Vassil ‘The Skull’ Bozhkov is escorted by police after arriving in Bulgaria. He reportedly led a large organized crime ring from the country. (Image: Bloomberg)
A desire to return home may prove disastrous for Vassil Bozhkov. The Bulgarian billionaire behind a gambling empire that includes Eurofootball returned home last Friday, and the man better known as “The Skull” was promptly arrested.
Bozhkov’s entry into the country was on a FlyDubai commercial flight, prompting a significant surge in police presence at the airport. He landed in Sofia after spending the last three years residing in Dubai in an attempt to avoid the legal nightmares that were waiting for him at home.
As soon as the plane landed, police moved in and detained Bozhkov on numerous serious charges. These allegations range from being the mastermind behind an organized crime group to engaging in the unlawful procurement of cultural and historical artifacts, along with facing accusations of making death threats and orchestrating homicide.
Political Enemy Number One
Bozhkov finds himself in the center of an inquiry, where allegations suggest his involvement in orchestrating a well-structured syndicate. The prosecution maintains that this criminal organization has been active since 2014 and has been engaged in a wide array of illicit activities ranging from extortion to corruption.
The authorities didn’t need a lot of help tracking The Skull’s plans to return to Bulgaria. He announced his trip on X while sitting in a plane that was waiting to take off.
A Bulgarian judge agreed with the prosecution’s assertion that Bozhkov needs to remain locked up, as his potential ability to disappear again remains a concern. Bozhkov has expressed that he intends to appeal the ruling, highlighting its tenuous nature and lack of evidence.
The decision to return home now isn’t completely clear, but it could have to do with former Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov. On May 16, in a social media post, Bozhkov expressed his willingness to return to Bulgaria as a witness to disclose his knowledge of corruption associated with Borissov and others.
Throughout his career, Bozhkov engaged in an enigmatic dance, where he voiced his disapproval of Borissov, as well as Vladislav Goranov, the finance minister from May 2017 to July 2020, and Delyan Peevski, a member of parliament. Bozhkov’s narrative suggests that they collectively conspired to jeopardize his gambling enterprise by incessantly raising licensing costs and making menacing hints about altering the gambling sector regulations.
To prevent that from happening, according to Bozhkov, he had to pay extra to keep his enterprise. Between 2017 and 2019, he allegedly paid a €30-million (US$32.44 million) bribe to Borissov and Goranov.
One of Bulgaria’s Leading Figures
Bozhkov, an enigmatic and polarizing figure, has left both a trail of profitable ventures and a cloud of political allegations linking him to organized crime. Born in 1956 in the town of Velingrad, he later studied mathematics at Sofia’s University of National and World Economy.
However, his rendezvous with trouble commenced in the early months of 1985. At a time when gambling was illegal, he found himself under the watchful gaze of the Bulgarian Communist State Security Service.
In 1989, following a change of government, Bozhkov embarked on a range of business endeavors, opening a chain of money exchanges across the country. He later diversified into various sectors, such as gambling, road construction and soccer during the 1990s.
Between 1999 and 2006, Bozhkov assumed ownership of the CSKA football club, while in March 2019, he acquired ownership of the Levski club. However, a diplomatic cable published by WikiLeaks in 2011 highlighted his involvement in the intertwining of business and criminal activities in Bulgaria.
Under Borissov, in 2020, the National Lottery’s operations, which Bozhkov controlled, and his art collection, which reportedly contained stolen works of art, stirred up numerous accusations within the country. He eventually sought refuge in Dubai to allegedly escape the charges.
At the beginning of 2021, while residing in Dubai, Bozhkov inaugurated his very own Bulgarian political party. However, despite its captivating name, Bulgarian Summer, the party failed to meet the required criteria to participate in the Bulgarian parliamentary elections for the 2021-2023 term.
Bozhkov, now 67, could become a key piece of evidence against Bulgaria’s former political heavyweights, provided he can support his accusations with tangible proof. Getting him into a courtroom as soon as possible could prove beneficial to his health.