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Last Updated: Friday, 27 July 2007, 08:24 GMT 09:24 UK
Laying bait for child smugglers
By Patrick Jackson
BBC News

Craig (not his real name) posed as a shady British businessman seeking to buy a Bulgarian toddler for his childless wife in an undercover report for the BBC's Ten O'Clock News.

A mother and her girl up for sale in Varna
Craig was offered a choice of infants at meetings in cafes

As he sits in police custody "Harry" the foiled child-seller must be a doubly disappointed man today.

Though the BBC undercover team never mentioned anything other than wanting to obtain a child for a man whose criminal record prevented him adopting legitimately, the Bulgarian had been obsessed with the idea of "breaking into the British market" in high-class prostitution.

Face to face with a Londoner who, he was led to believe, had spent time in prison like himself, he saw his dream partner.

Craig, posing as an East End luxury car-dealer, had rolled into the Black Sea city of Varna complete with his own two henchmen. Harry was told they were trusted men who had "sorted out a problem" for him a few years earlier, no further questions asked.

Harry said he could supply the Londoner's child of choice for 60,000 euros (40,000) but why, he kept arguing, should Craig stop there? Harry boasted that he had supplied prostitutes from Bulgaria to Madrid, Dublin and Amsterdam. He listed vehicle theft, money laundering and passport fraud as his other "business" interests.

Craig said nothing. He rarely said anything. His two guys did the talking in Varna - all the low-level stuff, at any rate. Craig just let the conversation flow, allowing Harry to reveal his operating methods and show his hand.

When the hand was played, when the infants were there in front of him for the concealed camera to record, it was time for Craig to take the plane back to London and leave BBC News to play its trump card.

Who's the boss?

A veteran of British covert military operations in Northern Ireland and, latterly, several other undercover reports for the BBC, Craig is used to dangerous situations and indeed advises journalists on risk assessment.

"Craig"
Basically we lived The Big Lie but that's how you get in with these guys
Craig

But his dip into the world of Bulgarian organised crime was a tense one.

The key to success was winning the complete confidence of Harry over five weeks spent in and out of Varna's seedy club land.

"He is very interested in cars and that's how we broke the ice, talking about what cars I was shifting and acquiring," Craig says.

"His dream was to have a Range Rover."

Craig impressed his wealth upon the Bulgarian both by talking elite cars and casually flashing wads of banknotes at every opportunity. Fictional calls about big-money business deals would come in on his mobile phone, too.

His "henchmen" - both of them experienced investigative journalists - drew Harry deeper into the illusion, maintaining a distance between the Bulgarian and The Boss.

"I would send the boys to do the mundane talk and arrange the meetings," says Craig.

"Whenever I would walk into the bar or restaurant, they would part the waves for me, so to speak.

"Harry would get up and embrace me. It got to the stage where he had become completely in awe of me.

"Basically we lived The Big Lie but that's how you get in with these guys."

Patted down

Craig and his colleagues believe Harry is a mid-ranking member of an organised crime group. They had the impression of being under constant surveillance.

Harry
Harry said he had previously sold babies to western EU states

Sometimes it was muscular guys in shades drinking coke a few tables away in a cafe.

Early on, Harry took the three Britons to a night club where they were "patted down". Happily, on a hunch they had taken no concealed recording equipment with them.

That same night, Harry took them to a "selective" lap-dancing club to view young women he wanted to "move to London".

Cocaine was offered. Later, it was sex that the undercover team had to politely decline.

For all his evident admiration of the East End car dealer, Harry did throw in questions to test his story.

He once asked what car Craig drove - a Mercedes ML270. A few hours later, he asked if it had a Techtronic gearbox. Craig luckily had done his research and knew that it did.

"After that, Harry was on board," he says.

Restraint

The aim of the report was to expose Bulgaria's criminal trade in children in all its cynicism.

Apart from Harry, the BBC team met relatives of the children. A grandfather turned up with a photograph, trying to sell his "jewel of a granddaughter" without his daughter's knowledge.

How did it feel to operate in an environment of such moral squalor?

"You have to control your emotions because it is quite a tense situation," says Craig.

"You have to put them aside and worry about them when you've finished the task in hand.

"I'm a parent myself and I was just happy when it was over."

Once the undercover team had exposed the truth behind this trade, the BBC investigation was closed immediately before any transaction took place to protect the welfare of the children involved. The Bulgarian authorities announced the arrest of "Harry" and two other suspects shortly after the BBC story was broadcast.

Your comnments:

I'm a Bulgarian journalist based in London. I did an undercover investigation for a British Sunday paper a few years ago and it was thrilling even though it had nothing to do with organized crime. One is always cautious about not getting one's cover blown. In Bulgaria I used to work on a popular newspaper's crime desk and I have used hidden mics on numerous occasions although few of them have actually been proper investigations (limited funds and will there).
Pavel Gonevski, London, UK




VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
An interview with the undercover security expert



SEE ALSO
Baby-smugglers jailed in France
02 Feb 07 |  Europe
Bulgarian babies for sale
18 Jul 06 |  Newsnight
Bulgarian 'baby smugglers' held
18 Oct 04 |  Europe
Bulgaria's disturbing baby market
23 Feb 05 |  Crossing Continents

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