Twenty officials from the State Agency for Bulgarians abroad were arrested on charges of selling fake fake certificates of Bulgarian origin to citizens from non-EU countries on Monday. According to the investigation, the documents, based on which Bulgarian passports can be issued, were sold for about 5,000 euros each, with an average of thirty passports being sold per week. The officials were arrested on suspicion of forgery, corruption and abuse of power.
The agency’s director, Peter Haralampiev is also among the suspects, leading the nationalist VMRO party, who appointed Haralampiev to the position, to distance themselves from the him and deny that he is affiliated with the party. VMRO leader Krasimir Karakachanov said that “if it turns out that the director of the Agency […] and other people related to the Agency have committed such a violation, then I firmly believe that they must face the total rigour of the law”.
The majority of buyers for the fake passports came from Albania, Macedonia, Moldova and Ukraine – countries with a high presence of resident Bulgarians. As Euractiv points out, those who obtained Bulgarian nationality rarely decided to stay in Bulgaria, but rather, by exploiting European citizenship, would go to other EU countries looking for work. Despite Bulgaria not being a full member of the Schengen zone, its citizens can still avail of the freedom of movement in the EU. As a result, following the entry of Bulgaria into the Union in 2007, more than 115,000 foreigners have applied for Bulgarian citizenship.
Between May 2017 and June 2018, the Ministry of Justice rejected more than 750 requests for citizenship from people claiming to be Bulgarian. Last year, the government made Bulgarian naturalisation more difficult, adding the requirement that at least one of the applicants parents be a Bulgarian citizen. Despite this, around 10,000 new passports are issued each year by the Agency.