The Bulgarian authorities have launched an extensive and ongoing investigation into the nation’s fruit and vegetable sector, focusing in particular on traders who reportedly avoid paying taxes on fresh produce brought into the country from neighbouring Greece and Macedonia.
In a statement released by the Bulgarian Finance Ministry, it was revealed that Bulgaria’s Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Simeon Djankov had ordered tax authorities and the police to monitor traders at the country’s main food markets and at border crossing points for suspected evasion of Value Added Tax, which is payable on all imported fruit and vegetables.
The country’s borders with Greece and Macedonia have formed the focus of Mr Djankov’s investigation – he has doubled the number of officials at each of the borders, instructing them to conduct round-the-clock checks of fruit and vegetable imports.
“I am sending two mobile groups to the border crossing points of Kulata and Zlatarevo,” he explained. “In the groups are representatives of the National Revenue Agency (NAP) and experts from the Agriculture Ministry, as well as the customs inspector and border policemen."
He added: "We will send experts from NAP to inspect the wholesale markets for any irregularities, because we have information that many import companies are in fact phantoms, and that they have presented forged documentation to customs instead of invoices."
Corruption and crime has been a major talking point in Bulgarian society over the past year. In July, the centre-right GERB party was elected into government partly on the back of promises it made to tackle both areas, which many regard as not only detrimental to the country itself – Bulgaria is estimated to be losing between €1bn and €1.6bn a year due to smuggling and tax evasion – but also hampering full integration and acceptance into the EU fold.
Indeed, millions in EU funding that could potentially aid Bulgaria’s development have been held back by Brussels on the grounds that it has failed to address the corruption issue. Much of this funding is for agricultural projects.