Bulgarian Foreign Ministry Denies Gambling Boss’ Use of Service Passport to Flee Country

“The information that Vassil Bozhkov and Georgi Popov have left the country with service passports is not true,” the Bulgarian Foreign Affairs Ministry’s (MFA) press office states in a letter to Bivol. The reason is the article revealing the existence of valid service passports issued to Vassil Bozhkov and Georgi Popov by the MFA.

A conversation to clarify the facts with the Director of the press office, Tsvetana Krasteva, made it clear that the MFA refers specifically to their last crossing of a Bulgarian cross-border checkpoint with service passports. However, there is no such statement from the institutions in charge, the Border Police or the Ministry of Interior. The MFA’s press office did not specify on what basis it had made a statement on behalf of the Border Police after confirming that it had no information on the contents of Bozhkov and Popov’s luggage when leaving the country. Only the Interior Ministry and the Border Police can provide information on what documents the two had shown at the cross-border checkpoint, but they remain silent.

The question arises here whether Vassil Bozhkov had left with his regular foreign passport, which, as Bivol revealed, expired on February 19, 2020, i.e. about 25 days after he fled Bulgaria on January 25, 2020. In such case, however, he would not be able to enter his last-known destination, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), as to issue a visa at its border, this country usually requires a passport with at least six months validity after the date of entry. Therefore, Bozhkov has most likely used his service passport unless he has speedily obtained a regular foreign passport before his departure. However, new reasonable questions arise here. When exactly was such a document ordered? Prior to the launch of the prosecutor’s investigation or afterward? Who has approved Bozhkov’s new foreign passport to facilitate his escape abroad? Despite the overriding public interest, the institutions are not providing answers.

Bivol does not claim that the two wanted by the prosecution businessmen have identified themselves at the Bulgarian cross-border checkpoint with their service passports, but that they have has such passports and that they might have used them to leave the country. The existence of these service passports actually emerged from a response by the MFA’s press office to inquiries by Bivol. The MFA canceled the service passports only on February 17, 2020, after Bivol sent its first official request to its press office, therefore, Bozhkov and Popov had been able to use the passports as ID at cross-border checkpoints outside Bulgaria, for example, to enter the UAE.

Even if it is true that Bozhkov and Popov did not identify themselves at the cross-border checkpoint with their services passports upon their last departure from the country, this fact does not significantly change the problem. The problem is service passports being in their possession for years, without any clear reason, something that the MFA and the Ministry of Interior refuse to provide information on, despite requests sent under the Access to Public Information Act (APIA).

In addition, the MFA still refuses to say who had signed under the issuance of service passports to Bozhkov and Popov and on what grounds.

By law, this is the Minister herself, Ekaterina Zaharieva, or officials specifically authorized by her. According to Bivol’s insider sources, the individual who authorized the passport issuance is Deputy Foreign Minister Georg Georgiev.

According to the Ordinance on the Terms and Conditions for Issuing Diplomatic and Service Passports, such passports can be granted to civil servants, mayors, judges, and senior military. Bozhkov and Popov could fall only under two Articles – members of the leaderships of national branch organizations, associations and federations and/or persons to whom specific foreign policy tasks are assigned at the discretion of the MFA.

However, Vassil Bozhkov and Georgi Popov are not members of any branch organization, association or federation on a national scale, according to Bulgarian registries. Therefore, the only remaining reason for Bozhkov and Popov’s service passports is the assignment of specific foreign policy tasks at the discretion of former and current foreign ministers, something on which the MFA is keeping the lid.

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