"Virtual animals" that exist in the registers of the Agriculture Ministry but not in real life suck up dozens of millions of leva in both EU and national subsidies, Simeon Karakolev, the chairman of the Bulgarian Association of Sheep and Goat Breeders, told the media.
According to him, there were anywhere between 100,000 and 120,000 "virtual animals" getting about 20 million leva per year, adding the grand total was a lot more as there was no reliable data about virtual cows and bees.
Karakolev explained the scheme to purloin subsidies was as simple as, well, fending sheep. Every farming animal in this country has to wear an earmark with a unique identification number. If the animal dies or gets sent to a slaughterhouse the farmer must return the earmark to the local vet to get the animal deregistered. Farmers do not that, Karakolev indicated, and went on to say the earmarks of dead animals were being kept to enable the continuing receipt of funds. A sheep makes as much as 40 leva per year in state subsidies. Officials and vets were involved in the racket, he said.
EU funds were being stolen through "virtual" pastures as well. According to the law, the more animals a farmer owns the larger plot of pasture land he is entitled to from his local council. Then he makes 120 leva per year per acre in EU subsides. In extreme cases farmers with genuine livestock are unable to take them to pasture because the pastures are being "used" by "virtual animals."
Estimatedly, as many as 20 percent of all farming animals in Bulgaria are in actual fact non-existent. While real live cows can be relatively easy to count, state officials may have bigger trouble producing an even remotely precise number of this country's bees.
Earlier in the summer, Boyko Borisov's agriculture minister, Desislava Taneva, advised farmers to keep their activities hush and "not to boast about what crooks we are" for fear the EU may terminate the farming subsidies.