Sofia crowns revenues

SOFIA (SeeNews) – British consultancy Crown Agents has helped Bulgaria to boost its customs revenues by some 1 billion levs (510 million euros) in each of the last two years, reaching an estimated 5.3 billion levs in 2005 (2.7 billion euros), company and customs service officials said yesterday. Bulgaria picked Crown Agents in 2001 for a project to modernize its creaking customs service in a bid to crack down on smuggling and tax evasion and boost budget revenues. The British consultant won in 2004 an extension to the contract which will run until the end of this year. The contract cost Bulgaria 18.9 million pounds sterling (28 million euros) but Crown Agents claimed that the return on investment exceeded 6,000 percent. «For each lev spent on the program of Crown Agents, we now have 65 levs,» Brian Banks, program director of the Bulgarian Customs Modernization Program, told a news conference. Bulgaria’s customs revenues rose to an estimated 5.3 billion levs in 2005 from more than 4.1 billion levs in 2004 and 3.2 billion levs in 2003, the head of the Bulgarian Customs Agency, Assen Assenov, told the same news conference. The British consultancy has introduced several innovations to the Bulgarian customs service, ranging from mobile customs control units, to an electronic system of microchips on goods transiting the country, known as i-seals, and the development of a customs intelligence network. Crown Agents also claimed a 47 percent customs crime detection rate. This year, Crown Agents plans to train Bulgarian customs officers to take over the mobile units and help the country strengthen its customs service ahead of its entry into the EU, planned for 2007. «Our contract ends on December 31, but if in the unlikely event that Bulgaria was not allowed to join the EU, and we were requested to continue helping them until they did, we would of course be happy to enter into talks with the finance minister,» Banks told SeeNews. He added that the company had talked to the authorities in other Southeast European countries for deals similar to the one with Bulgaria, but a contract was unlikely this year.

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