Exiled Bulgarian Gambling Entrepreneur Wins $180M Suit Against Government

Posted on: November 9, 2022, 11:20h. 

Last updated on: February 16, 2023, 03:03h.

In a surprising decision from a court in Bulgaria, a sports betting company won’t have to pay the government the hundreds of millions of dollars it demanded. Eurofootball’s founder is also in the clear, but that doesn’t mean the exiled entrepreneur will return to his native country.

Vasil Bozhkov
Bulgarian multimillionaire businessman Vasil Bozhkov appears in an updated photo. He won a major legal battle with his home country while living in self-exile in Dubai. (Image: El Correo Del Golfo)

The Bulgarian Supreme Administrative Court (SAC) ruled against the State Gambling Commission (SGC) as it tried to demand 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 “The Skull” Bozhkov, an entrepreneur with a twisted tale of activity and battles with the state. While the court acknowledged that there was some truth to the government’s claim, it failed in how it sought payment.

This case has been percolating for years, and a lower court ruled early in 2021 that the sports betting operator had to pay up. 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.

No Country for Old Men

The order resulted from the company not paying its share of gambling taxes for five years, according to the SGC. The court’s decision uncovered a series of questionable exercises that forced it to stall.

A subsequent court determined that neither the BGC nor Bulgaria’s Ministry of Finance applied the law correctly. Four finance ministers served during the period in question, and none intervened.

As the case made its way to the SAC, that court decided it was time to bring the matter to a close. Upon reviewing all of the facts, it was determined that the initial order for payment came from someone who never had the legal authority to make it.

The chairman of the SGC ordered Eurofootball to pay up but wasn’t in a position to do so. The gaming regulator is only an administrative body, according to the judge. As a result, it can’t force anyone to settle their financial claims with the state.

Another company Bozhkov operated could soon find relief, as well. The same lower court that previously tried to enforce the SGC order ruled that New Games, a bankrupt private lottery company, has to pay slightly more than BGN 223 million (US$114.53 million) in unpaid fees. Based on the outcome of the other suit, this case is likely to end in disappointment for the government as well.

Soap Opera Drama

The saga began at the end of 2019 after a tip to authorities from one of Bozhkov’s competitors. Several inspections by the State Financial Inspection Agency and the Ministry of Finance ensued. It found that, from the beginning of 2014 to the end of 2019, several of the gambling companies of “Bulgaria’s most infamous gangster” cheated the government of its required tax obligations.

As a result, the prosecutor’s office launched a large-scale action against Bozhkov. They hit him with 19 counts, including tax evasion, extortion, money laundering, and organized crime. They also threw in charges of attempted rape and complicity in murder.

Bozhkov had already fled the country by then and was living in Dubai. Meanwhile, his businesses lost their licenses, and lotteries became a state monopoly. The BGC has revoked his gaming licenses. Despite attempts to extradite him to Bulgaria, the United Arab Emirates just turned down the country’s request.

Bozhkov repeatedly stated that former Prime Minister Boyko Borisov and former Finance Minister Vladislav Goranov extorted money from him. He alleges that he paid bribes to them of over BGN 60 million (US$30.79 million). Each time he visited the finance ministry, he did so with €1 million (US$1 million) in cash to turn over.

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