Some BGN 700 million gone with the wind
We bid farewell to the State Gambling Commission, which will soon become an agency subordinate to the Council of Ministers. Not bad, some would say. After the SGC failed in the Bozhkov case, reform is really needed. However, the reform in this case is more than controversial, because all responsibility for gambling regulations is transferred from the Minister of Finance to a lower-ranking government official, who will be the chairman of the future agency.
But let's go back to the still functioning State Gambling Commission. Before the final entry of its "hour of death", we ask ourselves what trace it has left on this world. Recently, the Minister of Finance Vladislav Goranov reported that for five years (from 2015 to 2019) the SGC has made 3,100 inspections, has found 350 violations, for which sanctions of BGN 1.4 million have been imposed. However, it is stunning none of these inspections has established that the treasury has been deprived of BGN 700 million due to unpaid levies from Vasil Bozhkov's companies. In this context, it is strange that no one has yet claimed responsibility for the uncollected millions.
Minister Goranov insisted that in this five-year period "favorable treatment was allowed with regard to the imposition and payment of fees by several gambling operators". The responsibility, of course, lies with the SGC. But until its "last breath", the commission has remained under the auspices of the finance ministry, and its staff has been appointed with the minister's signature and its chairman has been Goranov’s personal nomination. This issue raises doubts about the possibility of opening such a revenue breach without the knowledge of the Minister.
As expected, the "defense thesis" of the accused Vasil Bozhkov who is hiding hiding in Dubai is quite different. Bozhkov claims that he doesn’t owe a single penny to the treasury, and the "favorable treatment" by the SGC was achieved with the consent of the government against a "supporting fee".
Moreover, in a signal to the prosecutor's office, the former gambling monopolist wrote that in three years he had personally handed over BGN 60 million to Prime Minister Borissov and Minister Goranov. Separately, Bozhkov clarified that he had not consulted his gambling business with the gambling commission but with Vladislav Goranov in person. As expected, the authorities rejected these accusations and the independent prosecutor's office will have the final say in this case.
Its reaction to
who is wrong and who is right,
is expected since no one wants to take responsibility for the oppression of gambling. On June 13, Chief Prosecutor Ivan Geshev announced that the prosecution had already received 10 signals from Bozhkov and were being investigated. Unfortunately, Geshev did not outline specific deadlines, which creates a risk that these inspections results will at some point turn out to be a factor in the parliamentary election campaign next year.
It can be said that by delaying and possible neglecting the case, the prosecutor's office is not doing the government much of a favour, as it rather casts a shadow over their image and work, despite Prime Minister Borissov's statements that there is no bad publicity.
There are condemnations to the government from all directions but there is no official confirmation or refutation of whether Bozhkov's allegations and the content of his alleged correspondence with Borisov and Goranov are authentic. So the dear electorate can only guess or make bets in favor of one or another.
And this is
embarrassing , to put it mildly.
The so-called chats between Vasil Bozhkov and a man written on the phone as "Vladi Goranov" seem to be a distant memory. It is clear that Bozhkov's interlocutor gives "valuable instructions" to two people - the "girl" and "Sasho", who are allegedly the two former chiefs of the SGC Alexander Georgiev and Maria Filipova.
They both have quite different destinies which is a curious feature of the whole saga, although they managed the commission in the period during which it was established that the SGC allowed "favorable treatment" for Vasil Bozhkov's gambling companies.
Alexander Georgiev was among the accused during the prosecutor's office investigations in the "Bozhkov" case. During his interrogation Georgiev even admitted that he had patronized Vasil Bozhkov's business.
In fact, Maria Filipova was the only one who has not been charged by the prosecution. Moreover, she was not held responsible neither criminally nor disciplinary nor in any other way. Up to now, Filipova has been holding the position of Deputy Chairman of the Financial Supervision Commission, responsible for investment supervision.
On June 15 during one of his numerous jeep tours Prime Minister Boyko Borissov called on
Bozhkov to come back and pay.
Bozhkov didn’t delay his answer from Dubai, which paradoxically took the form of three questions to the Prime Minister:
Does the PM know the difference between a "tax" and a "fee"?
Is the shareholder responsible for any liabilities of the company in which he participates?
Where and on what grounds does he expect me to personally contribute BGN 700 million?"
It is obvious that the Nove Holding boss does not plan to return to Bulgaria voluntarily and make payments to the state treasury.
The question is whether the “burial” of the State Gambling Commission buries the search for these funds and the responsibility of the higher institutions that had representatives in it - the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Economy, the National Revenue Agency and SANS. Or whether it aims at covering the tracks even before the prosecutor's office has taken Bozhkov's signals more seriously?
Bargains between the two readings
In parallel with the closure of the SGC, the ruling GERB party is offering amendments to the Law on Gambling concerning participation of the state lottery in the online betting market. In particular, the text says that the state has the right to obtain a license to organize online games in a casino. Something that is not quite right and so far has been resisted.
On the other hand, the leader of the NFSB Valeri Simeonov submitted his bill for changes in regulations, which provides for a strong reduction of casinos and gambling halls. The NFSB leader's proposal allows the opening of a gaming hall or a casino only in five-star hotels, in national resorts, as well as no more than 20 kilometers from the country's border crossings.
So far, the ideas have been challenged by some GERB MPs and industry organizations, as well as by a number of sports clubs, led by Kiril Domuschiev's Ludogorets. According to the Ministry of Finance calculations the loss of tax revenues due to the closure of gambling halls and casinos would be BGN 60 million per year, and from insurance - BGN 25 million.
All this suggests that between the two readings of the bills there would be rigorous bargains in the ruling coalition, because Simeonov vowed not to allow the Sports Tote to occupy the niche vacated by the National Lottery.