Exiled Bulgarian gambling entrepreneur wins $180m lawsuit against government

Posted on: Nov 9, 2022 11:20 am.

Last updated on: November 9, 2022, 12:02 p.m.

In a surprise decision by a court in Bulgaria, a sports betting company is not required to pay the government hundreds of millions of dollars it is asking for. The founder of Eurofootball is also clear, but that does not mean that the exiled entrepreneur is returning to his homeland.

Wassil Boschkow
Bulgarian multi-millionaire Vasil Bozhkov appears in an updated photo. He won a major legal battle with his home country while living in exile in Dubai. (Picture: El Correo del Golfo)

The Bulgarian Supreme Administrative Court (SAC) ruled against the State Gambling Commission (SGC) which tried to claim BGN 329 million (US$168.97 million) from Eurofootball. The decision is final and neither the SGC nor the government can appeal it.

This is the largest tax case filed by a former company of Vasil Bozhkov, an entrepreneur with a twisted history of activities and struggles with the state. The court, while acknowledging that there was some truth to the government’s claim, failed in the way it demanded payment.

No country for old men

This case has been trickling for years, and a lower court ruled in early 2021 that the sportsbook had to pay. It ordered the company to pay BGN 261 million (US$134.05 million) in outstanding fees and BGN 67.7 million (US$34.77 million) in interest.

The order was due to the company failing to pay its share of gambling taxes for five years, according to the SGC. The court’s decision uncovered a series of questionable drills that forced it to halt.

A subsequent court found that neither the BGC nor the Bulgarian Ministry of Finance correctly applied the law. Four finance ministers served during the period in question, and none also intervened.

When the case got to the SAC, that court ruled that it was time to close the matter. After checking all the facts, it determined that the original order for payment came from someone who never had the legal authority to issue it.

The SGC chairman asked Eurofootball to pay but was unable to do so. According to the judge, the gambling supervisory authority is only an administrative authority. It can therefore not force anyone to settle their financial claims with the state.

Another company that Boschkow operated could soon remedy the situation. The same lower court that previously tried to enforce the SGC order ruled that New Games, a bankrupt private lottery company, must pay just over BGN 223 million ($114.53 million) in unpaid fees. After the outcome of the other lawsuit, this case is also likely to end in disappointment for the government.

More drama than a soap opera

The saga began in late 2019 after a tip-off from a competitor of Bozhkov to the authorities. Several inspections by the State Financial Inspectorate, the Ministry of Finance, followed. It turned out that from early 2014 to late 2019, several Bozhkov gambling companies had cheated the government of their required tax obligations.

The public prosecutor’s office then initiated large-scale proceedings against Boschkow. They hit him with 19 counts, including tax evasion, extortion, money laundering and organized crime. They also threw in charges of attempted rape and aiding and abetting murder.

Bozhkov by that time had already fled the country and was living in Dubai. Meanwhile, his businesses lost their licenses and lotteries became a state monopoly. The BGC has revoked its gambling licenses. Despite attempts to extradite him to Bulgaria, the United Arab Emirates simply denied the country’s request.

Bozhkov has repeatedly stated that former Prime Minister Boyko Borisov and former Finance Minister Vladislav Goranov extorted money from him. He claims he paid them over BGN 60 million ($30.79 million) in bribes. Every time he visited the Treasury, he did so with one million euros ($1 million) in cash that he could exchange.

Bozhkov says he can prove this if asked, but claims chief prosecutor Ivan Geshev ignored him. Earlier this year, police arrested Borisov and Goranov following an investigation. The public prosecutor’s office later described the arrests as illegal and released them again.

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