A group of men in Bulgaria have been caught selling passports illegitimately – in return for significant amounts of Bitcoin.
According to local police, the men – who work in the Bulgarian State Agency – were found to have issued passports in return for sums of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.
The three men are senior officials in the agency. They include Peter Haralampiev, who is responsible for Bulgarians abroad. The other two are Krasimir Tomov, who is General Secretary, and Mark Stoyov, who is another employee.
The plot was described as “faux and unlawful” by industry media. According to news reports, the men sold the passports to citizens of a variety of countries in eastern Europe, including Ukraine, Macedonia and Moldova.
Bulgaria is a member of the European Union, which makes a Bulgarian passport highly valuable. It entitles the holder to travel around the wider bloc and live or work in countries such as Germany, France and the United Kingdom almost unchecked.
The other countries whose citizens are believed to have benefitted from the scam are not member states of the EU.
The state prosecutor’s office confirmed the arrests. Ivan Geshev, who is the Chief Prosecutor of the State, said: “Peter Haralampiev, Krasimir Tomov, and Mark Stoyov have been arrested for fraud with the issuance of Bulgarian passports to Ukrainian, Moldovan and Macedonian citizens.”
According to media reports, they were charged with facilitating digital assets as a means of exchange.
While the men arrested in this case are particularly high profile, crypto has in fact been used for this purpose for a long time in Bulgaria.
Twenty people have been arrested in the country in relation to the wider passport scandal, suggesting that there is a pronounced problem with the issue in the country.
However, in these cases those arrested had allegedly used cash, accepting figures of up to $5,600 US dollars for one document, suggesting that the officials who were arrested might have made a conscious decision to use cryptocurrencies.
In the wider scandal, the country’s Vice Prime Minister Valeri Simeonov has been criticised, and he has faced calls to quit. However, he is refusing to resign, claiming that the scandal is not his responsibility.
The three officials are believed to deny the allegations. The case continues.
More broadly, Bulgaria is generally quite open to legitimate cryptocurrency transactions and is something of a regional leader in the field.
Earlier this year, the country got its first ever cryptocurrency ATM machine. The machine, which allows users to buy both Bitcoin and a range of altcoins including Litecoin, is installed at a shopping centre in the country’s capital Sofia.
According to official figures, the nation is the holder of the second-largest amount of Bitcoin anywhere in the world.
That’s down in part to the fact that the Bulgarian government has in the past bought up large quantities of Bitcoin. It is believed to now hold enormous amounts of the cryptocurrency.
While it holds cryptocurrencies itself, the government of Bulgaria has also simultaneously launched crackdowns on illegitimate crypto transactions over time – and arrests like those seen recently are not uncommon.