Looking Back at 2016 in Bulgaria: Border Police Scandals Galore

Written by on December 8, 2016 in Bulgaria - 7 Comments

The year 2015 ended with yet another scandal at the Bulgarian Border Police, which in the years before, and, frankly, in the decades before, had become so frequent, that hardly anyone would actually pay attention anymore. The scandals somehow did not fit too well with repeated assurances by the government (yes, the current, outgoing one) according to which Bulgaria was ready for becoming a Schengen country.

On December 13th, 2015, dozens of border police officers at the southern border crossing Kapitan Andreevo were arrested for bribery. As a consequence, a mess developed on both sides of that crossing. On December 14th, hundreds of trucks waited in a queue which was 12 kilometers long on the Bulgarian side. It almost reached Svilengrad. But this aspect was the least of the problems.

The scandalous scenes which transpired at Kapitan Andreevo would soon turn out to be just a tiny reflection of what the country would have to expect in 2016. This year was definitely another catastrophic one for the Bulgarian Border Police, and even more for innocent travelers and truck drivers. They were forced to deal with an organization just as corrupt as it would have been in some banana republic at the end of the world. This might sound harsh, since it is supposed to.

The drama continued with its next chapter on February 9th, 2016. On that day, five Border Police staff members were arrested in a special operation led by the Special Prosecutor’s Office. Three of the officers detained held senior positions at the Border Police office. All five of them allegedly accepted bribes to help people traffickers in the middle of the refugee crisis. This round of arrests sounded almost harmless, compared to what was about to come, later in 2016.

On August 15th, 2016, Prime Minister Boyko Borissov had the top leadership of the Bulgarian Border Police fired, after learning that a contract to transport refugees, whom they called “migrants”, was given to a so-called “business person” arrested for alleged people trafficking. That same day, the Minister of the Interior, Rumyana Buchvarova, accepted the “resignations” from Border Police Chief Antonio Angelov and senior commissioner Yotko Andreev. But the drama developing in 2016 was far from over.

On September 30th, 2016, the Sofia City Prosecutor’s Office sent a “large number” of uniformed investigators back to Kapitan Andreevo, at the Bulgarian-Turkish border. This time, four Border Police officers were arrested. They were not accused of spitting on the sidewalk, but rather of turning a blind eye on illegal migration, in return for bribes. The “highlight” in this year’s drama was still to come.

It was on November 2nd, 2016, when the Interior Ministry hit the big one. Many investigators approached the Lesovo border crossing. They arrested up to forty customs officers at that checkpoint and effectively closed it down. Hundreds of car and truck drivers were forced to divert to Kapitan Andreevo (where no border police officers were arrested that day) and other crossings. The officers arrested on this day had “acted as an organized crime group”, Bulgarian media reported back then, demanding “peace taxes” from drivers. The latter were bribes people paid in order to be able to cross the border without being hassled.

Exactly two years earlier, two shifts of Bulgarian Border Police officers had been arrested on the same charges, but this article is supposed to be about 2016.

The year could have ended with that huge operation in Lesovo, but there was yet another one. This time, on November 17th, 2016, seven Border Police officers were arrested in the north, at one of the Danube bridge border crossings to Romania, for bribery.

Chances are the drama will be prolonged. Goodbye Schengen.

By Imanuel Marcus

Related articles:

Looking Back at 2016 in Bulgaria: The Tourist Invasion

Looking Back at 2016 in Bulgaria: Developments in Sofia’s Public Transport

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