BUSINESS

Bulgaria’s gambling regulators face organized crime charges

TAGs: Bulgaria, vasil bozhkov

bulgaria-gambling-regulators-organized-crime-chargesBulgarian prosecutors have charged two members of its gambling regulatory agency with involvement in an organized crime group overseen by fugitive gambling czar Vasil Bozhkov.

On Tuesday, Bulgarian media reported that the nation’s Specialized Criminal Court had files charges of involvement in an organized crime group against former chairman of the State Commission on Gambling Alexander Georgiev (pictured) and Todor Markov, who headed up the Commission’s monitoring department.

(These media sources actually indicated that the Georgiev who was accused of organized crime was Plamen Georgiev, the former head of Bulgaria’s anti-corruption commission. While Plamen has dealt with his own corruption scandals, he doesn’t appear to be linked to the current gambling brouhaha.)

Prosecutors had sought to keep both Georgiev and Markov in police custody while the charges were pending but the Court instead ordered both men under house arrest. Both men were also ordered to refrain from contacting any Commission officials while their fate is being discussed.

While previous reports indicated that Georgiev had admitted accepting favors from Bozhkov in exchange for favorable treatment, Georgiev’s attorneys argued that government inspections of his time at the Gambling Commission had uncovered no irregularities. Markov has reportedly denied knowing Bozhkov or his associates.

Bulgaria’s gambling sector has been reeling ever since January’s indictment of Bozhkov, who until recently controlled the nation’s largest private lottery operation as well as several other major gambling concerns. Bozhkov, who has denied any wrongdoing, was detained in the United Arab Emirates last week and is currently awaiting extradition to Bulgaria.

Earlier this month, Ognemir Mitev, who chaired the Commission before Georgiev, was accused of receiving hefty bribes – reportedly €5k per day – from Bozhkov in exchange for looking the other way when Bozhkov’s gambling operations underpaid their taxes. Mitev is also suspected of considering Bozhkov’s proposals for revoking the licenses of his gambling competitors.

Bulgarian National Television reported earlier this month that prosecutors were preparing separate charges of attempted murder against Bozhkov, which prosecutors claimed were “related to competition in the gambling business.”

Last week, Bulgaria’s parliament approved new legislation banning private lottery operators, while the Gambling Commission issued a ‘reminder’ to private betting and gaming operators of their tax obligations.

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