February 17, 2020 / 5:59 PM / a month ago

Bulgaria seeks gambling tycoon's extradition from UAE

SOFIA (Reuters) - Bulgaria has asked the United Arab Emirates to extradite gambling tycoon Vasil Bozhkov, charged in absentia with extortion, influence peddling and money laundering among other offences, the justice ministry said on Monday.

Bozhkov, one of Bulgaria’s richest men, has denied wrongdoing. He has refused to return to the Balkan country, saying he fears for his life.

Consecutive governments in the European Union’s poorest member state have pledged to combat organized crime and uproot endemic graft, with little success.

The justice ministry said it had sent the extradition request and more than 200 pages of documents translated in Arabic to the Bulgarian embassy in the UAE to be handed to the authorities.

Prosecutors have said Bozhkov, 63, owner of several gambling companies, a popular soccer club and a foundation that holds a rich collection of Thracian antiques, was detained in the United Arab Emirates at the end of January.

On Sunday, Bulgarian National Television, citing unnamed sources, said he was released from custody but was banned from leaving the country and his passport was taken.

Bulgaria does not have an extradition agreement with the UAE, but hopes that its request will be respected.

“We want him returned to Bulgaria to be brought before the Bulgarian court,” Bulgarian chief prosecutor Ivan Geshev said.

Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; editing by Nick Macfie

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