50 Ancient Arrow, Spear Tips Planted, Charged Bulgarian Businessman Claims
A collection of a total of 50 ancient iron arrow and spear tips, which has brought about a criminal charge against prominent Bulgarian businessman Plamen Bobokov, had been planted in his home, Bobokov himself has alleged at the start of his trial.
At the end of last year, the Bulgarian Prosecutor’s Office charged the businessman over what it says is illegal possession of a collection of 50 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 attached to a display board – have been discovered in Plamen Bobokov’s home.
An expert appraisal has proven that the ancient arrow and spear tips in question are “movable cultural-archaeological valuables,” the prosecution says.
Experts have established that the 48 arrow tips and 2 spear tips, all of them iron, are from the Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, and “of historical value.”
“They are authentic, whole, relatively well preserved, and not ‘mass material’ as per the law,” the Prosecutor’s Office says.
Under Bulgarian legislation, 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 joint live TV interview in November 2020, they accused Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, media mogul Delyan Peevski, who is oftentimes described as an oligarch, and Bulgaria’s Chief Prosecutor Ivan Geshev, of being “a triumvirate” using the Prosecutor’s Office to crush them.
Plamen Bobokov’s trial for the illegal possession of the iron arrow and spear tips from the Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages began on Monday, March 8, 2021, in the Danube city of Ruse.
The defendant has described the trial as a “farce”, declaring that he had not owned the Late Antiquity and medieval weapons, and that the arrow and spear tips had been planted in his home so that the archaeological artifacts could be used to target him.
“This is a pathetic and desperate attempt by the cloth cap-wearing Prosecutor’s Office (a reference of Bulgaria’s Chief Prosecutor Ivan Geshev who often wears a cloth cap – editor’s note), and its two puppet masters (a seeming reference to Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Boris and media mogul Delyan Peevski – editor’s note) to corner us, to terrorize us, and to force us to remain silent,” Plamen Bobokov has told reporters, as cited by the Bulgarian National Television.
The defendant has said he had never seen the ancient arrow and spear tips before, and that he does not rule out the possibility that they had been planted in his house.
As per their appraisal, the worth of the Late Antiquity and medieval armaments is estimate at BGN 650 (app. EUR 330). The defendant and his defense have emphasized that this has led to the distraining of bank accounts and properties worth millions of euro.
The Ruse District Court refused the requests of the defense, and scheduled the next court sitting for April 12, 2021, which is to include hearings of witnesses and experts.
Besides illegal possession of archaeological artifacts, Plamen Bobokov is facing charges of participation in organized crime group for the alleged illegal storage of urban waste from Italy, and influence peddling for his alleged connections to a former member of the administration of Bulgaria’s President Rumen Radev. The latter has given Bobokov grounds to allege that the prosecution against him is used to target the Bulgarian President Radev who is a political opponent of Prime Minister Boyko Borisov.
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.
In March 2018, marvelous gold and silver Ancient Thracian artifacts from Vasil Bozhkov’s collection were put on display at the National Gallery of Arts in Sofia in an exhibition entitled “The Golden Fleece. The Quest of the Argonauts”.
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 substantial business in manufacturing. According to Plamen Bobokov, they employ some 2,000 people in Bulgaria, and operate manufacturing plants in 7 different countries and firms in 18 different countries.
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.
The issues surrounding Bulgaria’s large-scale treasure hunting and antiques trafficking industry, which also touches upon the existance of private Bulgarian collection, is discussed in detail by ArchaeologyinBulgaria.com founder Ivan Dikov in his 2019 book Plunder Paradise: How Brutal Treasure Hunters Are Obliterating World History and Archaeology in Post-Communist Bulgaria.
Ivan Dikov discusses the issues surrounding the Bulgarian oligarchy and its international standing in another one of his books, Ugly Bargain: How the European Union and Bulgaria’s Post-Communist Oligarchy Fit Together.
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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.
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