Exiled Bulgarian Gambling Kingpin, ‘The Skull,’ Launches Political Fightback

Posted on: January 5, 2021, 01:20h. 

Last updated on: January 5, 2021, 03:00h.

A casino and lottery tycoon nicknamed “The Skull,” who fled an organized crime, extortion, and tax evasion rap in his native Bulgaria, is seeking to oust the country’s government at national elections in March, Balkan Insight reports.

Vasil Bozhkov
The Skull announces the formation of Bulgarian Summer via Twitter from the United Arab Emirates on Monday. (Image: Twitter/ Vassil Bojkov)

Vasil Bozhkov, sometimes spelled Vassil Bojkov, has registered a new political party called “Bulgarian Summer” from his exile in the United Arab Emirates, where he is battling extradition to the Balkan state. Until January last year, he ran Bulgaria’s largest private lottery and was one of the country’s richest men, with interests in casinos, hotels, media outlets, and sports teams.

But a 2009 US diplomatic report intercepted and leaked by Wikileaks described him as “Bulgaria’s most infamous gangster.” Last year, Bulgarian prosecutors accused him of bribing gaming regulators to avoid paying around $317 million in taxes and licensing fees, dating back to 2014.

Last January, the country’s legislature voted to revoke Bozhkov’s gaming license, nationalize his lottery, and abolish private lotteries in general.

Voice of the Bold

Bulgaria has no extradition treaty with the UAE. Bozhkov has spent much of the year in Dubai protesting his innocence and criticizing the government of Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov on Twitter.

He’s particularly aggrieved about its seizure of his vast collection of ancient Thracian artifacts, some of which prosecutors believe may have been acquired illegally. Now, he’s taking direct action.

We are the power,” he declared in a 30-second video clip posted on his Twitter account Monday, announcing the establishment of Bulgarian Summer. “The time for justice is coming, and justice will be for all.”

The party’s website currently lacks a manifesto. But it does devote over 1,000 words to criticizing the government’s response to the coronavirus crisis in a section titled, “The Voice of the Bold.”

Bozhkov has installed the former marketing director of his sports betting company, Boril Sokolov, as party chairman.

Rise of the Bulgarian Mafia

Bozhkov was born in 1956 and graduated in mathematics from the University of Sofia. In 1993, he established a casino and gambling company with Ilya Pavlov, the founder of Multigrup. This was alleged to be the legitimate face of Bulgaria’s biggest organized crime syndicate.

The period after the fall of the Soviet Union saw the rise of the Bulgarian Mafia, which came to dominate legitimate business within the country, as well as organized crime.

Pavlov was assassinated in 2004, the day after he testified in the murder trial of former prime minister Andreu Lukanov. No one has ever been charged with those killings.