Prosecutor General Ivan Geshev announced Vassil Bozhkov had been detained in the UAE on Friday night. The information had not been yet confirmed by authorities in the UAE – this, Geshev said, Bulgarian officials expected Saturday.
Prosecutors charged Bozhkov on seven counts including leadership of an organized crime group, extortion and tax fraud on Wednesday.
On Saturday authorities announced the head of the State Gambling Commission, Alexander Georgiev was arrested. bTV cited the Prosecutor General’s spokesperson Siyka Mileva who said Georgiev had admittedhe protected Bozhkov’s lottery businesses.
The former head of the commission, Ognemir Mitev is also under arrest.
Bozhkov is one of the riches people in the country and a gambling tycoon: he owns the largest private lottery in Bulgaria, which also tops the biggest TV advertisers’ lists every year.
A few days ago the Prosecutor’s Office announced it had evidence that Bozhkovoffered a 10’000-leva daily payoff to an official from the commission to process forward requests to take away gabling licenses of competitors.
Just about two weeks ago one of the leaders of the coalition partner Valeri Simeonov introduced a bill to Parliament, which would ban private actors from operating lottery businesses. Bozhkov threatened to sue the state if the bill is enacted into law.
The seemingly sudden shift in the government’s attitude towards Bozhkov became visible in December. Then the authorities followed up on information that Bozhkov’s lotteries are paying less in fees and taxes than the state-owned lottery – a reality quite well known and not in any way a secret.
According to Ivan Geshev Bozhkov’s lotteries ‘owe’ the state over 550 million leva in unpaid fees and taxes for a single year.
Officially, the information came from Bozhkov’s long-time business partner Tsvetomir Naydenov with whom he had a fallout resulting in a court dispute over the ownership of the betting company Efbet. Naydenov even made public accusations that Bozhkov had threatened his life. Bozhkov denied the notion entirely.
Naydenov is the prosecutors’ main witness in the case against Bozhkov.
The State Gambling Commission was raided following these events, twice. Bozhkov’s offices were first raided as well. Prosecutors also raided and confiscated antiques and paintings from his museum.
Bozhkov is famous for his art and antique collections. He established a foundation and a museum to house them. In one of their raids the investigators reportedly attempted to confiscate antique objects by dumping them in sacks, which stirred criticism across the board: from opposition leaders, to scholars, to the head of the Parliamentary Culture Committee and former Minister of Culture Vezhdi Rashidov.
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