Former Bulgarian Finance Minister Asserts Innocence After Us Sanctions Over Gambling Favors

Vladislav Goranov, one of the closest people to former Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov and the country’s former finance minister, has found himself in an unwanted spot. The US has added him to a sanctions list under the global Magnitsky Law for significant corruption tied to the gambling industry.

Boyko Borisov participates in government elections in Bulgaria
Boyko Borisov participates in government elections in Bulgaria. The country’s former finance minister is now on a US sanctions list over his alleged involvement of gambling bribes. (Image: Euronews)

Goranov allegedly used his position as a high-ranking government official to line his own pockets. The US and the UK have argued that he accepted millions of dollars in order to facilitate approvals by Bulgaria’s State Gambling Commission.

In the updated Magnitsky list, joining Goranov, are three other former government officials. These include the former energy minister and former deputy Rumen Ovcharov, Ivan Genov and Alexander Nikolov. Joining them is Nikolai Malinov, who is accused of espionage in favor of Russians.

Widespread Corruption At The Highest Levels

The US Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) defines Goranov as a person “who is responsible for or complicit in, or has directly or indirectly participated in, corruption, including misappropriation of government assets, expropriation of private assets for personal gain, corruption related to government procurement or the extraction of natural resources, or bribes.” The former minister’s company, Trilema Consulting, is also on the list of sanctions.

The US Department of the Treasury is sanctioning corrupt individuals from the elite of the entire political spectrum in Bulgaria,” said the OFAC announcement.

The sanctions against Goranov were made possible following coordination with the UK. It introduced its own sanctions against three of the first names to appear on the Magnitsky list, Delyan Peevski, Ilko Zhelyazkov and Vasil Bozhkov, AKA “The Skull.”

All three have alleged ties to Goranov. In 2021, the US accused them of corruption, but the Bulgarian prosecutor’s office didn’t support the charges.

The trio allegedly abused their power by diverting state funds for their own benefit. They received handed travel bans and asset freezes under the UK’s global anti-corruption sanctions regime.

The position specifies that the named persons are involved in corruption that led to illegal personal gain, undermining the country’s democratic institutions and strengthening its “corrosive” dependence on Russian energy sources. OFAC also imposed sanctions on four legal entities owned or controlled by Malinov, as well as a company owned or controlled by Goranov.

The Magnitsky Act was created in 2012 in response to the death of a Russian lawyer. Sergei Magnitsky had died in a prison in Moscow three years earlier.

The death was reportedly orchestrated by government officials. The Magnitsky Act sought to punish alleged human rights offenders and those who participated in government corruption.

Bulgaria Still Growing Up

The main clue to Goranov’s corruption, according to media reports, is related to the scandal involving the former lotteries of Bozhkov. He reportedly skipped out on BGN600 million (US$328.2 million) in unpaid gambling taxes and fees. However, the Bulgarian prosecutor’s office did not investigate allegations of racketeering Borisov and Goranov made against him.

Bozhkov won a government-led case late last year that sought to force him to pay US$169 million in outstanding taxes for his Eurofootball betting company.

Goranov is the first representative of the political party Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB, for its Bulgarian acronym). He had clear ties to Borisov, who still faces corruption accusations. The OFAC announcement makes it clear that Goranov’s sanctions are the result of interests of Peevski and Bozhkov.

Malinov made headlines in 2019. Authorities arrested him for alleged espionage in favor of Russia. The case against him is still in progress.

Malinov has repeatedly stated that there is no evidence of espionage against him. However, the prosecutor’s office says otherwise. It asserts that the searches uncovered data about how Russia could gain influence Bulgaria through the purchase of key companies. In addition, there was evidence of an attempt to create a pro-Russian party and media channels in Bulgaria to spread propaganda.

In a recent public appearance, US Ambassador to Bulgaria Herro Mustafa pointed out that the country remains in the grip of corruption and oligarchs. She added that there is no progress in wiping out the corruption. Mustafa added that there been action by the authorities against those sanctioned under Magnitsky in 2021.