The Gambling Commission has carried out over 3000 checks between 2015 and 2019 but never found that former gambling mogul Vassil Bozhkov’s lotteries had evaded 700 million leva in fee payments (with interest).
Bozhkov, currently residing in Dubai, is charged on 15 counts. His businesses and especially his lottery games have long been thought to have enjoyed government protection. Then, suddenly the ruling party GERB introduced a bill to Parliament last December to establish a state monopoly on lottery games. The Prosecutor’s Office produced charges against Bozhkov, raided his properties and even confiscated his antique collections.
Bozhkov has since shared bits of information about communication he has had with high government officials, which indicate his businesses have indeed been protected. The significance or authenticity of the communications has been of course ignored, disputed or denied by the other parties. One memo, Bozhkov shared suggested he would receive "full support" at the Gambling Commission; a text exchange with a contact "Vladi Goranov" reveals "vital directives" to be given to high level official at the commission.
Even without those pieces of the story, however, the mere fact that the commission and the minister were oblivious to the absence of hundreds of millions in gambling fees, is in of itself curious. The question was finally raised today by opposition MP Roumen Gatchev at the regular weekly hearing of the Cabinet in Parliament.
Specifically, Finance Minister Vladislav Gouranov had to explain in detail what checks did the commission actually make during these times and whether it is true that the commission received and approved monthly reports by gambling businesses reflecting the amount of fees paid. In addition, was the Finance Ministry aware of these reports, particularly regarding Bozhkov’s lotteries, seeing as these reports reflect the amount of fees and the method used to calculate them. A method, which– this January – the commission discovered was false. Accounting for the difference and adding interest the commission calculated Bozhkov’s lotteries have an outstanding payment of 700 million leva.
The minister explained in detail about many probes, which found violations and resulted in fines for violation. None involve Bozhkov’s businesses.
Gouranov maintains he has had no knowledge that Bozhkov’s lotteries paid less in fees. He also does not feel this is a grave lapse on his part as minister of finance and he has been clear in his position that the mistake is only the commission’s responsibility.
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