint consists of several convictions. Has anyone from the Bulgarian investigation authorities already contacted you?


No one from the Bulgarian investigation authorities has contacted me or my attorney so far. We have also written to the US embassy but have not yet received a reply.


Is it a common practice in the United States to treat journalists in a similar way – sending a complaint directly to the Prosecutor’s Office?


Absolutely not! We have strong constitutional protections that prevent Congress from writing laws that would restrict freedom of the press.


The only time that professional journalists get involved in criminal cases is when they publish classified government information. Even then, it’s not the journalists who face prosecution but rather their sources. Several people have gone to prison for leaking information to journalists.


One possible exception to all this is the case of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who is charged in the US with receiving and disclosing classified information. The US Justice Department does not consider him to be a journalist, although many people around the world do. I suspect that will be a key question when his case comes before a US judge.


What is actually the essence of the complaint and the convictions?


I have never seen the formal complaint that was filed against me so I am not 100 percent sure what it says. I received an email from Mr. Ivandjiiski that he had filed a criminal complaint against with the Bulgarian prosecutor general’s office. He provided me with an English translation of the complaint. I’ve posted this on my website so people can see for themselves what he is accusing me of. See here


Mr. Ivandjiiski did not like me exposing Zero Hedge as a Bulgarian operation and he claimed that it was a crime to publish public information such as his website registration and corporate documents. He is also upset that I wrote that his website, Strogo Sekretno, published blatantly anti-Semitic content.


I should note that Mr. Ivandjiiski did not say what laws I had broken or even what country’s laws I had broken.


Do you know Mr. Ivandjiyski? What do you suppose is the reason for his actions against you?


I don’t know Mr. Ivandjiiski and I don’t really understand the reason for his actions since he has been silent when other people here in the US have written critical about him. I quoted some of those things in my article about Zero Hedge on my website, but it’s me Mr. Ivandjiiski is angry at, not the people I quoted.


Frog News has sent a request to Mr. Ivandjiyski to share his point of view, but we are still missing any answer from him. We are missing also any relevant publication on his sites either. Why do you think he is attacking you directly through the Prosecutor’s Office, instead of using his media first?


I suspect that his actions were an attempt to intimidate me, but I may be wrong.


You have published on your Twitter an appeal for help and assistance. Is there any reaction in the USA concerning your case? What is it?


Here in the US, there’s been some interest about information security professionals who have been following Zero Hedge. A former FBI agent who tracks disinformation told that Zero Hedge has been “at the center of the storm” for a long time.


As far as my appeal, most of my support has come from Bulgarians who have been very encouraging. I publish articles on my website for free. I don’t sell ads and I assume all the legal risk myself so I’ve very grateful for the support and I’d like to say thank you to everyone who has donated or sent me messages.


Have any Bulgarian media contacted you about your case?


Yes, I’ve been interviewed by BTV. I’ve heard they are doing a piece this weekend.


What do you actually know about Bulgaria and the media freedom here?


I admit I didn’t know much about Bulgarian media before all this started. I think that the Internet is changing the nature of media in Bulgaria just as it’s changing things here in the US, but it’s also allowed for independent voices like Frog News.


The reaction in Bulgaria to my story tells me that people still care deeply about freedom of the press. The Zero Hedge/Strogo Sekretno story raises important questions about who owns and controls the news we consume. Why is a popular American site like Zero Hedge registered and owned in Bulgaria? I still don’t have a really good answer to that question. But I suspect that the answers point to Russia.


What are your expectations about the progress of your case?


It would be a terrible precedent for Bulgaria if journalists can be charged with crimes for writing stories that people don’t like, and that’s one of the reasons why I’ve hired a lawyer in Bulgaria to defend myself. It’s not our job as journalists to make people happy.

I’d still like to get answers to who is really behind Zero Hedge and why the company is registered in Bulgaria. If any of your readers know the answer, please contact me.  


Interviewer for FrogNews Diana Yonkova



Seth Hettena - Author, journalist living in San Diego. Former correspondent for The Associated Press. Author of Trump/Russia: A Definitive History and Feasting on the Spoils. My work has been featured in The New Yorker, Rolling Stone, The New York Times, The New Republic, and the Los Angeles Times.

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