Fugitive Bulgarian tycoon says he will launch political movement

Bulgarian bussinesman Vasil Bozhkov attends a news conference in Sofia, Bulgaria, January 22, 2020. — Reuters pic
Bulgarian bussinesman Vasil Bozhkov attends a news conference in Sofia, Bulgaria, January 22, 2020. — Reuters pic

SOFIA, June 15 — A Bulgarian gambling tycoon who fled the country to escape criminal charges said today he was launching a political movement from abroad to challenge the government of Prime Minister Boyko Borissov.

Prosecutors in January charged Vasil Bozhkov, one of Bulgaria’s richest men, with extortion, tax fraud, influence peddling and other crimes, and seized his collection of Thracian antiques. He denies any wrongdoing.

Bozhkov, 63, who is nicknamed “The Skull” and is now based in Dubai, said he would start a movement called “Bulgarian Summer” after 64 per cent of over 75,000 people said they would back it in an online poll he organised.

He said his movement would target corrupt politicians and officials in Bulgaria, which remains dogged by graft and poverty more than a decade after joining the European Union.

In a video posted on Facebook today, Bozhkov said Bulgarians should unite against the government, which he accused of “destroying our country”. He has previously said the government extorted money from him, a charge Borissov denies.

Bulgaria is seeking Bozhkov’s extradition from Dubai and the tycoon’s chances of a political breakthrough look slim ahead of a parliamentary election expected next spring.

Bulgaria’s parliament has banned private lotteries, putting an end to one of Bozhkov’s most lucrative businesses. Financial auditors said Bozhkov failed to pay more than 700 million levs (RM1.7 billion) in fees and taxes, a charge he denies.

Asked today about Bozhkov’s political plans, Borissov said the tycoon should first return to Bulgaria and pay what he owes to state coffers.

Despite public anger over corruption, Borissov’s popularity has risen amid the coronavirus pandemic - Bulgaria has reported only 174 Covid-19 deaths - and two recent polls showed his ruling centre-right GERB party remains ahead of its rivals. — Reuters

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