Bulgaria’s fugitive gambling boss Vasil Bozhkov has been detained while the country’s gambling regulatory body has undergone some significant turnover.
On Sunday, Bulgaria’s Prosecutor-General Ivan Geshev announced that Bozkhov (pictured) had been detained in the United Arab Emirates after being indicted last week on charges of tax evasion, attempted bribery and extortion. Bulgarian officials are now preparing an extradition request to bring Bozhkov home to face the music.
Bozkhov, who has denied any wrongdoing, controls some of Bulgaria’s largest gambling businesses, including the country’s largest lottery. Bulgaria’s parliament is currently advancing legislation that would ban private lotteries, bringing all lottery operations under direct control of the state.
While Bozhkov sweats it out in a UAE holding cell, Bulgarian authorities are preparing to seize thousands of valuable archaeological antiques that Bozhkov has collected over the years. The antiques, some of which date back to ancient Greece, will reportedly be sold to cover what the government claims is Bozhkov’s outstanding tax bill of around $317m.
Among those detained in last week’s raids were a number of members of Bulgaria’s Gambling Commission, including its chairman Alexander Georgiev. Key figures within the regulatory agency are suspected of complicity in Bozhkov’s alleged efforts to avoid paying the full amount of tax owed on his gambling revenue.
On Sunday, Bulgaria’s Minister of Finance Vladislav Goranov accepted Georgiev’s resignation. Georgi Yordanov, the former chief of cabinet at the Minstry of Finance, has been appointed provisional chairman of the Gambling Commission until a permanent replacement can be identified.
The Gambling Commission also got four new directors, who will apparently replace members who were detained last week. The new members are Stoyan Stoyanov, chief secretary of the Ministry of Justice; Paul Ilchev, acting chairman of the Bulgarian Institute of Metrology; Krasimir Boyadzhiev, head of the National Revenue Agency’s special investigation unit; and Emil Zahariev, director at the State Agency for National Security.
Transparency International ranked Bulgaria as the most corrupt country in the European Union in its 2019 Corruption Perceptions Index, just ahead of Greece, Romania and Hungary.