You have got your Bulgarian passport and/or ID card (or eventually your citizenship certificate) in your hands. But are they genuine?
Congratulations! You have just “obtained” your Bulgarian citizenship ID documents (BG identity card and/or international travel passport). They look nice and fresh, even smell like they are expected to – of ink and plastic. But there is that strange feeling hanging in the air that something might be wrong. That feeling that makes you afraid showing your new documents at the check-in at the airport and sends shivers through your spine only at the thought of showing it to the border police officer.
Recently our lawyers have had enormous amount of enquiries from foreign citizens with request to “carefully examine” their Bulgarian citizenship documents. Whether it is their citizenship certificate that is issued by the president (or the vice-president) of Bulgaria or the brand new travel documents (passport and ID card), it all comes to whether these are being issued by the Bulgarian government or not.
So here are the main things that you have to consider in order to evaluate your documents’ authenticity:
WHO ASSISTED YOU WITH YOUR CITIZENSHIP APPLICATION?
This is probably one of the most important things you have to consider. About 99,2% of the Bulgarian citizenship applications are being handled by a third party in order to facilitate the administrative procedures.
If you are not a proud representative of the remaining 0,8%, then you have used the services of someone else. That means that the legality of your naturalization process has been entirely in the hands of another person or company, as well as in the hands of all subcontractors that might have been involved in the process, with or without your knowledge and approval.
There are many “agents” out there who are trying to market their assistance in obtaining Bulgarian citizenship. It is important to realize that, although the majority have good intentions, most of them lack the competence and the legal capacity to handle the client’s application. There are basically 3 types of “facilitators” (or “agents”) that are usually being employed for assistance in the client’s citizenship application, which you have to be especially wary of, namely:
1) INTERNATIONAL (OFTEN LARGE AND EVEN WELL KNOWN) COMPANY AGENTS, OFFERING ASSISTANCE AND “ARRANGING” BULGARIAN CITIZENSHIP.
In 99,9% of the cases, these companies will be offering many other citizenship programs as well, i.e. citizenship of Cyprus, Malta, Saint Kitts & Nevis, Vanuatu, Dominica, just to name a few. They will often propagate different types of “EU permanent residency programs”, “golden visas”, “investment opportunities” and even “real estate”. Often, they will operate from “prestigious” offices in London, Hong Kong, Dubai, New York, etc.
If you have obtained your Bulgarian citizenship with the assistance of these sorts of companies, the chances of your documents being processed legitimately is on the average side. The main risks come from the fact that these companies, even if having initially pure and good intentions, don’t have a clue about the Bulgarian legislation and how things work in reality. They always have to rely on subcontractors, who often employ another subcontractor and so on, until your application eventually reaches legitimate Bulgarian law entity to process it accordingly. In this chain of events, the chances are real that at some point, the weakest link will simply brake and the whole process will be compromised. Often, in order for the agent not to jeopardize the deal, you will be spared the truth and eventually provided with fake documents. In most cases, the International agents, who you employed to assist you with your citizenship, will not be even aware of the scam that has been perpetrated and will pass to you their confidence – something that can have catastrophic consequences for your money and your freedom, should you try using your brand new passport or ID card.
The other danger comes from these companies’ extreme “financial metabolism”. Maintaining offices in business centers around the world cost money, a lot of money, and participating in international immigration fairs is even more expensive. In order to be able to cope with these costs, the prices of these international companies are often many times more expensive than their competitors offer. The price difference however results in less clients signing for their services, resulting consequentially in less revenue. In order to stay afloat, some of these companies are often left with no choice, but to use their client’s investment money (in the case of Bulgarian citizenship by investment for example) to cover their operational expenses. This money is often used in extremely risky financial investments (without your knowledge of course) and is almost always lost ultimately. Unfortunately, during 2016, we started receiving more and more complaints and request for legal assistance in such scenarios. Needless to say that when the applicant’s funds are being used for another purpose, not only the citizenship will be refused, but it is often the case, when the client will be never able to recuperate his investment. Very strong indication of such eventual behavior is when the investment in Bulgaria is being marketed as interest-free (in case of Bulgarian government bonds), or even “social”, meaning that there is no return (interest) on the investment (which is not true). Should you come across such conditions, our advice is to stay away and look for other options.
2) PRIVATE INDIVIDUALS, SMALL COMPANIES, AND SHADY AGENTS OFFERING YOU GREAT CONDITIONS AND “SECRET DEALS”.
These will often contact you by phone, will chase you down to your business or even knock on your door. You might be introduced by a friend or a colleague who knows somebody who knows someone. They will often market their services on the internet as well, although their websites will lack the integrity and the exhaustive information you might find elsewhere. In 99,99% of the cases they will be operating from outside of Bulgaria. They will most probably offer you much more advantageous conditions than you will find elsewhere. You will be offered irresistible conditions and will be explained that there is a “secret government program” in Bulgaria, that is not being marketed online and under which, you can invest a fraction of the amount that the others are telling you. If that happens to you – run away! Unfortunately, in today’s world, not everybody can set aside an investment of a million Euro (as is required by the Bulgarian investment citizenship program) nor can afford the legal fees that are due for the citizenship program. There is when the scammers get their chance. You may be offered citizenship with an investment of say, 100 000 EUR or even less. The legal fees will be as well ten-fold lower than they should be and even the required time period for the program may be much shorter than it is by law (roughly 18 months for the investment citizenship program in Bulgaria). Needless to say that should you fall victim of such a scheme, you will ensure the criminal’s, otherwise modest fee, will be topped with your whole investment amount.
3) PRIVATE INDIVIDUALS PRETENDING TO BE BULGARIAN STATE OFFICIALS OR EMPLOYEES.
They can be introduced to you by someone you know or trust and be presented as official from the Bulgarian embassy (most often), from the Bulgarian foreign ministry etc. They will offer you “internal” assistance and will make you believe that you have just got the chance of your life. If you experience that – run away. It is 100% illegal. You will be often provided with a “secret” telephone number of the Bulgarian embassy where you can call day and night and the person will be always willing to help. Do not trust that at the slightest – if you want to call our embassy, please get the official telephone number from a trusted source, even from the internet, but never from someone in similar scenario.
THE CONDITIONS YOU HAD TO MEET IN ORDER TO QUALIFY AND OBTAIN BULGARIAN CITIZENSHIP
This is probably the most important factor you have to consider. For example, if you know you have absolutely no Bulgarian roots or Bulgarian predecessors, but you were explained that such will be arranged, run away. This is the scam that is most often being deployed in Russia, Ukraine, Moldova, Macedonia and Serbia. Even if you believe you should be qualifying as being Bulgarian citizen by origin, please stay on high alert. For the criminals, it is much more convenient to laser print you a fake certificate than to do the hard job, searching for documentary evidence of your parents and grand parents nationality in the distant Bulgarian towns and municipalities.
Another example is the already mentioned above – low investment “secret” scheme. You will be told that you don’t need investing 2 million Bulgarian Leva (1024000 EUR), rather than a much smaller amount, alongside with a very modest legal fee. Such offers are hard to resist indeed, but they are all scam (100%). Often, the scammers will tell you that the investment will remain on their account, or an ESCROW account in Switzerland, etc. Any investment that is not being done clearly and unconditionally on your own name with a licensed financial or credit institution in Bulgaria falls out of the scope of the Bulgarian law hence is most probably a scam. If you have been offered something like that – run away!
THE PROCESS OF YOUR CITIZENSHIP APPLICATION
This is another very important factor that you should consider carefully. If for example, you are applying for investment citizenship, but you have never visited Bulgarian bank – be extremely cautious. Bank accounts can be opened remotely indeed, but unless you have signed and legally notarized (most often this is done at the Bulgarian embassy in your country) a comprehensive Power of Attorney, the account can be simply not opened (hence no investment has been done, at least not in your name). If the meetings with your agent have been always in the local bar or restaurant, but never in his legal office, please stay on alert, this is most probably a scam. If you have received your Bulgarian citizenship documents from anywhere else but from a trusted source (such as the Bulgarian authorities), please think twice.
If during the naturalization process you have never visited Bulgaria, this is a red light. If you have been told that there is a shortcut and your application will be approved without the legally required conditions – run away. If you have never met Bulgarian lawyer and are always being serviced by a foreign (non Bulgarian) person, that is another sign of eventual fraud.
Lastly, if you have been left with the impression that everything is so easy and you have just signed a couple of documents, this is another alert sign. Bulgaria is doesn’t have the most bureaucratic system in the world, but still, you will be required to sign and provide a bunch of documents. If that has not been the case, please be on alert as well.
THE WAY YOUR BULGARIAN CITIZENSHIP DOCUMENTS – ID CARD, PASSPORT, NATURALIZATION CERTIFICATE, ETC. LOOK LIKE
This may sound a bit contra intuitive, but this is the least important factor. Living in the XXI century, the scammers are possessing now quite remarkable arsenals of technical capabilities and in most cases, the products they produce look quite impressive. Long gone are the days when the WW2 spies were forging passports with a needle under magnifying glass in order to pass the Nazi’s border check points. Still, in rare cases, some of the documents (especially certificates) may contain typos or other obvious errors – clear sign of forgery. All in all however, don’t expect finding any irregularities on your own. These will be found however immediately when the travel document is checked in the authorities’ computer systems. The consequences for you will be of course, catastrophic.
WHAT ARE THE CONSEQUENCES FOR YOU IN CASE YOU HAVE FALLEN VICTIM OF A SCHEME WITH ILLEGAL CITIZENSHIP APPLICATION PROCESS AND CONSEQUENTIALLY FAKE PASSPORT OR BULGARIAN ID CARD?
Unfortunately the outcome can be quite horrible. You will:
- Lose your fees that you have paid to the scammers;
- Most probably will lose your total investment (in case of investment citizenship);
- Unless you take immediate legal actions once you find out you have been defrauded, you will be held liable for holding (in many cases even if not travelling with) forged Bulgarian travel document that will result in jail sentence and severe penalties. The Bulgarian penal code is very strict in this respect and most of the verdicts result in effective jail sentences.
WHAT CAN WE DO TO HELP?
If you have the slightest doubt about the legitimacy of your Bulgarian citizenship application, please get in touch with us immediately. We will ensure that:
- We will verify the legitimacy of the process and your travel documents (if issued). Our lawyers have access to the different databases in order to ensure the legitimacy of the documents;
- We will make sure that all actions are taken so you will not be held liable and will thereby avoid penal actions being taken against you (extremely important);
- We will take all necessary actions in order to recuperate your investment, including all the fees you have paid for your bogus naturalization application;
- We will provide invaluable legal advise on all related issue and will be able to assist you with all your related queries and the consequences of the “citizenship application”.