Prosecutors and agents from Bulgaria’s State Agency for National Security (SANS) swooped on the Lesovo border checkpoint between Bulgaria and Turkey in an operation that began on the night of November 1, arresting all customs officers in an investigation into an alleged extortion scheme.
The border checkpoint was closed after the arrests of two shifts of Bulgarian customs officers, leading to a queue of more than 300 vehicles, reports from the scene said.
Witnesses said that SANS officers made the customs staff lie down on the ground and handcuffed them.
Customs Agency head Vanyo Tanev, recently re-appointed to the post by the caretaker cabinet after being axed by the now-departed Bulgarian Socialist Party administration, welcomed the operation, describing it as long-awaited.
He said that premises at the border had been searched and in parallel, homes of customs officers were raided.
The operation was in connection with an investigation into an organised crime group involved in extortion and smuggling of excise goods.
Reports said that at Lesovo border checkpoint, goods trafficked included heroin, cigarettes, fake perfumes and other items from Arab countries.
An operation also was held on October 30 and 31 at the Kalotina checkpoint, with customs staff being questioned. It was alleged that drivers of good lorries had been racketeered by customs staff.
Media reports said that complaints of corrupt customs officers had come from drivers from whom money had been extorted. Sometimes bribes were in kind, for example in one case, two kilograms of cheese.