The unregistered ancient iron weapons collection containing 48 arrow tips and 2 spear tips has been found in the home of businessman Plamen Bobokov, according to the Bulgarian Prosecutor’s Office. Photo: Prosecutor’s Office press service
The District Prosecutor’s Office in the Danube city of Ruse in Northeast Bulgaria has charged prominent businessman Plamen Bobokov with the illegal possession of archaeological artifacts over a total of 50 pieces of ancient weaponry, namely iron arrow and spear tips.
According to the Prosecutor’s Office, the archaeological artifacts in question – 48 iron arrow tips and 2 iron spear tips arranged on a board – have been discovered in Plamen Bobokov’s home.
The Prosecutor’s Office says an expert appraisal has proven that the ancient arrow and spear tips in question are “movable cultural-archaeological valuables."
It adds that the illegal possession of archaeological artifacts is punishable by up to 6 years in prison and a fine of between BGN 3,000 (EUR 1,500) and BGN 15,000 (EUR 7,500) as well as property confiscation.
Brothers Plamen Bobokov and Atanas Bobokov are well-known Bulgarian businessmen and industrialists from the Danube city of Ruse with business focusing on the manufacturing of motor oils and car batteries. Their company Monbat is one of the largest producers of car batteries in Europe.
They are known for being collectors of coins, and their Bobokov Brothers Foundation operates a private numismatics museum, “Ruse Numismatics Museum", with a rich collection based in the Danube city.
Since the middle of 2020, the Bobokov brothers have been charged with various counts by the Bulgarian Prosecutor’s Office such as the illegal imports of urban waste from Italy and its depositing into illegal depots in Northern Bulgaria.
The Bobokov brothers are vehemently denying any wrongdoing under the counts they have been charged with. They are claiming the charges and investigations against them are politically motivated and are aimed at cracking down on their business. They are accusing the Prosecutor’s Office of acting under the influence by the government and the ruling oligarchy.
In a somewhat similar case, since last year the Bulgarian authorities have been after Vasil Bozhkov, aka “the Skull", formerly the richest Bulgarian oftentimes described as an oligarch.
Bozhkov is presently in exile in Dubai and claims the government is attacking him via the Prosecutor’s Office since he used to pay vast monthly bribes to the Cabinet but at one point refused the rulers’ demands.
Bozhkov used to own the largest and richest collection of archaeological artifacts, many of them Antiquity gold treasures, in Bulgaria before it was seized by the authorities as part of the searchers of his offices and properties. Back in 2007, part of his collection was exhibited at the European Parliament in Brussels on the occasion of Bulgaria’s accession to the European Union.
Unlike Bozhkov, however, who used to be active in the gambling sector and road construction, the Bobokov brothers appear to have seemingly better reputation among the Bulgarian public, perhaps due to their successes in manufacturing.
The Bobokov brothers’ archaeological collection has been focused on coins minted in Antiquity mints, mostly from Ancient Thrace and the Roman Empire, in the ancient regions of Thrace (Thracia) and Moesia, roughly and largely equivalent to today’s Southern and Northern Bulgaria.
Their foundation’s Numismatics Museum has organized a total of 38 exhibitions so far in other venues. Its own venue, a beautiful emblematic building in Ruse constructed by an Austrian architect in 1901 purchased by the foundation, is still under renovation.
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.
According to an estimate by Assoc. Prof. Konstantin Dochev, head of the Veliko Tarnovo Office of the Sofia-based National Institute and Museum of Archaeology, up to USD 1 billion worth of archaeological artifacts might be smuggled out of Bulgaria annually.
According to the estimate of another archaeologist from the Institute, Assoc. Prof. Sergey Torbatov, there might be as many as 500,000 people dealing with treasure hunting in Bulgaria.
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.