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Bulgaria's Special Prosecutor's Office asks for remand in custody of Vasil Bozhkov's wife

Bulgaria's Special Prosecutor's Office asks for remand in custody of Vasil Bozhkov's wife

20 February 2020 | 13:53 | FOCUS News Agency
Sofia. The Special Prosecutor's Office has filed a request for remand in custody of wife of Vasil Bozhkov, said the press office of the Special Criminal Court.

Elena Dineva has been charged with participation in an organised crime group.

The case will be heard today at 03:00 pm.

Gambling millionaire Vasil Bozkov has been charged in absentia, his extradition from the United Arab Emirates has been officially requested by Bulgaria’s justice ministry.
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Bloomberg: Fugitive gambling tycoon fights for his vast treasure trove

Bloomberg: Fugitive gambling tycoon fights for his vast treasure trove

12 February 2020 | 14:47 | FOCUS News Agency
Sofia. Public quarrels between politicians and rich businessmen over alleged links to organized crime are hardly new, especially in a country ranked among the most corrupt in Europe, Bloomber reported.

The case of Vasil Bozhkov in Bulgaria, though, has captured the national imagination because it cuts to the heart of the Balkan country’s heritage.

The 63-year-old gambling tycoon amassed a trove of more than 3,000 archaeological artifacts said to be dating from 4,000 B.C. to the sixth century. While their value is unknown, Bozhkov has said he was once offered 600 million euros ($655 million) for just part of the antiquities collection by an unnamed country building a new museum.

Bulgarian authorities raided Bozhkov’s offices last month and raised seven charges against him, including attempted bribery and leading an organized crime group involved in money laundering. Chief Prosecutor Ivan Geshev said on Feb. 2 that Bozhkov had been detained in the United Arab Emirates and his office was preparing a request for his extradition. Bozhkov denies all wrongdoing.

None of the charges is directly related to his collection of antiquities but the authorities are poring over every item. Now the question many Bulgarians are asking is what will happen to them?
The collection, parts of which have been exhibited in Brussels, Bonn and Moscow as well as at home in Sofia, is stored in his private museum at the offices of his Nove AD Holding company in the Bulgarian capital.

Bozhkov and his Thrace Foundation, named after the ancient region that makes up parts of modern day Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey, accused the authorities of trying to confiscate the objects. Prosecutors denied that, though said the antiquities were now included in the broader investigation into Bozhkov’s affairs.

“We’ll check everything about Vasil Bozhkov’s artifacts—from the documents of acquisition, to their nature and whether they are of exclusive value to the state,” Culture Minister Boil Banov told reporters on Feb. 7. Laboratory tests across Europe may be needed, he said.

Bozhkov built his fortune from stakes in gambling, sports betting and lottery companies. His businesses in the past have also included road construction, insurance, banking and real estate. He said none of the charges against him have been proven.

In an interview he gave to private television channel BTV on Jan. 30, he said he was afraid to come back to Bulgaria where he could be arrested.

The businessman has also accused the Bulgarian state of trying to take over his lottery business. Lawmakers approved amendments on Feb. 7 that allow only the state-owned company to run the lottery.

The Thrace Foundation says it has all the necessary documentation for the antiquities and is concerned the collection will get damaged or fall into the wrong hands. It has notified UNESCO that the collection is endangered, it said in an emailed statement on Feb. 7. The handling of the pieces doesn’t befit a member of the European Union like Bulgaria, it said.

The foundation said the authorities illegally attempted to confiscate some of the works in plastic bags during the raid of Nove AD Holding’s offices, an act it described as “barbaric.” “We won’t allow the transportation of any object in a bag, a cardboard box or in any way differing from the international standards,” it said.

The first Bulgarian kingdom included large swathes of Thrace, previously home to a group of ancient tribes known for their craftsmanship. Bozhkov’s treasures include weapons, household utensils and sculptures. He also has one of the world’s biggest private collections of rhytons, comprising about 20 of the horn-shaped ceremonial mugs made from silver and gold.

Some were shown in Bulgaria when the country hosted the EU’s rotating presidency two years ago, such as a golden wreath with laurel branches and a silver rhyton with a goat-like ending and a depiction of the death of Orpheus, both from the fourth century B.C.

In 2017, Bozhkov bought a 13,400 square-meter (144,000 square-foot) building in central Sofia to exhibit his artifacts, which his foundation said are of “tremendous scientific and cultural value.”

In the meantime, a joint inquiry by prosecutors and the Culture Ministry is underway over the collection’s registration, origins and the way the pieces were acquired. The process will take about two months, the prosecutor’s office said. Banov, the culture minister, said his team is currently inventorying the collection. Parts of it may be moved to the National Museum of History.

“Most probably a part of this collection—I hope it’s not the greater part—is acquired, dug out, stolen from the Bulgarian land,” Geshev, the chief prosecutor, said in an interview with the BNR state radio on Sunday. He said he suspects many were acquired illegally, something both Bozhkov and his foundation vehemently deny.

“It is property of the Bulgarian people,” said Geshev. “And a part of Bulgarian history.”
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Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva: We are waiting for United Arab Emirates to permit Bozhkov's extradition

Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva: We are waiting for United Arab Emirates to permit Bozhkov's extradition

6 February 2020 | 13:19 | FOCUS News Agency
Sofia. We are waiting for United Arab Emirates (UAE) to permit Bozhkov's extradition, Foreign Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva told journalists, Focus News Agency reported.

"We have no extradition agreement with the United Arab Emirates. That is why every case related to an extradition request by the Bulgarian authorities is solved individually," Minister Zaharieva explained.

The prosecutors are carefully drawing up a request for extradition since Bulgaria and the UAE do not have an extradition agreement, the minister said. The Ministry of Justice will then send it through diplomatic channels to the competent authorities in the UAE. “This is the procedure. We are waiting. It might have arrived today," the minister said.
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Bloomberg: Bulgarian gambling tycoon Bozhkov detained in UAE

Bloomberg: Bulgarian gambling tycoon Bozhkov detained in UAE

4 February 2020 | 09:38 | FOCUS News Agency
Sofia. Bulgarian businessman Vasil Bozhkov, who is the subject of a European arrest warrant, was detained in the United Arab Emirates, Bloomberg reported, citing BNR public radio in Sofia.

Officials in Sofia brought seven charges against him on Wednesday, including leading an organized crime group and attempted bribery, and issued the arrest warrant at the same time. Bozhkov had already left the country when prosecutors raised the charges and raided the offices of some of his companies.

“Until a court decision, none of the completely random charges against me is proven,” Bozhkov said Thursday in an emailed statement. He said he and his businesses have paid all necessary taxes and accused the authorities of illegally confiscating his property, including parts of his collection of more than 3,000 archaeological artifacts.

Considered one of the richest Bulgarians with multiple stakes in gambling and lottery companies, Bozhkov has accused authorities of trying to take over his business. Bulgaria is preparing to take control of lottery gaming, shutting out the current private operators in a bid to improve tax collection.

Bulgarian authorities are preparing an extradition request after they received official confirmation of the detention, BNR reported, citing Chief Prosecutor Ivan Geshev.
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