A joint investigation by “BuzzFeed News” and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) has revealed that Veles’ political news industry was not started “spontaneously by apolitical teenagers.”
According to the investigation, after reviewing social media posts, government records, domain registry information and archived versions of fake news websites, as well as interviewing key players, the websites with fake news in Veles were started by Macedonian lawyer Trajche Arsov – who worked closely with two high profile American partners for at least six months during a period that overlapped with Election Day.
The investigation also reveals that at least one member of Russia’s “troll factory” Anna Bogacheva, charged by US special counsel Robert Mueller for allegedly interfering in the elections, was in Macedonia only three months before the first web domain was registered.
Immigration records obtained by journalists show that Bogacheva was in fact in Macedonia in mid-2015, and left the country by land to Greece on June 26 that year, however, there are no records of her entry into the country.
On May 9 and 10, the same year, 2015, one of the biggest crises shook Macedonia. The controversial “Kumanovo events” in Divo Naselje took place where 8 police officers were killed. The Basic Court Skopje 1 handed down seven life sentences in November 2017 and sentenced 13 defendants to 40 years in prison each.
When asked by journalists why she was in Macedonia in 2015, Bogacheva said “sorry, I’m not discussing my work.”
Bogacheva is one of the 13 Russian nationals indicted in February over alleged interference in the US election.
The indictment focused on the role of the St. Petersburg based Internet Research Agency- often referred to as a “troll factory” – which produced online propaganda and spread messages via social media to help Trump and defeat Hillary Clinton.
Reporters have not found a connection between Bogacheva and the Macedonian websites, and Arsov denies any affliation with Russia.
There are still no answers to questions such as; who were Bogachova’s contacts in Macedonia? Who allowed her to leave the country if there was no record that she had entered legally, and what was her role was in creating other “troll factories”.