At the beginning of this millennium, a citizen of a Western European country came to Bulgaria, in order to become an expat. In a city located exactly 1,630 kilometers away, he purchased an old, red BMW 525i, registered it abroad, and drove all the way to Sofia. So far, so good.
The summer of 2002 was hot. So it did not take long, until he packed his little daughter and other family members into the vehicle, in order to head east. The destination: Slanchev Briag, or Sunny Beach. That resort name said it all. He was expecting sandy sand, wet water and a sunny sun. In this regard, he would not be disappointed. But otherwise, he would.
Friends had recommended a travel agency to him, which would make a reservation at Hotel “Kiparis”, a run-down place. Every room was equipped with carpets rolled out in 1962 and wall paper which had been white four decades earlier. Just the right place for this guy’s the modest budget.
One night, he was woken up by wiry noises. From the balcony, he spotted two men, dressed in black, with hoods over their heads, who were breaking into the BMW. He shouted: “Robbery! Police!”. His daughter was waking up. The only other reaction he got was a gentleman looking out of a window in the building next door, who laughed pretty loud.
What was the right strategy? Running towards the thieves and attacking them? They were two, they could have had knives and guns, or at least fists. By the time the theft victim was thinking about the right action to take, the two men were gone, along with the car.
Especially in pre-E.U. Bulgaria, certain things were not the way they should have, especially at police stations. The one in Slanchev Briag was a chaotic place, to say the least. Officers were showing him pictures of suspected criminals. He recognized one of them, who worked at a restaurant next door, as an animator. But they did not care. The expat was introduced to the officer responsible for resolving car theft cases, who was not interested at all and avoided looking into the victim’s eyes. A translator, who spoke one of the expat’s languages, explained to him that he should go back to his hotel now and that they would do “everything in their power” to find the car.
An hour later, all taxi drivers in what just had become “Mafia Beach”, had the expat’s phone number, along with the plea to contact him, if and when his car was spotted. One person called: The police translator. She said she had a “friend” who would get him the car back. If he paid a fee amounting to 1,000 Euro, that is. The payment was supposed to be made that same evening, at the parking lot of Hotel Bulgaria in Burgas. So, the expat asked some Bulgarians he knew, whether he should accept the offer. He did.
A guy in sunglasses approached him at the parking lot. He took the cash and said, the car would be right there, within the hour. But it never came.
Back in Sofia, the theft victim was soon approached by the Bulgarian customs. They wanted 10,000 Leva from him, in taxes, almost twice the value of the stolen car. So, to get this straight: The authority which, in those days, was known to accept bribes by the car mafia for exports of stolen cars to Ukraine and elsewhere, wanted money as well. Promises of a high-ranking government member did not help. The case went to court.
Only because of a letter sent to the European Commission about what is going on in this country, which was an E.U. candidate back then, the case finally dried up. So, this was a partial happy end.
Back then, around the same time, car theft was a lot worse than even today. And the way tourists were robbed in front of City Hall in “Mafia Beach”, during those times, will be the subject of another article in the foreseeable future.
By Imanuel Marcus