Unmasked: Bulgarian El Chapo who hides in Dubai

For the third week in a row Bulgaria is being rocked by protests. But who are the people marching in the streets and what interests do they represent? Besides the parents with children, dogs and dreams, from day one any casual observer could see familiar faces of individuals that can hardly be described as “discontent citizens” or fighters against the status quo for the simple reason that they are the ones who envisioned or created it. In order for everyone to realise who is speaking through the platform of the protests on the square, outside the National Assembly or in TV studios, we kindly present to you the guru of the protests, the spider weaving his web from his hiding place in Dubai – unmasked. You can make your own judgment.

A middle-aged man, small in stature, is nervously pacing along the seashore. He curses someone over the phone, checks his social media accounts and yells at the PR woman he has hired, but who appears to be incapable of doing her job. “Old Ivet, the oligarchy’s willing concubine, mother of internet trolls and sister of the urban right,” as an old friend, now a fellow fugitive hiding in Belgrade, described her upon recommending her.

For several months now, one of the last surviving gangsters of the country’s murky transition to democracy has been hiding in a luxury penthouse in Dubai. Vasil Bozhkov – the underground face of Bulgaria’s “democracy that never was” is the first figure in this rubric. Everyone knows who he is and knows of his long criminal record filled with bloody settling of scores, paid malicious campaigns and syphoning off the state coffers through scratch-off tickets for dupes.

Truthfully, dupes are the main asset in possession of Bozhkov, whose nickname is Skull but who is also known as the Bulgarian El Chapo because of his bloodthirsty style of getting rid of people standing in his way. El Chapo likes to exploit others’ weakness. After long years of selling scratch-off tickets (that turned out to be a scam), these days he is once again banking on people’s naivety in a bid to clear his path back to Bulgaria. Thanks to the people whom he affectionately calls “the crowd”, the aging gangster-turned-influencer believes he can oust the government to pave the way for his people to take office. Then what? Then his 18 felony charges will disappear in smoke as he gets immunity as a legislator in the good old Sofia.

Please do not ask yourself the question who is even going to vote for that butcher, because El Chapo is not one to leave anything to chance. He has a plan. As he did for every crime committed so far. Actually, had one of his many plans to do away with the inconvenient not fallen through and the code of silence of his mobster scheme gotten broken, no one would have had evidence of his shadowy operations. The Skull made a mistake – he put a hit on some of his associates and they, knowing full well what happens to those he designates marked men, promptly rushed to expose his schemes.

Suddenly, Bozhkov’s house of cards started to crumble. The 18 felony charges he got were a logical conclusion to his career as a gangster, causing him to quickly direct his energies elsewhere – ceasing control of social media and capturing the state for his own benefit. In just a few months spent in Dubai, the Skull, who up until that point talked to the media once every decade, has become a Facebook and Instagram star. Messages, photos, videos, cartoons, polls, you name it – he posts everything. We fully expect to see a Tik Tok video of him dancing with sabres soon, all in the name of getting more followers to use as a weapon against the state.

While El Chapo is hiding from the judicial system and issuing orders for his agitators in Bulgaria to make sure that the protests turn violent, the investigative authorities in the country bust one criminal circle of the gambling tzar after the other. A series of operations have shown that Bozhkov gained control of the security agencies, paid uniformed law enforcement officials under the table, and created armies of bodyguards by hiring people with background in the public sector. No wonder he now thinks he can buy the entire state too. Especially once he called on the oligarchy to join forces and handpicked the leadership of a new political party.

In another country, a gangster who until recently lived as a king – yachts, private planes, and cops and politicians in his pocket – would be met with a huge outcry if he attempted to put his hands on the government. When you steal BGN 700m from the state coffers – i.e. the money for Bulgarian citizens’ healthcare, pensions and unemployment benefits, you can expect the judicial system to come knocking on your door at some point, reminding you that even the cruelest gambling tzar pays his debt to society eventually.

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