What’s the Story Behind Bulgaria’s Missing Bitcoins?

Reading Time: 4 minutes
  • Bulgaria was believed to possess over 200,000 seized bitcoins, today valued at $9 billion, potentially easing a significant portion of the national debt
  • However, the whereabouts of this cryptocurrency remains uncertain, sparking questions of theft or loss
  • The mysterious saga of Bulgaria’s missing bitcoins unfolds through a mix of facts, myths, and conspiracies

The story of Bulgaria’s missing bitcoins is something we touched upon when we peeked behind the curtain at the mysterious world of cryptocurrency auctions. Within our article, we touched on a subject that has various cryptocurrency experts baffled. Bulgaria was supposed to be sitting on a fortune of seized bitcoin. Social media rumblings, leaked reports, and general chit-chat between those in the know put the figure at more than 200,000 BTC. Currently valued at more than $9 billion, this pot of crypto-cash could effectively wipe out a fifth of Bulgaria’s national debt should it be sold.

With the world waiting for Bulgaria’s 200,000 plus bitcoin to reach the auction block, what’s actually happened? Missing, stolen, or lost, questions have been raised about where exactly this huge pile of bitcoin has gone. Through a mixture of fact, myth, and conspiracy, Bulgaria’s missing bitcoins are able to weave quite the tale.

The Story That Started It All

Back in May 2017, a Southeast European Law Enforcement Center (SELEC) press release stunned the crypto community. Carrying the headline “More than 200,000 Bitcoins in Value of 500 Million USD Seized by Bulgarian Authorities,” it unsurprisingly made huge waves around the world. The story was backed-up further by SELEC during the frenzy that followed, with the organization stating that the seized bitcoin had been retrieved during a joint cybercrime investigation codenamed “PRATKA/VIRUS.” Targeting a criminal group that had hacked government computers, members of the cybercrime gang were made up of Bulgarian residents, with it carrying ties throughout Romania, Serbia, Greece, and Macedonia.

The goal of the group was to infect customs computers with malware. With the software installed, it allowed the gang to alter the status of import checks, effectively allowing them to process cargo without inspection. The sheer scale of the operation stunned authorities, as it implicated various customs officials. Raids were carried out at over 100 addresses, along with individual person and vehicle checks. Countless tablets, phones, and laptops were confiscated during the raids, with 23 individuals arrested as suspects.

Getting to the heart of the investigation, according to a SELEC – along with the standard currency seized – they also seized “Bitcoin wallets of the main suspects with a total value of 213,519 bitcoins.” Detailed in the press release, it was revealed that the offenders opted to use bitcoin as a means to move money around.

As you can see, the roots of Bulgaria’s bitcoin haul actually come from legitimate raids carried out by SELEC. However, this certainly isn’t the end of the story, as since the announcement confusion has taken over.

Clickbait, Clickbait, and More Clickbait

Following SELEC’s big bitcoin reveal, the clickbait news stories have arrived in droves. Here’s where the problems started, as many of these stories were quick to make unfounded assumptions. One article was titled “Bulgaria has enough Bitcoin to pay off a fifth of Its Debt”, with it detailing how Bulgaria is currently a debt-ridden EU state, along with how it has quickly it could become one of the richest thanks to the surging Bitcoin price. The value estimations began to fly, with this particular article stating that the crypto haul was worth €3 billion and could pay off one-fifth of the country’s €14 billion debt. As the stories regarding the value of Bulgaria’s bitcoins circled, many news sites began to stretch the truth.

Then came the next wave of reports – those that doubted Bulgaria’s claims of ever actually having the bitcoin to begin with. Questioning Bulgaria’s bitcoin bonanza, an article titled “Bulgaria is sabotaging international law and order” soon had people talking. Published by WikiLeaks partner Bivol.bg, it makes claims that there are major inconsistencies between what was announced in the SELEC press release and official statements from Bulgarian officials.

Bivol – through the Access to Public Information Act – questioned the Interior Ministry on how the 200,000 plus bitcoins were being managed. It demanded the publication of the related bitcoin addresses as well, as a means to block abuse due to just how easily the coins could be appropriated in their current state. Bulgarian officials knocked back these requests, refusing to release any information related to the bitcoin seizure. What was concluded was that SELEC had mistakenly discussed the seizure publicly, because if the private keys can’t be found the linked wallets would actually be completely inaccessible.

The Bivol.bg exposé raises huge questions regarding Bulgaria’s seized bitcoins. Should the information revealed prove true then Bulgarian officials don’t have access to the connected wallets and subsequently don’t have any bitcoin to boast about. There’s been absolutely no confirmation either way, instead all that’s occurred is a so-so rejection of these claims from law enforcement officials. Making matters even more confusing, Ivan Geshev (Head of Bulgaria’s Specialized Prosecution Office) called a press conference to discuss the recent media claims. He said, “No Bitcoins have been confiscated”, effectively stating that SELEC’s Bitcoin claims were false.

Lost in Translation?

How do you fancy hearing a crazy conspiracy theory? Well, there are those out there who believe that the answer to Bulgaria’s missing bitcoin can be found within a numerical oversight. As you are already aware, English isn’t the native tongue of the Balkan countries. This could potentially raise doubts over the SELEC press release and whether or not it might have been rushed through translation for publishing.

Furthering this theory, by all accounts Bulgarians often use commas in numbers instead of the traditional decimal point that is used elsewhere throughout the world. It raises the question, could Bulgaria in fact have 200.000 BTC instead of 200,000? It’s certainly something to think about, even if it does seem pretty far-fetched.

The Mystery Continues

Bulgaria’s missing bitcoin has become a massive talking point among the crypto community. Everyone seems to have an opinion on where the bumper coin haul has gone or whether it even existed in the first place. For our 2 cents – or should we say 0.0000022 BTC – the supposed seized bitcoins are without private keys and as such can’t be accessed. Jumping the gun, the press release just didn’t relay the right information, creating a frenzy in the process.

If Bulgaria’s supposed bitcoin haul was to ever hit the auction block it would be a truly record-breaking sale, but disappointingly we just don’t ever see that ever happening.