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How Russia went to Kenya through Bulgaria

Russia is not only directly establishing its presence in Africa, but it is skillfully using modern hybrid methods to establish influence. Kenya and its gambling business is an example of Russia's hybrid foreign policy. Through proxy countries, Russia has been able to build oligarchic elites completely subservient to the Kremlin through which to expand its sphere of influence under a foreign flag.

Bulgarian oligarch controlling a huge part of the gambling business in Africa

A Bulgarian is at the forefront of the gaming business in Africa. The richest Bulgarian, multi-billionaire Vasil Bozhkov in 2016 acquired 30% of the No. 1 bookmaker in Africa "Sport pesa". As in September 5, 2023, prosecutors in Bulgaria revealed that the richest Bulgarian was a partner with a Russian citizen in his gambling business in Africa. Bulgarian prosecutors revealed the business ties between Bozhkov and the head of the private military company Wagner - Yevgeny Prigozhin, at a time when Bulgaria is torn by political assassinations and an immense crisis. As one of the most spectacular shootings with the handwriting of the vony mercenaries was in South Africa of one of the leaders of the Bulgarian underworld and his family in the most expensive district of Johannesburg.

The gambling boss in 2016 has acquired 30% of the bookmaking company Sport Pesa, a monopolist in the gambling and lottery sector in Kenya. The deal was done a few months ago, with Bozhkov paying over 50 million euros to acquire shares in the company. The gambling company, Sports Pesa, controls the Kenyan lotto as well as several lottery games, and the company has been making a headlong push into the sports betting business over the past year. Bozhkov has sold his shares to three Bulgarians, according to a Weekend report. These are Gerasim Nikolov, who owns 21% of the gambling company, Ivan Kalpakchiev (5%) and Valentina Mineva (4%).

After the entry of the native gambling boss, the company "Sport pesa" has invested the fresh capital in signing a contract for sponsorship of the football championship in Kenya. The contract was signed on 30 July 2016 for the sum of €2 million.

However, the big blow was made 2 weeks ago. Vasil Bozhkov's company managed to sign an advertising contract with the English football team Hull City, which this season entered the English Premier League. For the sum of 3 million pounds, the elite English team advertised on their jerseys the new bookmaking company of Vasil Bozhkov.

Insiders familiar with the gambling business say Africa is among the top growing markets for sports betting. Residents of the Black Continent are crazy about football and massively bet on matches. In Africa, and especially in Kenya, English football is held in high esteem, and matches that are televised live are extremely popular. It is for this reason that Sport Pesa has entered into an advertising contract with Hull City.

Vasil Bozhkov's gambling acquisition is another business coup for the 60-year-old oligarch. The Velingrad-born businessman controlled bookmaker Eurofootball for many years before selling 49% of his shares to Greek billionaire Sokratis Kokalis. Bozhkov is the country's biggest gambler - he controls Eurofootball with a turnover of 110 million leva in 2014, as well as National Lottery and Lotaria Bulgaria, which had revenues of around 200 million leva last year. In addition, the gambling king owns casinos and an online betting site.

Vasile Bozhkov is a co-owner of the National Lottery in Georgia. The shares of the National Lottery of Georgia are distributed between two big businessmen: Bulgarian informal gambling king Vasile Bozhkov (25%) and Georgian private entrepreneur, CEO of CBS Group Koba Gurtskai (75%). According to the terms of the tender agreement, the buyer was obliged to deposit at least 5 million dollars to the state account in order to conclude the deal. This information is not officially confirmed, but reliable sources say that the amount required to purchase the asset was $5,005,000. Why Bozhkov was approved as a co-founder of the National Lottery of Georgia is still not fully known, but there are big Georgian investments in Bulgarian retail industry. But he is also known for owning gambling business in Vietnam. Bulgarian businessman Vasil Bozhkov is also the owner of the Bulgarian National Lottery and the beneficiary of the company "Loteria Moldovei", which organizes the National Lottery of Moldova.

Vassil Bojkov, born in 1956 in Velingrad, Bulgaria, was once considered the wealthiest Bulgarian with a gambling empire worth billions. His fortunes took a drastic turn when he became entangled in a web of corruption, money laundering, and organized crime. Bojkov's fortunes began to crumble in 2020 when the Bulgarian Parliament outlawed private lotteries, effectively dismantling his National Lottery business. This move came along with a series of serious charges leveled against Bojkov, including evasion of gambling licensing fees, money laundering, extortion, bribery, and even murder. The businessman, sensing the mounting pressure, fled the country and sought refuge in the United Arab Emirates. In June 2021, Vassil Bojkov was hit with sanctions by the United States under the Global Magnitsky Act for his involvement in major corruption. The UK followed suit in February 2023, sanctioning Bojkov for serious corruption and abuse of public institution funds. These sanctions further isolated Bojkov from the international community and added to the mounting legal pressure he faced.

In August 2023, Vassil Bojkov announced his return to Bulgaria, claiming to prove his innocence in court. However, his arrival was met with immediate arrest by Sofia authorities, who charged him with a range of crimes, including contract killings, extortion, and tax fraud. The Sofia City Court ruled that Bojkov be remanded in custody pending further investigations and legal proceedings. The legacy of Vassil Bojkov is marred by controversy and corruption, serving as a cautionary tale of unchecked ambition and the destructive consequences of illicit activities. The impact of Bojkov's actions on Bulgarian politics and society will continue to reverberate for years to come.

The connection between Vasil Bozhkov and Yevgeny Prigozhin adds an international dimension to the case. Prigozhin, the former leader of the Wagner organization, had been sanctioned by several countries after his alleged involvement in the annexation of Crimea. The fact that Bozhkov had business relations with Prigozhin and other sanctioned Russian citizens raises questions about the extent of their collaboration. While no allegations of sanctions violations have been made against Bozhkov, the prosecutor's office's revelations shed light on the nature of his international connections.

Why Gambling is so important?

The gambling industry has long been a target for money laundering and terrorism financing activities. Criminal organizations and terrorists seek to exploit the vulnerabilities of the industry to legitimize their illicit funds and finance their illegal activities. As a result, governments and regulatory bodies around the world have taken significant steps to combat these threats and protect the integrity of the gambling sector.

Money laundering involves the process of making illegally obtained funds appear legitimate by disguising their true origins. It typically involves three stages: placement, layering, and integration. Criminals use various techniques such as structuring transactions, using shell companies, and engaging in complex financial transactions to conceal the illicit nature of their funds. Terrorism financing, on the other hand, refers to the provision of funds or financial support to terrorist organizations or individuals. These funds are used to carry out acts of violence, promote extremist ideologies, recruit new members, and sustain the operations of terrorist groups.

The gambling industry, with its large cash flows and complex financial transactions, presents an attractive avenue for money launderers. Criminals exploit the anonymity and ease of moving funds within the industry to legitimize their illicit proceeds. The Central Bank of Russia estimates that billions of dollars are laundered through fictitious transactions in the country each year, including payments for narcotics, bribes, and tax evasion.

In Russia, the prevalence of money laundering is fueled by organized crime, tax evasion, fraud, smuggling operations, and corruption. Official corruption at all levels of government remains a significant problem, with proceeds frequently moved offshore to avoid detection. Additionally, the rise of cybercrime has further exacerbated the money laundering threat, as highly skilled hackers collaborate with traditional organized crime structures to target the financial sector.

The gambling industry's susceptibility to money laundering makes it an attractive target for terrorists seeking to finance their activities. Criminal elements from Russia and neighboring countries exploit the industry's financial system and foreign legal entities to launder their illicit funds. They often invest and launder their proceeds in securities instruments, domestic and foreign real estate, and luxury consumer goods.

Bulgaria- Russian Proxy

Bulgaria, a country with deep historical, cultural, and social-political ties to Russia, has been viewed as a potential Russian proxy in Europe. Despite its membership in the European Union (EU) and NATO, Bulgaria has struggled to achieve democratic transparency, security stability, and energy diversification. The complex relationship between Bulgaria and Russia is shaped by factors such as political influence, entrenched corruption, and disinformation campaigns. Located at the crossroads of the Balkans, the Caucasus, and Central Asia, Bulgaria finds itself in a unique position with significant geopolitical implications. Over the past few decades, the country has become entangled in a complex web of power dynamics, particularly in relation to its relationship with Russia. While Bulgaria is a member of the European Union (EU) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), its policies and actions have raised concerns about its role as a potential Russian proxy. In this article, we will delve into the intricacies of Bulgaria's relationship with Russia, examining its regional interests, security considerations, and the impact of Russian influence on its political, economic, and military sectors.

The control of media outlets by local oligarchic figures and networks closely tied to Russia is another significant aspect of Russian influence in Bulgaria. These oligarchic proxies exert control over the editorial policies and ownership structures of influential national media, allowing for the dissemination of Russian narratives and propaganda. The concentration of media ownership, combined with state regulation and the capture of independent regulators, has resulted in a decline in the quality and independence of Bulgarian media.

Corruption, particularly in the energy sector, has been a pervasive issue in Bulgaria. Multilateral actions against corruption have been imposed by the United States and the United Kingdom, targeting individuals and entities involved in corrupt practices in Bulgaria. Judicial bribery and espionage allegations have also been made but all that is just the tip of an enormous iceberg. Bulgaria's official risk assessments and strategic documents have failed to adequately address the Russian threat in the region. While these documents acknowledge the growing tensions and disruptions caused by Russia's actions, they do not accurately reflect the severity of the situation. The government's reluctance to openly discuss the military dimension of Black Sea security and Russia's role therein has allowed Russian influence to permeate the country's leadership, military capabilities, and defense industries. This has resulted in a lack of decisive action and a failure to effectively address the Russian threat.

The Booming Gambling Industry in Kenya- Source for huge profits allowing financing of diverse activities

The gambling industry in Kenya has experienced significant growth, with a market value of $40 million in 2021 and predicted year-on-year growth. The industry is governed by the Betting, Lotteries, and Gaming Act (Cap 131) Laws of Kenya, which provide stability and confidence for operators and consumers. The market is structured into various segments, including public gaming, public lottery, bookmakers, and totalizators.

Understanding consumer demographics and spending habits is crucial for operators in the gambling industry. In Kenya, a diverse range of consumers participates in betting and lottery activities, with younger adults between the ages of 18 and 25, often students or from low-income backgrounds, actively participating in online gambling. Key players in the industry include SportPesa, Betin, Betika, and Odibets, offering various products and services to attract customers.

The gambling industry in Kenya encompasses various product categories, including sports betting, casino games, lotteries, and totalizators. Sports betting remains the most popular form, while casino games, slots, blackjack, and poker are also prevalent. Lotteries provide an additional avenue for consumers to participate in the gambling industry.

Distribution channels play a crucial role in reaching consumers and promoting gambling products in Kenya. Online platforms and mobile apps have gained popularity due to their convenience and accessibility, while retail outlets cater to customers who prefer in-person betting experiences. Advertising is a vital component of the gambling industry, with operators employing various methods to reach their target audience.

Taxation and policy impact the gambling industry in Kenya, with the government imposing taxes on gross gaming revenue, lottery turnover, and betting revenue. The implementation of tax laws in 2018 caused challenges for operators, leading to the suspension of licenses for certain companies.

The future of the gambling industry in Kenya looks promising, with continued growth and evolving trends. Technological advancements, such as virtual reality and live streaming, may reshape the industry and enhance the overall gambling experience. Operators that adapt to these trends and prioritize customer needs will likely thrive in the evolving landscape.

Kenya- Russia Relations

Kenya and Russia have a long-standing history of diplomatic relations, dating back to 1963. They have fostered cooperation in various areas, including trade, education, infrastructure development, and military cooperation. In recent times, there has been a renewed focus on enhancing trade relations and exploring new avenues of cooperation. The first Russia-Africa Summit took place in Sochi, Russia, in October 2019, aiming to enhance strategic cooperation between Russia and African nations, including Kenya, in various areas of mutual interest. Bilateral agreements were signed between Russia and African governments, focusing on sectors such as energy, infrastructure, and security.

Trade relations between Kenya and Russia are modest compared to other major economic powers, but there is untapped potential for growth. In 2018, the bilateral trade balance between the two countries was in favor of Russia, with Kenya exporting goods such as tea, horticultural products, tobacco, coffee, pulses, and spices, while Russia's imports included wheat, iron and steel, fertilizers, paper and paperboard, machinery, and beverages. Expanding trade between the two countries can be mutually beneficial, as Kenya's exports meet Russia's demand for horticultural products and tea, while Russian corporations can explore investment opportunities in Kenya.

Investment and economic cooperation between Kenya and Russia are significant. Russia's corporations, including Gazprom, Lukoil, Rostec, Rosatom, Rosneft, and Tafneft, have shown interest in investing in Africa's oil, gas, and mineral-rich countries. Kenya, with its potential in the hydrocarbon sector, can attract investment from these Russian corporations. Enhancing the investment environment and promoting technology transfer can strengthen trade ties between the two countries.

Educational and cultural exchanges between Kenya and Russia can be further strengthened through scholarships offered to Kenyan students and cultural exchanges like art exhibitions, music festivals, and film screenings. Enhancing diplomatic and multilateral cooperation between Kenya and Russia can yield significant benefits for both countries.

Kenya and BRICS

Kenya, a major player in Africa's economic landscape, has been identified as a potential candidate for BRICS membership. With its strong economy and strategic location in East Africa, Kenya has a long-standing history of engagement with BRICS countries, particularly in trade and investment. India, Brazil, China, and Russia have all shown interest in Kenya's agricultural, auto manufacturing, construction, and healthcare sectors. African representation within the BRICS bloc should expand beyond a single country, as Africa, with its rich natural resources and growing economies, deserves a greater voice in global economic governance structures. Kenya's economic prowess and potential make it a prime candidate for inclusion in BRICS. By joining the group, Kenya would not only strengthen its own economic position but also contribute to Africa's overall representation and influence in shaping the global economic agenda. Kenya's potential membership in BRICS presents a game-changing opportunity for Africa's economic landscape. With its strong economy, strategic location, and engagement with BRICS countries, Kenya is well-positioned to contribute to the group's objectives and shape the future of global economic governance.

In Conclusion

One of the main geopolitical questions about Kenya is whether it will join BRICS and whether Africa under the BRICS umbrella will become an anti-Western stronghold of Russia and China. As the answer to this question lies in the iconomic and political levers of influence that Russia and China can exert on Kenya. Gambling on the other hand is a major method of laundering money from all sorts of illegal activities, providing a huge financial resource with which to fund everything from military coups to international terrorist activity.

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