The 94 gold coins from Asia Minor and the Levant seized from the Turkish smuggler. Photo: Bulgarian Prosecutor’s Office
Dozens of gold and silver coins from the Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages minted by states such as the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire and the Persian Empire have been seized from a Turkish man at the Bulgaria – Turkey border.
The 43-year-old Turkish trafficker was trying to smuggle the medieval coins from Turkey into Bulgaria, respectively, the European Union, and then off to Western Europe, the Bulgarian Prosecutor’s Office has announced.
Last week the Turkish man with initials A.K. was left in custody by the District Court in the city of Haskovo in Southeast Bulgaria on charges connected with the trafficking of archaeological artifacts and bribery.
After the man was caught at the Kapitan Andreevo border between Bulgaria and Turkey crossing on March 21, 2021, he attempted to bribe a customs officers with a EUR 1,500 bribe.
The suspect and a companion of his were trafficking a total of 94 gold coins, including Late Roman coins, Byzantine coins, Persian coins, and other coins from Asia Minor, and a total of 37 silver medieval coins from the Levant known as dirham.
The coins in question which were not registered with any authorities, and there was no document certifying their legal origin and acquisition.
According to the Bulgarian Prosecutor’s Office, their combined total worth is estimated at BGN 40,000 (app. EUR 20,000).
The smuggler bought the medieval gold and silver coins in Turkey for about USD 10,000, and intended to sell them for twice as much money in an unnamed Western European country, according to the Bulgarian prosecution.
The Haskovo District Court has ruled the man should be kept in custody arguing he could flee.
In addition to having a very acute problem with treasure hunting and illegal exports of archaeological artifacts and treasures from its own territory, Bulgaria, not unlike Turkey, is also a major transit country for international smugglers.
The 37 medieval silver coints from Asia Minor and the Levant seized from the Turkish smuggler. Photo: Bulgarian Prosecutor’s Office
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.