Earlier this week, Coinbase reported that Bulgarian authorities seized 213,519 BTC in May from an organized crime group. The amount of Bitcoin amounts to about $3.2 billion at current prices on Bitstamp. The country’s authorities, however, did not confirmed anything about the details related to the police raid when the cryptocurrency was allegedly confiscated.
Official authorities are no longer keeping silent on the matter since the story’s popularity broke out of proportion and some Bitcoin traders started fearing a massive dump of BTC onto the market. According to the attorney in charge of the case who was quoted by Coinbase in the initial report, the country does not hold any amount of Bitcoin in relation to this case.
The Original Source of the Report
In order to ascertain the validity of the reports that have been making noise around the web recently, the only place worth trusting is the Southeast European Law Enforcement Centre (SELEC). The document was first referenced by Bulgarian investigative journalism website Bivol.bg.
In the press release issued by the SELEC, Bulgarian authorities reportedly concluded a raid on a group involved in cyber-crime that was compromising the computer systems of the country’s customs to avoid and save taxes.
Local law enforcement authorities confiscated “a large quantity of money”, equipment consisting of “communication devices, computers, tablets”, bank documents and other items which are not mentioned.
As relates to the cryptocurrency, the document which was published on the 29th of May on the website of the organization states (in a sloppy translation): “Up to now were found in the virtual space bitcoin wallets of the main suspects with a total value of 213,519 bitcoins. As a reference, the value of one bitcoin is rating to 2354 USD. The offenders choose the bitcoin way of investing/saving the money because it is rather difficult to be tracked and followed.”
There are several problems with the text above, and investigative journalists from bivol.bg have filed an official request for more information from the Bulgarian Ministry of Internal Affairs. The response that the media received states that due to the ongoing investigation, authorities are not able to share more details at present.
Official Position of Bulgarian Prosecution
After the report from Coinbase went viral, the information that Bulgaria is holding close to 17 percent of its GDP in confiscated Bitcoin reached the country’s officials. Bulgarian Prosecution came out with an official position, stating that it doesn’t own any Bitcoin.
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According to the Chief Special Prosecution Unit of the authority, Ivan Geshev, the case doesn’t involve any Bitcoin. He therefore officially denied all of the reports that circulated about the new-found wealth of the poorest member of the European Union.
Geshev elaborated that a cybersecurity expertise is being prepared by a US company. After their conclusion, the state will finalize the details on the case and file an official case against the perpetrators of the customs tax evasion scam.
The group that allegedly executed the border tax evasion scheme consisted of eight people, a hacker from Sofia and a Bitcoin enthusiast. The latter was in charge of erasing the money trail.
Lost in Translation
According to local media, the computers of Bulgarian customs were infected with a virus that infiltrated the system and allowed data manipulation. The gang allegedly falsified customs declarations, ultimately robbing about €5 million ($4.24 million) from the Bulgarian state in 2015.
The group also allegedly infiltrated the customs systems of Greece, Macedonia, and Serbia. After attempting to access Romanian infrastructure, the perpetrators were caught in an joint operation coordinated by SELEC between the countries.
The information in the official statement cited above is said to have been misinterpreted by the journalist from bivol.bg. On his part, the website claims that Bulgarian police might have greatly overstated the amount of Bitcoin mentioned in the SELEC statement.
Looking once again at the statement, we can see the lack of clarity: “Up to now were found in the virtual space bitcoin wallets of the main suspects with a total value of 213,519 bitcoins.”
Bulgarian authorities state that they meant to say that a total of 213,519 Bitcoin changed hands during the time that the group was executing the scheme. (Or so they claim..)
According to global anti-corruption tracking body Transparency International, Bulgaria is the most corrupt country in the EU, ranking 75th globally. The Corruption Perception Index of the country is at 41 out of 100. Countries that have a higher index are perceived to be less corrupt.