Border officials living in opulent villas

Border officials living in opulent villas

The New York Times

STAVRI DIMITROVO, Bulgaria — A powerful illustration of how Bulgarians see border officials living according to separate rules is the so-called “customs officers’ village” here on the Ivailovgrad Reservoir, 30 kilometers from Svilengrad, the town nearest the Kapitan-Andreevo border station. Half of the 40 or so homes in the village are luxurious weekend villas built by former and current border officials and “businessmen.”

The first sight upon entering the village is a hotel-sized mansion on the other side of the reservoir being built by Rumen Atanasov, popularly known as “The Goat,” a hotelier and the former Black Sea representative of Georgi Iliev, a Bulgarian ex-wrestler and organized crime boss who was shot and killed last summer.

Farther down the road, a new-looking two-story villa stands out along the water, with its own fish farm fenced off in front. The owner is Pavlin Parishev, former deputy head of road taxes and permissions at Bulgaria’s Executive Road Agency, which processes the fees paid by vehicles entering the country at Kapitan-Andreevo. His father, Kostadin, is the business partner of Fuat Gyuven, who owns nearby duty-free gas stations.

Overlooking the reservoir, the front deck of Parishev’s villa is decorated with an electric beer sign and a huge mounted pair of antlers. A carved wooden sign welcomes visitors to “The Ministry of Fun.”

As a journalist and photographer took a look recently, a watchman in a rowboat shouted from the middle of the reservoir that they had no permission to take pictures of Parishev’s villa. When asked what permission was necessary, he shouted: “Some people will come to beat you up, break your camera, and then you’ll understand.”

Yanko Kyuchukov, mayor of the nearby town Lyubimets, told the Bulgarian newspaper Monitor last month that all the land around the reservoir was public and that all construction there was illegal. Those who have built have been fined, he said, and they have paid their fines, but no one has stopped them from building or removed their buildings.

The homeowners have connected with a neighboring village for their water supply and they clear trees to make their own roads. But the mayor said he had no idea where they got their electricity.

The full-time residents, most of whom work taking care of the villas, say they have grown accustomed to the arrogance of the wealthy officials. Kolyo Sirakov, 46, and his father, Hristo, 76, a retired math teacher, live in a rough concrete box of a house and make a living from their 20 cows.

“How can we not notice when a customs officer with a salary of 400 levs a month” – about €200, or $255 -“builds a villa here and hires two families to take care of his property?” said Kolyo Sirakov. “We get angry, but what can we do? These people eat and drink with ministers.”

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