Bulgaria Cracks Customs Officers’ Bribe Scam

Police have nabbed 22 customs officers who allegedly ran a scam on the border with Turkey, taking bribes from drivers.
Bugarsko turska granica

Bulgaria has arrested 22 customs officers at Kapitan Andreevo, the main checkpoint on the border with Turkey, and charged them with corruption. The officers are charged with forming an organized criminal group, involved in taking bribes, which was operating since March 2015. “This was one of the biggest operations we have undertaken in Bulgaria,” the director of the Specialized Prosecutor’s Office, Daniela Popova, said in Sofia on Monday.

The operation, carried out by the State Agency for National Security and the organized crime department of the Ministry of Interior, started in August and is still ongoing, Popova clarified. The action closed the busiest checkpoint in Bulgaria for six hours on December 13.
Prosecutors say 106 searches were carried out, followed by interrogations both of customs officers and other witnesses passing through Kapitan Andreevo. The raids uncovered 150,000 leva, about 75,000 euro, in the homes and vehicles of the suspects. The biggest amount was found in the home of one of the suspects – 35,000 leva, worth 15,000 euro. Those arrested included inspectors and shift managers from all four shifts working at the customs office. Some have more than 30 years’ working experience.

The investigators sought detention for 14 suspects and bail for the other eight. If they are found guilty, they face sentences of three to 10 years in prison. Andrey Andreev, head of the specialized prosecution office, said the arrested officers collected the cash in exchange for not carrying out thorough customs checks of cars, trucks and buses. They took bribes from both Bulgarians and foreign citizens, mainly Turks, Moldavians, Ukrainians and Romanians, who wanted to avoid declaring their goods. The bribes varied from two to five euro for a small car up to 150 or even 300 euro for buses and trucks. “At the end of the shift, a customs officer divided the collected bribes according to the workload of the day and the number of examined vehicles. The biggest sum went to the head of the shift,” Andreev explained.

There is no evidence that the arrested officials were involved in drugs smuggling but evidence is still being collected and more charges could follow.
Following the action, on 14 December, a 12-kilometer-long queue of trucks waiting to be processed blocked the checkpoint.
Balkan Insight 
14 December 2015