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Entrepreneurs find safe haven in Bulgaria as Greek prospects fizzle

SOFIA, Bulgaria -- “We're opening a new place and I'm a bit short on time,” Yannis Zois, a 46-year-old Greek from Corfu, quips as he gets off his bike outside his buzzing cafe on Sofia's busiest downtown shopping street.

Zois opened his first espresso shop here three years ago and is now adding finishing touches to his third cafe in the Bulgarian capital.

“There was a hole to be filled here, so I chose to come here instead of going to Athens. For this kind of business over there, it's like a jungle, everybody is ready to eat each other,” he said.

Growing financial uncertainty and soaring taxes chased hundreds of small Greek entrepreneurs to neighboring Bulgaria, where their investments were safer, after recession and debt worries began five years ago.

Zois, an electronic engineer who spent 15 years in the coffee and tea distribution business in Greece, Italy and Germany, left his brothers in Corfu so he could focus more on his businesses in Bulgaria.

“If it hadn't been for the crisis, I might have thought of going back but I'm not thinking about it yet,” he said, adding that investing in Bulgaria was “safer for now.”

“Nothing is safe in Europe,” he added quickly.

“But it seems more risky to invest in Greece now.”

According to Bulgaria's national revenue agency, 3,781 companies with 100-percent Greek capital filed taxes here in 2011, up from 2,199 in 2010 and just several hundred before the crisis.

Many Greeks also now deposit money in Bulgarian banks, which they did not do before.

“The increased interest is due mostly to the lower tax and social security burden here and the stability of the economy over the past few years,” the agency said in a statement sent to AFP.

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