The head of Bulgaria’s Special Prosecutor’s Office, Ivan Geshev, has been forced to publicy deny that the Prosecutor’s Office and the Bulgarian Interior Ministry has seized cryptocurrency bitcoins now worth around 6 per cent of the country’s GDP.
The bitcoins were reported as having been seized from an organised crime syndicate in May 2017 by the South East European Law Enforcement Centre (SELEC). At the time, SELEC stated that it had finalised an investigation into a criminal gang consisting of Bulgarian nationals with connections in Macedonia, Greece, Romania and Serbia. SELEC claimed that the modus operandi used by the gang was recruiting corrupted customs officers in all involved countries with the purpose of infecting the computer systems of the custom’s department with a virus. Once the virus had been installed, the gang was able to initiate various illegal transports, as the customs system showed that the cargo had already been checked and passed.
“The Bulgarian authorities have searched more than 100 addresses, suspects and vehicles,” read the SELEC statement. “A large quantity of money was seized, as well as equipment, devices for communication, computers, tablets, bank documents, etc. 23 suspects were arrested, five of them acting as Bulgarian customs officers. As result of this criminal activity the damages recorded by the Customs Agency, for the year 2015, is around 10 million leva. Bitcoin wallets of the main suspects with a total value of 213,519 bitcoins were also found. As a reference, the value of one bitcoin is 2354 US dollars. The offenders chose bitcoin as a way of investing/saving the money, because it is rather difficult to be tracked and followed.”
However, Mr Geshev told a press conference on December 8 that “no bitcoins had been seized. The case is still being processed by the Special Prosecutor’s Office and charges will be brought to court as soon as possible.” Previously, the Bulgarian government had issued a statement on November 28 in which it refused to answer questions about the status of the bitcoins, claiming that it could not comment on “specific information from an ongoing investigation into criminal proceedings.”
The value of 213,519 bitcoins on December 9 stood at 2.88 billion euros. If the Bulgarian authorities have seized them, then they have enjoyed an unexpected windfall. If they do not have them, the question remains: Who does?