Bulgarian authorities have seized an enormous stock of weapons, including more than 100 guns, tens of thousands of rounds of ammunition, and rocket launchers in several raids across the country over the past five days.
According to Balkan Insight the head of the police’s organised crime directorate, Ivaylo Spiridonov, said the haul of weapons was enough to “arm two platoons”. Police suspect that they were smuggled from a munitions factory.
Several people were arrested during the raids, which began on November 30 in Sofia with the arrest of Ivaylo Popov, identified by AFP as the group’s ringleader.
Popov, who had an arms dealer license, was sentenced in March to three years in prison for the illegal sale of 50 Uzi automatic rifles but was released while his appeal was being heard, AFP reports. He was arrested as he was leaving a garage containing 65 automatic rifles, 43 handguns, 37 machine pistols, 400 gun barrels, 14 launchers for rocket propelled grenades, RPGs, and around 50,000 bullets, according to the authorities.
Further arrests were made in the city of Kazanlak, where police found 17 more assault rifles and 15 handguns during searches of the suspects’ properties. A printing press used to create forged documents was also seized, along with Canadian, European, Israeli and Iranian counterfeit passports. Two Iranian citizens were among those detained.
Deputy Prosecutor General Ivan Geshev said some of the gang’s members had previously worked in the local Arsenal-Kazanlak weapons plant, one of the largest producers of light assault weapons and munitions in Bulgaria. This could explain the large number and high quality of the weapons seized.
“I have never seen such a quantity of weapons (…), and a quality comparable to those that our special units are equipped with,” Prime Minister Boyko Borissov told reporters. While Deputy Prosecutor General Ivan Gheşhev noted that silencers found during the raids were the same as those used exclusively by the Bulgarian special forces.
The export of light weapons and munitions was worth more than 1 billion to the Bulgarian economy in 2017, employing more than 30,000 people, according to Bulgarian media.