Wife of Wanted Bulgarian Gambling Boss also Owns Service Passport

Atanas Tchobanov

Elena Dineva, the life partner of Bulgarian gambling mogul Vassil Bozhkov, has had a service passport as well. This emerges from a response to questions under the Access to Public Information Act (APIA), sent to the Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, (MFA). Bivol revealed earlier that Bozhkov and his business partner Georgi Popov own such special passports. Like Bozhkov, Dineva is charged with money laundering as a member of an organized crime group.

She has received the service passport in her capacity as a member of the Board of Directors of the Bulgarian Union for Physical Education and Sports (BUPES). Bozhkov and Popov are also BUPES Board members. Of all members of the Board of Directors of the sports association, only Bozhkov, Popov and Dineva own such passports, the MFA response further shows. This raises suspicions about some quite specific favors granted to the gambling boss and his closest associates, who, according to the prosecution, are members of an organized crime group.

According to Bivol’s insider information, Foreign Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva has personally signed Elena Dineva’s passport. Her Deputy Georg Georgiev has signed Bozhkov and Popov’s passports. Before his appointment to the post, Georgiev was the leader of the Youth Organization of the ruling party Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria, GERB. His promotion to this senior post at the age of 25 without any diplomatic experience, caused a stir in Bulgarian diplomatic circles.

The MFA has been stubbornly refusing to answer journalistic questions as to who has issued the resolution to issue these passports, while Georg Georgiev downplayed the scandal by saying that these documents don’t’ give their bearers any significant privileges.

However, it is a fact that a special passport entitles its owner to visa-free travel to many countries that require visas for Bulgarian citizens. In addition, the text printed inside the back cover says the following:

This service passport shall be issued to Bulgarian citizens traveling for execution of official duties abroad and may only be used for official purposes. The Minister of Foreign Affairs on behalf of the Government of the Republic of Bulgaria addresses a request to the civil and military authorities to afford to the holder of this passport the necessary facilities for free and unimpeded movement and to render him/her the necessary assistance. This passport is the property of the Republic of Bulgaria. It is valid for all countries.

Bivol also revealed that Bozhkov and Popov’s service passports had been canceled on February 17, 2020, after Bivol sent its first official request to the MFA and two full weeks after the issuance of international search warrants for the two of them.

The MFA insists that the wanted persons have not used the service passports to leave Bulgaria but there is no confirmation by the Ministry of Interior and Border Police. Moreover, there is no obstacle to use valid service passports when entering the UAE. According to the most recent available information, Bozhkov and Popov are currently in Dubai.

Bulgarian Ambassador to Austria signed Bozhkov’s first passport

According to the MFA, the first service passport had been issued to Vassil Bozhkov back in 2011. Another answer to questions sent by Bivol under the APIA, shows that it has happened with a resolution by the then-Director of the Consular Relations Directorate on grounds of a decision of the Sofia City Court certifying that Bozhkov was a member of the Board of Director of BUPES. The gambling boss has personally provided the document.

The Director in question is Ivan Sirakov, who is now Bulgaria’s Ambassador in Vienna, while the Minister of Foreign Affairs at that time was Nikolay Mladenov, also of GERB.

Subsequently, the MFA had renewed Bozhkov’s service passport twice, in 2016 and 2019, both times on the same grounds of being a member of the Board of Directors of the BUPES. Formally, according to Article 5 of the Ordinance on the Conditions and Procedures for Issuing Diplomatic and Service Passports, members of the leadership of national branch organizations, associations and federations have the right to hold a service passport.

However, the BUPES, which claims to be the successor in the Communist regime’s sports megastructure, is actually an association that is not registered as a national sports organization within the meaning of the Physical Education and Sports Act.

The above fact casts doubt on the legality of the service passports issued to Bozhkov, Popov and Dineva. The last license of the BUPES had been issued 15 years ago and since then the Ministry of Sports has not renewed it and has even filed legal cases against the BUPES over real estate disputes.

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