Bulgaria Court Sets Free Alleged 'Spongers' Mafia Group

Crime | March 26, 2010, Friday // 20:58|  views

Sofia City Court has released the five persons accused of organizing a BGN 10 M VAT draining scheme busted recently by the police in operation “Spongers”.

Even though the prosecutors demanded that all five of the “Spongers” be left behind bars, the Court let all of them go imposing on one of them, Plamen Tochev, a BGN 5 000 bail.

The Court ruled that there was not enough evidence that the five men and women belong to an organized crime group that drained money from the state budget.

The prosecution presented as a evidence a large number of invoices issued by firms owned by the defendants to a non-existing company, and the fact that the invoices were not entered in the firm registers. The prosecutors also presented evidence collected through special intelligence devices demonstrating that the defendants committed tax crimes.

The Prosecutors believe that the “Spongers” might exert pressure on high-ranking officials and hide evidence as the investigation is still going on. The release of the defendants can be appealed before the Sofia Appellate Court.

The “Spongers” were arrested on March 23 in Petrich near the Greek border and in Sofia. The defendants include 35-year-old Plamen Tochev from Petrich, known as “the Wad”, who has a lengthy criminal record, his wife, 36-year-old Rumyana Tocheva, known as “The Little Wad”; 39-year-old Georgi Kochev, known as “The Crow”, 37-year-old Dimitar Chuchulogov, known as “The Lark”; 32-year-old Natasha Grueva, and 30-year-old Violeta Natskova.

The group of the Spongers imported food products from Greece by using the registration of a real firm together with the names of non-existing firms. Thus, they evaded paying VAT and corporate tax. The products were imported from Greece with fake invoices during the shifts of certain customs officers (even though no customs officers have been detained yet).

The estimates of the prosecutors show that since the beginning of 2010, the Spongers incurred a loss of BGN 10 M to the state budget.

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Tags: Spongers, VAT, value-added tax, VAT draining, Sofia City Court, release, Prosecutor's Office


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