Bonus Bulgar Benefits Rackets Exposed
By MAZHER MAHMOOD, in Sofia, Bulgaria
A BULGARIAN crime racket could let tens of thousands of illegals sneak into Britain on fake IDs to claim benefits, a Sun investigation can reveal.
Bulgarians can already come here freely — but their curbs on working and getting welfare handouts will be lifted next January under EU rules.
Now Mafia crooks are flogging counterfeit Bulgarian IDs to people from restricted countries — allowing them instant entry to Britain.
A Sun reporter posing as a Ukrainian — with no right to live in the UK — bought one from a gangland kingpin called Gatsu in Bulgarian capital Sofia for ?475.
Delivered 24 hours later, it was a genuine government-issue document doctored with our man's photo and a name we chose, Valeriy Romanov.
As Gatsu handed over the authentic-looking ID, he grinned: "You're getting it very cheap.
"You can go to London straight away with this card.
"In a few months it will mean you can work there or claim a house, money, medicine or school free from the Government — just like the Polish people can.
"Then the price of this card will be at least five times more. Everyone will want them.
"I have already sold lots of them to people from Arab countries, Russians and Indians."
Gatsu is part of a growing black market trade in Sofia in selling documents to enter Britain.
They can be used to travel anywhere in Europe without a passport. Gangsters from Serbia, Kosovo and Macedonia are among those feared to have illegally used them to enter the UK.
And some small-time crooks simply flog stolen, undoctored identity documents for a mere ?50.
One bragged to our reporter: "I can get you a suitable card in a couple of hours.
"A lot of people are living in London already with these."
The documents scam is run with the help of corrupt staff at the Sofia passport office.
Gatsu controls his racket from an upmarket caf? in the city's Triaditsa district.
The wiry, greying gangster, in his 60s, is infamous across his country — and boasted to us about people who crossed him getting shot. We were put in touch with him by an underworld contact.
After being vetted outside the caf? by one of his burly minders, our reporter was ushered inside to sit next to the crime boss.
When our man claimed to be a Ukrainian hoping to get into Britain, Gatsu boasted: "I can get you any kind of document you want — ID cards, driving licences, university diplomas, anything.
"They are all originals, with original stamps and everything. The ID cards are genuine but they will not be registered on the system."
Gatsu asked our reporter to follow him outside where, watched by his minder, he added: "I will get you a genuine ID card that you can travel with all over the world.
"I have sent people to London, Canada, US, everywhere.
"They arrive with no problem because the cards are genuine and the border checks can't show anything wrong. It's ? 1,100 (?950) for the package, which will include the ID card and driving licence.
"They go together — it's better. If you just want the ID card, that will cost 550 (?475)."
Gatsu showed the amount of sophistication that goes into his criminal scheme as he told our reporter: "I will need a digital photograph of the person as well as his signature.
"Give me the name, height, place of birth, date of birth, and eye colour. You also have to tell me if he is married or not.
"I need this information and then I will get the card made very quickly for you."
Our reporter agreed to an extra ?17 fee to have the document ready within 24 hours. But Gatsu added menacingly: "I've been in this business for 30 years. Everybody knows me. You must pay the money up front. I've had people who paid only half the money and then they disappeared. They have been arrested or shot.
"I have to pay other people, so I will need all of the money before I do anything."
The underworld boss carefully counted our money and added it to a large wad of bulging notes bound by an elastic band that he pulled from his pocket.
True to his word, 24 hours later he rang to say the forged document was ready. When our reporter returned to the caf?, Gatsu plonked a Marlboro cigarette packet in front of him on the table.
Inside, wrapped in a tissue, was the fraudulent document plus the computer memory stick we had given him holding our reporter's photo and signature.
It now claimed our man was Valeriy Romanov, 43, born in Bulgarian Black Sea resort Varna.
Issued by bent officials in Sofia, it had all the security features of any genuine card — including three holograms and a government stamp — and was computer-readable.
To complete its authentic look, it was also stamped with a personal number, 690 906 5040, and an expiry date in 2018.
The card was indistinguishable from an authentic ID document — making it virtually impossible for border security anywhere in Europe to spot it as a forgery.
Gatsu asked with a smirk: "Are you happy? This card is worth a lot of money." We later had it checked by a Bulgarian official who confirmed it was genuine. He said: "This is not a copy but an original document which has seemingly been issued legitimately by one of our government offices to a Bulgarian citizen.
"It is no different to those held by all Bulgarian nationals and could be used to travel to the United Kingdom or anywhere else within the EU."
Gatsu and his henchmen are not the only villains in his country cashing in on the desperate rush to gain entry to Britain.
Gangs of gypsies are running a bustling trade flogging identity documents in markets across Bulgaria.
While some of the ID cards are stolen, others have been sold to them by desperate Bulgarians for as little as ?8.50.
One such crook is Mitko, a gypsy in his 40s from Pleven, near the Romanian border. He and his brother Ivan sell the IDs in a bustling street market on the outskirts of Sofia.
It is crammed with stolen and fake goods — with everything from credit cards and counterfeit cigarettes to TV watches and computers laid out for sale on bedsheets sprawled on the pavement.
Mitko said: "People use these ID cards to make new bank accounts, get loans, or do other deals — as well as running away from the country.
"But you have to find a card that suits you. The photo has to look like the person that wants to travel and the details have to be similar. You must check that the age is right.
Mitko charges from ?50 for each card, depending on who he is selling to. He boasted he could get a suitable one for us within a couple of hours and promised: "It doesn't matter which country you are from.
"As long as the photo is a good match, nobody can challenge you."
Britain is likely to prove a huge attraction for holders of Bulgarian identity cards — real and fake — when workplace and benefit restrictions are scrapped in January. The average worker in the impoverished country takes home a paltry ?280 a month. They have the lowest pay in Europe.
Since 2007, Bulgarians — unlike other EU nationals — have been allowed to live in the UK, but only if they already have a job to come to or are self-employed.
The British Government insists they must be able to "support themselves and their families in the UK without becoming an unreasonable burden on public funds".
At present, the country's 42,000 citizens resident here cannot claim benefits unless they have worked here continuously for 12 months.
But all that will change from the start of next year, when even jobless Bulgarians coming over for the first time will be entitled to free healthcare, housing and welfare handouts.
Ministers have refused to reveal their estimates of how many Bulgarians — along with Romanians, who can also take advantage of the new rules — are expected to flock to Britain from next year.
But campaign group Migration Watch has predicted it could be as high as 70,000 a year in the first five years — 350,000 in total.
More worrying figures revealed by a Bulgarian TV poll this month found that some four million of the 7.5million population would like to settle in Britain.
The nationwide poll of 4,400 people by the national television channel BTV revealed that 56 per cent of poverty-stricken Bulgarians have their sights set on the UK.
Cops in Bulgaria have made several arrests of people using fake ID cards to set up companies to launder money from international criminal operations.
In July, 2011 Serbian Goran Vukowich, 41, was collared after being caught swindling 120 different banks across Europe using a false Bulgarian ID card.
There have also been cases where IDs belonging to poor gypsies have been used by villains to secure bank loans which they have not paid back.
The genuine ID card-holders are then left facing lengthy legal proceedings to try to prove they have been the innocent victims of identity theft.
According to the Bulgarian authorities there were around 3,000 cases of identity theft detected in 2011-2012.
Our dossier and covert video tapes are available to the authorities.
- » The Economist: Bulgaria, Moldova Presidents 'Less Pro-Russian Than Advertised'
- » AFP: Bulgaria's Radev 'Struck a Chord by Attacking the Status Quo'
- » Politico: Bulgaria May Veer Shaprly Back into Moscow Orbit after Presidential Vote
- » Bulgaria's Radev 'Benefited from Popular Resentment against Coalition' - FT
- » FT: Ex-Air Chief Threatens to Upturn Apple Cart of Bulgarian Politics
- » Russian Paper: Bulgaria 'Was Docile NATO, EU Member' Under Last Socialist President
We also accept national identity cards for EEA citizens.