There are colourful characters in life, and then there’s Vasil Bozhkov.
The 64-year-old is considered to be the richest Bulgarian on the planet, amassing a fortune of an estimated two billion Levs (that’s around £920 million) through investments in casinos, sports betting, football clubs and bingo halls….plus various alleged Mafia business connections. The man known as ‘The Skull’ even ran Bulgaria’s largest private national lottery for a while.
Now holed up in a Dubai penthouse, where he is fighting extradition back to his homeland, Bozhkov has announced he is preparing for a life in politics after extraordinarily claiming he will run against the country’s prime minister, Boyko Borisov, in the next election.
It’s sensational because Bozhkov was once labelled ‘the most infamous gangster in Bulgaria’ by no less a judge than the CIA according to a WikiLeaks posting, although of course some would say that makes him a perfect candidate for a role in the murky world of politics.
He has revealed his own political party, named ‘Bulgarian Summer’, and while it’s not yet known what their mandate will be a short announcement – ‘we are the power, the time for justice is coming, and justice will be for all’ – features on their website.
Of course, there are those who suspect Bozhkov is simply using his considerable wealth to get back at those in power who have wronged him. In 2019, he was accused by prosecutors in Bulgaria of attempting to bribe gaming regulators in the country, presumably with a view to avoiding the payment of some $317 million in tax and fees he is said to owe.
And in January 2020, Bozhkov had his gaming licence revoked by the same regulators, who subsequently nationalised his lottery and made it illegal for anyone to run a private lottery.
Vasil Bozhkov – International Playboy with a Love of the Casino Life
While Bozhkov has earned a reputation as something of a bogeyman, he is an incredibly smart cookie with two degrees in mathematics and economics.
That enabled him to build a successful business empire in his home country, which started with currency exchange before progressing to bingo halls and casinos – the games rooms at the Radisson, Hemus and Rila Hotels in Sofia were all operated by Bozhkov.
He has since expanded his empire to include private financing and construction, and while he is now living in Dubai – allegedly to avoid prosecution in Bulgaria – it seems Bozhkov is refusing to live the quiet life.
As well as dabbles in football as an owner of Levski Sofia, supposed links to the Mafia refuse to quieten. The CIA suspect he was, or is, connected to SIC – the Security Insurance Company that is said to be a front for criminal activities. Rumours of extortion, physical attacks and bribery are commonplace with SIC. The former US Ambassador to Bulgaria, John Ordwick, claimed that Bozhkov was a racketeer, a money launderer and involved in the illegal trade of antiques.
One thing is for sure is that life is never dull for the former casino empresario.