News Bulgaria files illegal antiques possession against volatile tycoon

Bulgaria files illegal antiques possession against volatile tycoon

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SOFIA (Reuters) – Bulgarian prosecutors have filed new charges, including illegal possession of antiques of historical value against the volatile gambling tycoon Vasil Bozhkov, one of the richest men in the country.

Bozhkov, owner of several gaming companies, and Levski Sofia, one of Bulgaria’s two most popular football clubs, were charged in absentia last month with extortion and attempted bribery, among other things.

Earlier this month, Attorney General Ivan Geshev said Bozhkov had been detained in the United Arab Emirates and his office was preparing an extradition request.

The 63-year-old Bozhkov, valued at approximately $ 1.35 billion, denies any wrongdoing. Bozhkov, who previously owned Levski’s bitter city rival CSKA Sofia, told a Bulgarian TV station last month that none of the charges against him had been proven, but was afraid of returning abroad for fear of arrest.

Geshev’s spokeswoman, Siyka Mileva, said the eleven charges against Bozhkov include money laundering and peddling.

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Bozhkov also owns Bulgaria’s largest private lottery. Two weeks ago, however, parliament voted to ban such lotteries and put the billion-dollar lev ($ 562 million) market under state control to fight corruption, curb youth gambling, and fund sports increase.

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Bozhkov and his Thrace Foundation, named after the ancient region that included modern Romania and Bulgaria, northern Greece and westernmost Turkey, have accused the authorities of attempting to confiscate his collection of Hishrak antiques, which is believed to be larger than that of the Bulgarian National Museum of History.

Prosecutors and the Ministry of Culture said that a joint investigation into the registration of Bozkhov’s 3,000 artifact collection, its origin, and how the pieces were acquired was underway.

There is no official valuation of his collection’s value, but Bozhkov recently said that he was offered 600 million euros for part of it by a foreign country.

Parts of the collection were exhibited in Germany, Russia and Belgium as well as in the Bulgarian capital Sofia.

Bulgaria is one of the poorest and most corrupt countries in the European Union, which it joined in 2007 and has made little progress in combating transplantation and organized crime.

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