Moldova’s Prosecutor General Takes over Vassil Bozhkov’s Lottery

Nikolay Marchenko

Vassil “The Scull” Bozhkov is no longer a leading player in the lottery market of the Republic of Moldova. Moldovan Prosecutor General Alexandru Stoianoglo announced at an extraordinary briefing on the morning of October 22, 2020 that an investigation had been launched against the National Lottery for causing damages to the State in the amount of about EUR 20 million between 2017 and 2019.

As Bivol wrote in March 2019, an individual close to Bozhkov ran the leading subcontractor of the State enterprise Loteria Moldovei (National Lottery of Moldova, NLM). He is Bulgarian citizen Plamen Stefanov Milanov who has been living in Chisinau for 18 years and has been a defendant in a document forgery case.

The Bulgarian-Moldovan entrepreneur manages NLM through a company registered in Dubai. At the same time, the lottery show was broadcast every Sunday on a TV channel owned by the then-real ruler of Moldova – Moldavian oligarch and politician Vladimir Plahotniuc, the former Chairman of the Democratic Party of Moldova (DPM). The Prosecutor General of Moldova threatened to put Plahotniuc on Interpol’s wanted list when he left Chisinau in June 2019 after protests in the country.

An article on Milanov was on the front page of the influential newspaper for investigative journalism Ziarul de Garda (ZdG) under a portrait of Milanov’s boss, Vassil Krumov Bozhkov, known in the underground as “The Skull”. The investigation was titled “The Lottery Business“.

The company NGM Company inked in 2017 a contract for the NLM as a result of a public-private partnership with the Ministry of Economy of Moldova. The Chisinau company is owned by NGM SPC Limited (Dubai, UAE) and two Bulgarian companies were among the co-founders – National Lottery and New Games of Vassil Krumov Bozhkov.

“Both are owned by one of Bulgaria’s richest citizens, Vassil Bozhkov,” the media in Chisinau wrote.

“The investigation that is being conducted in Bulgaria against Mr Vassil Bozhkov has nothing to do with the lottery business in the Republic of Moldova,” the press office of NGM Company told the Moldovan news site Newsmaker.md in January 2020.

“In the interest of third parties”

But Prosecutor General Alexandru Stoianoglo announced on October 22 that “the government of the Republic of Moldova has provided tax breaks or excluded tax payments for the gambling business in the interests of third parties”. According to Stoianoglo, prosecutors have calculated that the State lost at least MDL 400 million (about EUR 20 million) in revenues in 2017 and 2018 because of this.

He also announced that a number of officials have been detained, including people working in the Licensing Chamber and the Moldovan Ministry of Economy and Infrastructure.

“Our prosecutors are investigating the course of actions that have allowed damage to the budget due to dubious schemes of a number of foreign companies and the monopoly over the gambling business.”

According to Stoianoglo, the relevant legal framework has been adopted at the level of government and parliament during the term in office of former Prime Minister Pavel Filip (DPM).

“A number of people in power have acted in the interests of third parties, developed and adopted legal amendments that have allowed the gambling business to become a monopoly for the State-owned company National Lottery of Moldova… The Ministry of Economy has ‘created’ the technical conditions for potential partners in order to exclude all domestic companies from the sector in advance. It is obvious that the conditions were set for a specific company,” he said.

These technical conditions for a public-private partnership included a requirement for such a company to have a similar business in another country, at least three years of experience and an annual turnover of at least EUR 500 million over the last three years.

According to Stoianoglo, after concluding the contract, NLM was set to receive up to 75% of the profit, and the private partner – the remaining 25%.
“However, the State received only 11.4% of the income, as NLM covered the costs in the prize fund, and the private partner – the remaining 89.6%,” said the Prosecutor General of Moldova.

According to him, lottery tickets worth MDL 325.98 million were sold in Moldova between October 1, 2018, and May 2019, Of these, “MDL 39.5 million was received by NLM, and the private partner received MFL 81.5 million”.

“They seized our business”

Bivol asked Vassil Bozhkov for comment on the investigation launched in Moldova. “Unfortunately, our companies no longer have anything to do with Moldova,” he told us.

He claimed that he has had no control over the Moldovan lottery “since the end of January 2020.” “Our participation was seized with the help of the Bulgarian services and the prosecutor’s office. I have no information about what happened after that, “Bozhkov wrote in his reply.

Bivol also received a note from the Moldovan services, citing data on cases in Bulgaria as “information by the Bulgarian services”.

“I think you know how reliable the data from the Bulgarian investigation are,” Bozhkov replied.

He also denied knowing fugitive top Moldovan oligarch Vlad Plahotniuc who was single-handedly in control of the former Soviet republic between 2016 and 2019.

All advertising contracts were signed with Plahotniuc’s TV stations in 2017 when the DPM chaired by the media mogul was in power. Then, the Deputy Prime Minister and Economy Minister in charge of reforming Moldova’s lottery and gambling business was Octavian Kalmik from the DPM quota.

The Secretary of State (Deputy Minister) Angela Susanu from the Economy Ministry was a member of the group working on the urgent adoption (only in two weeks) of the amendments by DPM MPs in 2017.

“I do not know Mr Plahotniuc, and the contracts with the TV stations in Moldova were concluded on a market basis by the local management,” Bozhkov commented.

He also claimed that he did not know Bulgarian citizen Plamen Stefanov Milanov who had been running the NLM since 2017.

“Of course not,” he replied to a question of whether he had appointed Milanov to the post in his capacity of representative of the Dubai-based investor companies.

Vassil Bozhkov declined to comment on who ran the business in Moldova.

“I do not know. I have not been involved in the operational monitoring of this company.”

He also preferred not to say how he ended up in Moldova as an investor.

“It’s complicated and long to tell, and it is not important to me.”

According to the businessman, what is happening in Bulgaria now was more important to him at the moment.

“Topics related to Bulgaria are my priority.”

Bozhkov declined further comment on the case in Moldova.

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