This is part of TerminalnoNO’s series of analytical materials that present its observations on the elections for the National Assembly on April 4, 2021.
The silence regarding Vasil Bozhkov and his election results on the part of all analysts invited at the studios of Bulgarian televisions at the evening of Sunday, April 4, after the elections for the National Assembly of the Republic of Bulgaria was deafening. Sociologists had not even included the party in their exit polls prior and on election day. At the final “Bulgarian Summer” with a mandate holder – “Bulgarian National Union” (BNO) – without even participating in the elections under its own name was announced to have received almost one hundred thousand votes (the exact number is 94 515) or 2.95% of the vote. A little over 30,000 votes were not enough for “Bulgarian Summer” to enter the National Assembly in its first participation in national elections. Coincidentally or not, the result of BNO coincides in percentage terms with an accuracy of 1 hundredth of the percentage of that of what the political party “Yes, Bulgaria”, achieved in a coalition with DEOS and the Green Movement in the 2017 parliamentary elections.
What provoked Vasil Bozhkov to create a political party?
At the end of January 2020, the state repressive machinery landed with all its might (to a large extent suddenly) on Vasil Bozhkov – the alleged richest Bulgarian with known interest mostly in the gambling business and owner of one of the most popular football clubs in the country. On 29 January 2020, he was issued a European Arrest Warrant (EAW) and in his absence (in absentia) 7 charges were brought against him (initially). This is happening at a time when he is outside Bulgaria – he left completely legally on his private plane and, in his words, on a long-planned trip. The prosecutor’s office announced that it had handed Bozhkov’s accusations to a public defender, to which he replied in a television interview from Dubai that he was neither financially struggling nor a minor in order to be deprived of the right to appoint his own lawyer. The charges later rose to the record high of 18. In its boundless wisdom, the prosecution even set up a “hotline” for victims of violence by Vasil Bozhkov because (at least) one of his charges was committed rape. In other words, the prosecution first announced that the businessman was a rapist, and then began to gather evidence for this claim. Almost a year and a half after the issuance of the EAW, none of the accusations against Vasil Bozhkov entered into court.
However before any court ruling came into effect the Bulgarian prosecutor’s office, together with the police and the tax authorities, continued the coordinated attack on Vasil Bozhkov and the gambling operators in which he is a shareholder. Within days, all his bank accounts and those of his family, as well as the companies in which he participated as a shareholder, were seized. His homes were searched, as well as the offices of companies associated with him. His wife, son, his partners, even lawyers and people who are only rumored in Sofia to be arrested have been arrested. His wife – Elena Dineva – was detained for eight months without any written and / or physical evidence – only on the testimony of Bozhkov’s former associate, the one from whom the whole attack actually started – Tsvetomir Naidenov – who he claimed that Dineva was aware of her husband’s “criminal activity”.
In one of the court hearings, Bozhkov’s wife said the following:
“I have been in custody for over 7 months. Searches of my home began on January 29 and have not ended to this day. That’s over 130 days. No money was found and they began to seize whatever they found. All this time, I have been fully cooperating with investigators to take everything from my home collected during my 50-year life. I provide them with sanitary materials, a toilet, whatever they need. About 3,000 civil servants have passed through my home. “
She and other relatives of Bozhkov, or acquaintances linked to him by gossip, were held hostage without charge – a practice no one would believe was possible in a 21st century EU member state.
What the Prosecutor’s Office of the Republic of Bulgaria bases its actions on is that the gambling operators, in which he is a shareholder, but has no management and representation functions, owe the fiscal 700 million (initially 300, then 500, and finally jumped to 700 million) of unpaid state fees for the last 5 years, together with interest. The fact is, however, that seizures of the bank accounts of the companies in which Bozhkov participates were imposed without a court sanction and in violation of the law. Recently, this has been established in every new decision of the courts in the Bozhkov case. However, gambling operators (New Games Ltd., National Lottery, Eurofootball) were forced by the Bulgarian state to go bankrupt. Following the attack on Bozhkov, the National Assembly passed a law introducing a state monopoly on some gambling games – lotteries. The bill was proposed by one of the parties in the ruling coalition and was supported by the main party in that coalition – Prime Minister Boyko Borissov’s GERB. The motives for the bill were to increase the money for sports that the state totalizator pays by eliminating competition from private lotteries. The motives for the introduction of a state monopoly on lottery games contradict European law, and it is obvious that the law is in gross contradiction with the Constitution of the Republic of Bulgaria. However, the Constitutional Court, addressed by the Supreme Bar Council (SAC), ruled that the constitutional complaint was inadmissible, as the SAC had no right to complain about such violations of the Basic Law. Nevertheless, the results of the adoption of the monopoly law are already there – not only is the money for sports not increasing, but the National Audit Office recently announced that the state totаlizator is in technical bankruptcy. The state’s revenues from gambling have fallen sharply.
In addition to the introduction of a state monopoly on lotteries, the law also contains retroactive rules which provide for private lottery operators holding a gaming license at the time of the law to return those licenses, even though they have been issued for 10 years, of which by the beginning of 2020 there are 7 years left. To this day in European Bulgaria the following game is played – the court lifts the attachment to the account of Bozhkov’s company, but the next day the National Revenue Agency imposes a new seizer.
At the same time with the action against Bozhkov, the prosecutor’s office conducted a special operation in the State Gambling Commission (SCG), which was then the main regulator in the industry (then quickly closed) and detained many people, some of whom no longer even work there. The prosecutor’s office claimed that the employees of the SCG had assisted and facilitated Vasil Bozhkov in case of intentional non-payment of public debts. All these accusations, as well as those against the members of Bozhkov’s family, are currently at a dead end – they have not been brought to court and it seems that they are not even being worked on at all.
From February 2019 to the beginning of 2020 Vasil Bozhkov is the owner of one of the most popular football clubs in the country – “Levski”. One of the companies (gambling operator) in which the businessman was a shareholder was the main sponsor of the club. After the bankruptcy of this company, deliberately provoked by the state, in practice the government forcibly took away Bozhkov’s property in Levski. As he could not support the club, he was forced to transfer his property free of charge, although he had poured over BGN 20 million into it in one year.
Undoubtedly the most brutal attack on Bozhkov, however, is the attack on his private collection – the largest in the country, with over 3,000 unique artifacts from the period of the 4th millennium BC. to the 6th century AD. The collection is valued at more than 1 billion euros and has been exhibited around the world, including in the European Parliament building in Brussels in January 2007, when its exhibition marked the accession of Bulgaria to the European Union. Numerous Bulgarian and international scientific researches have been conducted on this collection and numerous scientific papers have been published, most of them abroad. For a permanent exhibition of the collection, Bozhkov bought for tens of millions of euros a famous building in the center of Sofia – the Telephone Palace – also an architectural monument. The collection was confiscated without a court decision in a scandalous manner and in the absence of any security measures and care. The reason on which the collection is confiscated is that it was not properly registered. And the Bulgarian Ministry of Culture itself admits that everything necessary for the registration of the collection has already been done by the businessman, but the ministry itself has been inactive and has not registered it for more than 10 years.
Today Vasil Bozhkov is in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE). After spending 2 weeks in prison there due to the procedure at the request of the Bulgarian prosecutor’s office for his extradition. After numerous attempts by the prosecutor’s office, the Interior Ministry and other Bulgarian state institutions, Bozhkov has not yet been extradited. On the contrary, despite the numerous police and prosecutors sent to bring Bozhkov back “in a sack”, the Bulgarian authorities received dates from the UAE.
The fact that Bozhkov will not just come to terms with everything that is happening for the first time became clear in an interview for bTV’s morning show, hosted by Anton Hekimyan. In it, the businessman literally says that prime minister Borisov is the connecting link between the 1990s and today, and the difference is Peevski – ” He was not present then, but now he is here” sitting like a spider in the shadows and pulling the strings. “This interview with Bozhkov inflicted blows on the ruling triumvirate of Borisov, Peevski and Geshev that no national television media has allowed itself the ” luxury” of interviewing the businessman again. The prime minister immediately attacked bTV, calling them “Bozhkov TV”. His threatening tone worked on journalists because the businessman was never interviewed in this national television again.
Bozhkov’s second blow against the status quo was the endorsement of Levski’s shares by Bozhkov to Boyko Borissov. To the horror of the ruling party, the businessman not only transferred the shares of the football club to the prime minister, but also showed how the property of the favorite team of many Bulgarians was transferred as unnecessary at Borisov’s whim from one “straw man” to another. From that moment on, the page on Bozhkov’s social media became very popular media.
Bozhkov’s next move was not only to illustrate in comics the way he was blackmailed by the prime minister, the minister of finance and the head of the finance committee in the National Assembly in order to keep his gambling business, but also to send a signal to the prosecutor’s office and international institutions for racketeering and paid BGN 67 million in cash to Vladislav Goranov and Boyko Borisov. Again on his Facebook page, he began to refute the suggestions spread by the prosecution and the government and to publish evidence of the circumstances contained in the signal. There appeared not only detailed tax information about Bozhkov and his companies, from which it is clear that according to official information from the National Revenue Agency he has no public obligations and has paid taxes and fees for tens and even hundreds of millions a year, but also extracts from his personal bank account, from which it is clear that every month he withdrew millions in cash to hand them over, in his own words, to Goranov and Borisov.
Bozhkov’s signal was never investigated, and his revelations, which can be described as the biggest corruption scandal in Bulgaria, became, along with the political party “Yes, Bulgaria!” Rosenets demonstration and the prosecutor’s office’s invasion of the presidency, one of the reasons for last year’s summer’s protests. Then the businessman announced that he had launched a new political project – “Bulgarian Summer”.
How did “Bulgarian Summer” performed?
Bulgarian Summer is the first Bulgarian political party to be registered with a Constituent Assembly held entirely online. As was the genesis of the party itself, which started as an entirely Internet-based platform – it enrolled party members, and determined priorities. Everyone had the opportunity to send suggestions and take part in discussions. In this way – from the bottom up – a party was created. There are no politically “worn out” people in it. The party’s program was tight and accessible enough so that everyone could get acquainted with it if they wished. The individual parts were also discussed and presented online.
On the day the Constituent Assembly of the Bulgarian Summer was announced, there was a state of emergency in response to the coronavirus crisis in the country with a ban on people gatherings in one place. The Law on Political Parties declares as lawful only a constituent assembly, which “attends” (Article 12, paragraph 2 of the Law on Political Parties) over 500 people with voting rights. Despite the ban, the founders of Bulgarian Summer held their meeting online and submitted more than 900 notarized declarations to the Sofia City Court (SCC), confirming that they were present online.
The Sofia City Court allowed the registration of “Bulgarian Summer”. But before the registration became a fact, the prosecutor’s office intervened. Ivan Geshev’s subordinates protested the party’s registration. The arguments of the prosecutors have already been taken into account and rejected by the Sofia City Court. The prosecution, for example, claims that the party’s emblem resembled the logo of the Bulgarian Mint EOOD, a company of the Bulgarian National Bank, and thus violated the law.
However, the prosecution protested the SCC’s decision to allow registration at the last possible moment – 7 days after the SCC’s ruling – and thus effectively prevented the Bulgarian Summer from running in the elections.
Thus, the prosecutor’s office officially became a direct participant in the elections.
The party did not deviate from the request that it would nevertheless participate in the elections, without allying with any party of the political status quo in our country. Those who predicted coalitions with political forces were refuted only with the aim of jumping the 4% barrier to entering the National Assembly. The little-known BNO party was elected as the mandate holder.
In its election campaign, “Bulgarian Summer” faced an even bigger problem than its registration and finding a mandate holder – the complete media blackout. Many political forces complain that the media does not cover them. And rightly so – as we all know, the media market in Bulgaria is largely monopolized by the status quo. At the same time, in Bulgaria there is the absurd notion of “politically highjacked television”. One of the candidates in this election also had his own television, and has not left the national airwaves in the last 30 years. And yet there was no political formation whose representatives were under a full media embargo, which includes not only such for their participation, but also for comments from political scientists, sociologists and all sorts of political analysts. Another historical precedent was reached – a party that was on the verge of entering the National Assembly throughout the election day – was not covered in any way in the television studios of the three major televisions on election night.
Logically, “Bulgarian Summer” and Vasil Bozhkov addressed their campaign mainly and only to social media networks. Where their performance is also a kind of phenomenon – a huge reach without almost any advertising.
TerminalnoNO compared the public data on transparency on the Facebook pages of election participants and the funds they spent on paid publications there:
At the same time, the interference of the prosecution in these elections was not limited to the suspension of the participation of “Bulgarian Summer” with their own registration. The party regularly reported that their proponents were accustomed to explaining to police departments why they give their support, and some were not even allowed to go to the polls – without any given reason. Reason for suspicion of manipulations…
Bozhkov himself stated on his Facebook page that “the elections have been stolen” and “the real results for ” Bulgarian Summer ” from elections is much higher.”
To summarize the achievements of the “Bulgarian Summer” in these elections, we must quote Andrey Raichev as a representative of the only sociological agency that “caught” on April 4 “Bulgarian Summer” on its radar. He noted that in the whole attack on Bozhkov during the election year, his result is indicative in itself of the need for change.
Parvan Simeonov, also from Gallup International, gave his opinion on the party’s voters in a the Bulgarian newspaper Dnevnik and said: “There is young, authentic support from people who in the previous parliamentary elections in 2017 did not have the right to vote or ware GERB then supporters ”.
“The support for Vasil Bozhkov in Bulgaria is mainly due to Sofia, several large urban constituencies and the activity in his native Velingrad (13 MIR Pazardzhik),” the news site Bulgaria Boulevard wrote in its post-election analysis.
Abroad, Bozhkov and his party have twice as much support and the votes for the mandate holder – BNO – exceed 5%.
The whole story about Vasil Bozhkov, the attack on him, his first-person revelations about the way the governance model of this status quo works, followed by the first official signal of corruption at the highest level in the country, the creation of his party, the attitude of the media , journalists, political scientists, sociologists is indicative on many levels. And certainly all this has a role to play in blowing up this model, which in one way or another happened in this election. In one way or another, Bozhkov remains the only one who still does not fail to mention Peevski, who not only disappeared from the party lists of the centrist political party “Movement for Rights and Freedoms”, but none of the newly elected parliamentary representatives even mentioned him. And in the end – whoever claims that is surprised by Bozhkov’s results in these elections does not understand anything of the political processes in Bulgaria and totally does not know the electoral attitudes, or pretends not to understand.