The towns of Yakoruda, Bansko, and Belitsa in Southwest Bulgaria are located in valleys among three of Bulgaria’s major mountains – Rila, Pirin, and Rhodopes. Map: Google Maps
Three treasure hunters from Southwest Bulgaria have received minor suspended sentences for raiding archaeological sites in the region back in 2016.
Treasure hunting targetting archaeological sites is a very rampant crime all across Bulgaria, with tens or even hundreds of thousands of people destroying country’s enormous archaeological, cultural and historical heritage on a daily basis. (Learn more in the Background Infonotes below!)
On November 13, 2019, the District Court in Bulgaria’s Blagoevgrad found that the three men in question were guilty of seeking archaeological artifacts in an area known as Milanitsa near the mountain town of Yakuruda in Blagoevgrad District, Southwest Bulgaria.
The three men were detected doing that armed with shovels and metal detectors back in May 2016, some 3.5 years ago.
When the police raided the suspects’ homes, they found there archaeological artifacts such as adornments and coins from different time periods as well as “devices used for the discovery of archaeological artifacts", the local Struma daily reports.
One of the man, who is a native of the resort town of Bansko, Blagoevgrad District, has received the harshest sentence – 1-year suspended sentence with a 3-year probationary period, and a fine of BGN 5,000 (app. EUR 2,500).
The two other men are natives of the town of Belitsa, also in Blagoevgrad District. One them got a 6-month suspended sentence with a 3-year probationary period, and the other one was sentenced to a 10-month probation.
The defendants are still entitled to appeal their sentences for treasure hunting before the Appellate Court in Sofia.
Treasure hunting and antiques trafficking out of Bulgaria is a massive criminal industry, with an estimated annual turnover of up to EUR 1 billion.
Unfortunately, public tolerance for the treasure hunting crimes in Bulgaria remains rather high, law enforcement seems to be failing to crack down on them to a sufficient degree, and it is usually just lowest-level diggers who get caught, and even those, more often than not, get away with suspended sentences.
Treasure hunting and illegal trafficking of antiques have been rampant in Bulgaria after the collapse of the communism regime in 1989 (and allegedly before that). Estimates vary but some consider this the second most profitable activity for the Bulgarian mafia after drug trafficking.
An estimate made in November 2014 by the Forum Association, a NGO, suggests its annual turnover amounts to BGN 500 million (app. EUR 260 million), and estimates of the number of those involved range from about 5 000 to 200 000 – 300 000, the vast majority of whom are impoverished low-level diggers.
One of the most compelling reports in international media on Bulgaria’s treasure hunting plight is the 2009 documentary of Dateline on Australia’s SBS TV entitled “Plundering the Past" (in which Ivan Dikov served as a fixer). Focusing on the fate of the Ancient Roman colony Ratiaria in Northwest Bulgaria, the film makes it clear that treasure hunting destruction happens all over the country on a daily basis.