An exiled Bulgarian gambling entrepreneur has won a $180 million lawsuit against the government

Published on: November 9, 2022, 11:20 am.

Last updated: November 9, 2022, 11:20 am.

In a surprise ruling by a judge in Bulgaria, a sports betting company will not have to pay the government hundreds of millions of dollars it has demanded. The founder of Eurofootball is clear, but this does not mean that the exiled entrepreneur will return to his native country.

Vasil Bozhkov
Bulgarian multi-millionaire 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. (Picture: El Correo Del Golfo)

Bulgaria’s Supreme Administrative Court (SAC) ruled against the State Gambling Commission (SGC) as it tried to claim BGN 329 million ($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 tortuous story 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.

No country for old people

That case has been dragging on 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 ($134.05 million) in back taxes and BGN 67.7 million ($34.77 million) in interest.

The order was a result of the company failing to pay its share of gambling taxes, according to the SGC, for five years. However, the court’s decision revealed a series of questionable exercises that forced it to stall.

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

As the case reached the SAC, that court decided it was time to end the matter. After reviewing all the facts, he determined that the original payment order came from someone who never had the legal authority to do so.

The SGC president ordered Eurofootball to pay, but was unable to do so. The gambling regulator is only an administrative body, according to the judge. As a result, it cannot compel anyone to pay their financial debts to the state.

Another company operated by Bozhkov may soon find relief. 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 taxes. However, based on the outcome of the other trial, this case is likely to end in disappointment for the government as well.

More drama than soap opera

The saga began in late 2019 after a tip-off to the authorities from one of Bozhkov’s competitors. During several inspections by the State Financial Inspection Agency, the Ministry of Finance found that from the beginning of 2014 to the end of 2019, several of its gambling companies had cheated the government of their tax obligations.

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

However, he had already fled the country by then and was living in Dubai. Meanwhile, his businesses lost their licenses and lotteries became a state monopoly. BGC revoked its gaming licenses. Despite attempts to extradite him back to Bulgaria, the UAE has just rejected the country’s request.

Bozhkov has stated several times that former Prime Minister Boiko Borisov and former Finance Minister Vladislav Goranov extorted money from him. He claims he paid them bribes worth more than BGN 60 million ($30.79 million). Each time he visited the Finance Ministry, he did so with 1 million euros ($1 million) in cash to hand over.

Bozhkov says he can prove it if asked, but the chief prosecutor, Ivan Gheshev, ignored him. Earlier this year, police arrested Borisov and Goranov following an investigation. However, the prosecutor’s office later deemed the arrests illegal and released them.

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