HARPING ON THE SAME STRING IN CUSTOMS
Traditionally, the Customs Agency prepares vast reports for the International Day of Customs, January 26, and the tradition was observed this year, too. But alongside with pure statistical data about the proceeds from customs duties, excise duties, VAT, interest, and fines, that went into the Treasury in 2004, representatives of mass media were impressed this time by news about the customs' record performance and boasting that the customs administration was operating as a well lubricated machinery. However, the flourish of trumpets coming from the Customs Agency was somewhat dulled by the noise regarding the sequel of disclosed cases of smuggling and drug-traffic. Quite by chance, of course, on the same day when the Customs Agency boasted of remitting to the budget more than BGN4.12BN, the Interior Ministry announced that a customs officer involved in the production of a huge quantity of drugs, was arrested. Earlier, it became known that the National Service for Combating Organized Crime disclosed a scheme for frauds when importing meat, used in the last three years. The pleasant mood of the Customs Agency's managerial team was to a certain extent darkened also by the scandal that broke out in the beginning of the year, regarding the sugar plant of Gorna Oryahovitsa and the distribution of preferential quotas for import. Anyway, the registered 28.8% growth of customs revenues was celebrated at the cocktail party, given by the agency's managers on January 26. Customs duties rose by 26.5% from 2003. Proceeds from VAT on imports exceeded BGN3.512BN, or 25.5% more than the incomes from that indirect tax, collected a year earlier. The biggest leap was registered by revenues from excise duties on imports - 87.9 per cent. Fines imposed by the customs authorities totalled BGN12, 361,000, which is BGN3, 636,000 up from 2003. Statistics about prevented attempts at smuggling and customs frauds are also interesting. The Customs Agency report shows that a total of 10,172 deeds for violations of the customs and forex regime were issued. In 2,396 of the cases contraband was prevented, and in 331 customs fraud was established. Violations of the customs regime were registered 541 times. The most frequent violations were connected with the import of cigarettes, spirits, fuels, and the so-called Chinese cargo. In 2004 the customs officers confiscated EUR232,000 and USD574,550 of counterfeit money, as well as 9,015 kg and 70,945 tablets of drugs (including 808 kg of heroine, 409 kg of amphetamine, and 112 kg of marihuana. The information about the operation of the well-known mobile groups can be described as contradictory. They carried out 2,025 inspections in all, which makes a bit over five a day, but issued only 230 deeds for vioaltions, which is less than one per day. What is really worthwhile reading among all the figures in the agency's analysis is the part titled Customs Ethics and Internal Inspections. From its contents it becomes known that 25 customs officers were dismissed, another 27 were temporarily removed from work, and almost 100 were imposed less severe disciplinary penalties, within the twelve months of last year. However, the report does not mention the names of recruited customs execs who were involved in various scams over the last years. There is no information either about the number of customs officers, charged with criminal breach of trust, or sued for the same reason.The reporting from the border check-points of Koulata and Danube Bridge, incriminating Bulgarian customs officers and border policemen in illegal practices, broadcasted by the private Romanian PRO TV channel, was forgotten to be mentioned in the report. But it did not forget to mention that one of Bulgaria's national televisions shot a documentary serial about the operation of the Customs Agency. It doesn't matter that the film was ordered by the agency itself and the screenplay was written by Ekaterina Genova, head of the Customs Agency press centre.