Bulgarian gambling tycoon Vasil Bozhkov, one of the richest men in Bulgaria, has been charged in his absence with extortion and attempted bribery including other crimes, as per Ivan Geshev, the Balkan country’s chief prosecutor.
Bozhkov, who is 63 years old, owns many gambling companies but also Levski Sofia, one of the two most popular soccer clubs in the Black Sea state, as well as an extensive compilation of antiques and paintings.
“Vasil Bozhkov has been charged in absentia on 7 charges, including organising a crime group, extortion, attempted bribery of an official and incitement to commit criminal offences,” Geshev informed reporters, pointing that a European arrest warrant had been circulated for Bozhkov.
Bozhkov later spoke to a local television channel bTV, from what he said was a non-European Union country, and denied any wrongdoing describing the allegations as ridiculous.
Bozhkov, known as “The Skull”, said, “Nobody was looking for me, I do not know about any charges. I am not a criminal. I am ready to show up immediately if they want me. I have something to say, in my opinion, there is a gross violation of the laws.”
Bulgaria is known to be the poorest and most corrupt countries in the European Union – it joined the EU in 2007 and has made little progress towards removing graft and organized criminal activities.
The European Commission has continuously been rebuking the former communist state for failing to indict and punish allegedly corrupt officials and for not overhauling a weakening judiciary.
Geshev said, “We will make every effort to take Bozhkov to court. This is another oligarch who has fled Bulgaria. I do not know where Bozhkov is, but I know he is not in the country.”
Geshev’s statement came hours after Bulgarian parliament supported plans to ban private lotteries and bring the one billion lev ($562 million) market under the state jurisdiction.
Bulgarian tycoon Bozhkov, believed to be worth around $1.35 billion, owns Bulgaria’s biggest lottery.
Geshev said more than 16 officials, including the head of the state gambling commission, were arrested as part of an investigation which started last week after prosecutors raided its headquarters and some companies owned by Bozhkov.
State auditors had initiated the investigation after accusations of serious financial violations in the gambling industry, with a reported shortfall of at least 210 million levs in lottery taxes and fees dating back to 2014.