The Bulgarian law enforcement authorities have taken steps to curb the illegal sale of international passports to foreign nationals in exchange for Bitcoin payments. Allegedly, citizens of Bulgaria, including government officials, were complicit in selling such passports to nationals of several Eastern European countries. It has been reported that citizens from countries like Ukraine, Macedonia and Moldova were a part of this nefarious racket.
Many Bulgarian officials had issued citizenship issuances which have been found to have been connected with the fake passport sales and suspected officials have been rounded up by the Prosecutor General’s Office for further investigation. Those arrested include Peter Haralampiev, who works with the Bulgarian State Agency for Bulgarians’ matters abroad; the same agency’s Generals Secretary Krasimir Tomov and fellow agency member Mark Stoyov.
With regard to these arrests, Ivan Geshev, the Chief Prosecutor of the State commented:
“Peter Haralampiev, Krasimir Tomov, and Mark Stoyov have been arrested for fraud with the issuance of Bulgarian passports to Ukrainian, Moldovan and Macedonian citizens.”
The lawyers of the accused officials have expressed a thorough denial of the officials’ involvement in receiving illegal payments in digital assets. However, the Prosecutor General’s Office is insistent that they have been able to amass sufficient evidence to show that the suspected officials were indeed guilty of receiving unauthorized payments in Bitcoin.
While the scandal has naturally put the current government in the back-foot, Vice Prime Minister Valeri Simeonov has made it clear that the agency’s corruption being busted will have no influence on their staying in power. Besides government officials, 20 other citizens have been apprehended in connection to the sale of counterfeit passports to people of Ukraine, Macedonia and Moldova. It has been reported that they received payment worth $5.6 thousand dollars for each passport.
Since Bulgaria became a part of the European Union back in 2007, it has become the route of choice for desperate economic migrants from both surrounding and far-flung countries. Being a part of EU gives easy access to other EU countries and these migrants were looking to get their hands on papers that would allow them to pose as Bulgarian citizens and make their way into other EU nations for work and other purposes. The prices of these fabricated documents ranged from anything between $3000 to $8000 based on where the foreigner was from.
The use of Bitcoins in distribution of fake Schengen visas and Bulgarian passports, was meant to keep up the anonymity in these illegal transactions. Use of crypto to aid criminals and terrorist organizations have been few and far between, but these instances intensify worries around crypto’s role in criminal activities.