Offshore of Bulgarian Gaming Czar Enters Moldova’s Lottery

Nikolay Marchenko

Bulgarian Plamen Milanov, who is a defendant in a document forgery case, represents in Chisinau, both, the National Lottery and Sopharma

Vasil “The Skull” Bozhkov is now a leading player in Moldova’s betting where one of his loyal people manages the leading company-subcontractor of the country’s National Lottery. This is Bulgarian citizen Plamen Stefanov Milanov, who has lived in Chisinau for 18 years.

The Bulgarian-Moldovan entrepreneur heads the largest subcontractor of the National Lottery of the Republic of Moldova through a Dubai-registered company. At the same time, the lottery TV show is broadcasted every Sunday on the TV channel owned by the real ruler of Moldova – Moldavian oligarch and politician Vladimir Plahotniuc, chairman of the Democratic Party of Moldova (DPM).

The article on Milanov was on the front page (see picture) of the influential newspaper for investigative journalism Ziarul de Garda (ZdG), while the portrait is of Milanov’s boss – Vasil Krumov Bozhkov, known in the underground as “The Skull”. The investigation is titled “The Lottery Business“.

“Lottery Business” is an investigation by the Moldovan newspaper Ziarul de Garda

According to the newspaper, Milanov is currently being sued in Moldova for “preparing, possessing, distributing or using falsified official documents, seals or stationery”. Milanov and some of his former partners in Moldova are also suing each other.

Milanov also represents in Moldova Sopharma of Ognyan Donev

As Bivol wrote recently in its article POWERFUL BULGARIAN BUSINESSMEN BUY ‘BAD APPLE’ BANK IN MOLDOVA, dedicated to the acquisition of the second largest bank in the country Moldindconbank (MICB) by the Bulgarian DOVERIE UNITED-HOLDING PLC, the same Bulgarian Plamen Milanov manages in Chisinau the subsidiary of Sophaprma – Sopharmacy MC.

ZdG then revealed that the office address of Sopharmacy MC is in a building owned by DPM’s Moldovan lawmaker Vladimir Andronachi (reelected as MP in the general elections on February 24, 2019) with whom Plamen Milanov maintains friendly relations.

Milanov, himself, denies being close to the DPM: “Our only relations with Mr Andronachi are only the traditional ones between a tenant and a landlord.”

According to him, “this is just one of the buildings”, where the companies he manages are operating in the Moldovan capital. He denied the MP was related to the Moldovan lotto public tenders: “There is no information about this gentleman’s relationship with the deals you mention.”

Plamen Milanov further denies being involved in the Doverie United Holding deal for MICB. “I have no information on the shareholders of Doverie – United Holding AD. Look at the Bulgarian Registries!”

Doverie – United Holding is the buyer of Moldindconbank, the second largest by assets Moldavian bank

In the article on MICB, Bivol mentioned Milanov’s name for the first time and in connection with the deal from April 2017, when Sopharma, in which Ognyan Donev is the majority shareholder, managed to buy in Moldova the controlling 51% stake in a chain of ten pharmacies (the Pharmacia Ta brand) from the local RAP Pharma International. The deal has been approved by the local regulator – the Competition Council of the Republic of Moldova.

The chain of pharmacies at that time held about 3% of the market share in the pharmaceutical retail in Moldova. As the Moldovan edition Mold Street wrote, the established in 2004 company RAP Pharma International has also had shareholders from Bulgaria, precisely the company “Molfarm” Ltd, which had been controlled by the Bulgarian citizen Plamen Milanov.

Milanov’s firm has held 80% in RAP Pharma International, and the other 20% have belonged to Moldovan Victor Alergus. By 2014, RAP Pharma International had built a chain of ten pharmacies after having received the required retail marketing license. Then, in 2017, 51% was bought by Bulgarian Sopharma Pharmaceuticals.

Vasil “The Skull” Bozhkov sits on the Board of “New Games”

A check by Bivol in the Trade Register showed that “Molfarm” Ltd has been indeed registered in 2014 in the Bulgarian capital Sofia by Plamen Stefanov Milanov at the following address – 1330 Sofia, “Krasna Polyana” district, 5 “Vazkresenie” Blvd. The registered capital has been BGN 20,000.

Its scope of activity includes “wholesale in the country and abroad of medicinal products, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, consumables, cosmetics and others, commercial intermediation and representation, consultancy, as well as any other commercial activity which is not forbidden by law”.

Two other companies owned by Milanov are registered at the same address – “Hospice Faith and Hope” Ltd (2013) and “First Company” Ltd (2008), which have a similar scope of activity. “First Company” Ltd also has a connection with Moldova as it has been registered in partnership with Moldovan national Ruslan Pavlovic Rotar. The registered founding capital was BGN 5,000. The main business activity is “wholesale and retail of pharmaceutical, medical and an orthopedic products”.

In an e-mail interview with ZdG, Milanov argues that Sopharma is not a co-founder of Sopharmacy MC:

“They did not inform you correctly. This information is publicly available.”

“I do not play any role in Sopharma. I am a director at RAP PHARMA INTERNATIONAL, where 51% is owned by Sopharma.” According to ZdG, this company of Plamen Milanov has received in two years public procurement for medications for over MDL 10 million or about EUR 0.5 million.

Bulgarian owners… from Dubai

The contract with the Public Property Agency of the Republic of Moldova was signed in May 2018 with “NGM Company”, which had been founded just in the previous month (on April 12, 2018) by the registered in Dubai NGM SPC LIMITED. The contract had been signed by the manager Plamen Stefanov Milanov.

Vasil Krumov Bozhkov also sits on the Board of the Bulgarian National Lottery

NGM SPC Limited was registered on February 18, 2018 in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). According to ZdG, Vladimir Plahotniuc has indicated in his most recent tax return a company with an office in Dubai, The recently launched in Moldova initiative for acquiring a Moldovan passport “Citizenship against Investments” is listed at the same address in the capital of the UAE.

Bivol confirmed the information through the Dubai International Financial Centre –, according to which the subcontractor of the Moldovan lotto, NGM SPC Limited, has a capital of only USD 10,000. The company has three directors – Stephanie Amabao, Jedrek Jovellanos and Plamen Stefanov Milanov. The cofounders are the Bulgarian companies National Lottery AD and New Games AD. Both companies are owned by Vasil “The Skull” Bozhkov.

Offshore NGM SPC Limited is in the Registry of the International Financial Center (Dubai)

ZdG writes that Bozhkov is one of the wealthiest Bulgarians. “Bozhkov bears the nickname The Skull and is also called “The Gaming Czar”. The publication recalls that in Bulgaria his portfolio includes businesses in such branches as construction, hotels, tourism, insurance and duty-free shops.

“He patronized the Football Club (FC) “CSKA Sofia” and recently the Bulgarian media announced that he is about to take over the FC “Levski Sofia”, one of the most popular football teams in Bulgaria,” writes ZdG.

It all started on October 27, 2016, when all the casinos and gaming halls across the Republic of Moldova were closed overnight. As Nikolay Marchenko wrote then for the Moldovan online edition NewsMaker in the article “No more bets. How did the authorities resolve the gambling issue in a day?” the stake has been about MDL 320 million a year turnover or about EUR 16 million.

The economic raids were set in motion after Plahotniuc declared a war on gambling on the grounds that his charity Edelweiss had received complaints from the parents of minors who had become indebted because of their children’s gambling addiction. Experts were saying at the time that in one to two years, the State would create a gambling monopoly in partnership with companies close to the country’s rulers.

It is no coincidence than that on August 14, 2017, the government of Prime Minister Pavel Filip (seen as a “puppet” of Plahotniuc) came up with general requirements for creating a public-private partnership in the gambling business. The decision was to sign two public-private partnership agreements – one for the gaming halls and one for the sports bets. Two months later, an invitation for a public tender bids appeared in the Moldovan analogue of the Bulgarian State Gazette – Monitorul Oficial (Official Monitor).

Only two bids (one for each segment) have been submitted. They were opened on March 2, 2018. Both winners were announced at the end of March 2018. An Austrian consortium won the gaming halls and the Bulgarian New Games – National Lottery, in partnership with the Dubai NGM SPC Limited, won the National Lottery of Moldova (NLM).

Officially, the bid was for the “development of the NLM and the lottery and sports betting sector “.

“I am appointed by the owners”

Asked about the criminal proceedings against him, Plamen Milanov replied that he had been acquitted at first instance and is sure he would be “acquitted at both the second and the third instance.” According to him, the case had been fabricated by his former partner, who is also the main witness: “He wanted to seize some of my business!”

According to Milanov, since he has been working in Moldova for 18 years, he has proved to be an effective top manager and that is why he is running Bulgarian companies in Chisinau, including in the gambling sector.

“The position was offered to me by the company’s owners (NGM Company), which won the partnership with the State competition in the gambling sector.”

Plamen Milanov, photo from his Facebook profile

Plamen Milanov was born in Sofia on July 27, 1976. He has graduated from 32nd High School and the University of National and World Economy. Ten years ago he got married in Chisinau and has a daughter with his wife Mariana Milanova. In his Facebook profile, he publishes Primera TV’s videos and thank you notes to the winners in the Moldavian lottery, one of the top prizes being a BMW X5 SUV.

Bivol made several attempts to conduct its own interview with Milanov. We also tried email and Viber, but he did not answer neither the written messages nor the call.

Gambling expansion

For Vasil Bozhkov this is not the first acquisition of a national lottery abroad. On August 4, 2018, the Georgian government sold to him 25% of its National Lottery shares. The remaining 75% are controlled by Georgian businessman Koba Ghurtskaia, whose holdings in telecommunications have ties with Bulgaria. According to the tender agreement, the price should have been at least USD 5 million.

Bozhkov entered the gambling business in the early 1990s, right after the fall of the Communist regime in Bulgaria. In 1992 he registered a financial company named “Nove” and in 1993 the “Eurofootball” betting company. Both companies are still active, with slightly different names.

In 1993, Bozhkov became a co-founder of the IGM casino and casino business.

The other co-founder, businessman Ilya Pavlov, believed to have organized crime ties, was shot and killed in 2003, one day after he testified in the murder trial of former Bulgarian Prime Minister Andrey Lukanov. IGM has remained the biggest player in the gambling market in Bulgaria for a number of years.

A classified diplomatic cable from 2005, sent to the US State Department by former US Ambassador to Bulgaria, James Pardew, published by WikiLeaks, describes Bozhkov’s illegal activities as “money laundering, privatization fraud, intimidation, and extortion and racketeering. The cable, titled “Bulgarian Organized Crime” was first published in full in Bulgaria by Bivol.


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