Bulgaria’s Russian spy affair spread to other EU countries


The high-ranking police officer arrested by Bulgarian special services on Monday on suspicion of Russian espionage was exporting sensitive information from EU agencies and other European countries to the Kremlin, the Bulgarian prosecutor’s office announced on Tuesday.

The Bulgarian authorities have so far refused to provide information on which other EU countries and agencies are affected by the leak.

“It has been charged that the employee of the Ministry of the Interior put himself in the service of a foreign country to serve as a spy,” the lead prosecutor in the espionage case, Angel Kanev, said on Tuesday.

The arrested policeman was part of the International Cooperation and Projects Department of the General Directorate for Combating Organised Crime (GDBOP). This is the specialised police structure in Bulgaria for combating serious internal and transnational crime. The police officer had direct access to data exchange with partner services.

The Bulgarian prosecutor’s office has data that he exchanged for a long time with representatives of Russia’s special services. “He provided information prepared by Bulgarian services and agencies, as well as information from partner structures from the EU,” said Prosecutor Kanev. He said that the questioning of witnesses was ongoing and that more evidence was being collected.

The deputy chairman of the Bulgarian counter-intelligence service SANS, Petar Petrov, said the investigation began in the summer of last year. Investigators also found a counter-intelligence officer who had been in contact with a police officer accused of Russian espionage.

“Measures have been taken against the suspected counterintelligence officer so that there is no risk of further information leaking,” Petrov said.

Euractiv’s sources in the prosecutor’s office claim that the arrested police officer sent official information from his official email to a Russian citizen who previously worked as a diplomat in Bulgaria but was declared persona non grata for espionage. The police officer himself offered his “help” to the Russian, according to unofficial information on the investigation obtained by Euractiv.

The warning to the Bulgarian authorities about the suspicious activities of the high-ranking police officer came from an EU-NATO partner service.

Bulgaria is considered a high-risk country for the security of NATO’s eastern flank because of its old institutional ties with Russia from the USSR era. Over the past two years, Kiril Petkov’s former government and Nikolai Denkov’s current government have worked deliberately to reduce the country’s informal dependence on the Kremlin.

In early 2021, several people were arrested in Sofia on suspicion of involvement in a pro-Russian espionage group. Former military intelligence officer Ivan Iliev, dubbed “The Resident” by investigators, was named the leader.

Among those detained were active members of the Defence Ministry, so the military prosecutor’s office led the investigation, suspecting that those accused of espionage had exported data on the new F-16 Block 70 fighters Bulgaria had ordered from the US. These fighters share technology with the F-35 stealth fighter.

In June 2022, Bulgaria expelled 70 employees of the Russian embassy who were declared persona non grata. Also, in 2022, Bulgaria announced that it was investigating employees of its State Agency for National Security for spying on behalf of Russia.

The most famous espionage case brought to court by the Bulgarian prosecutor’s office is that of the leader of the ‘Russophiles’ political movement, Nikolai Malinov, who is accused of spying for Russia in return for money. Malinov was awarded the Order of Friendship by Putin, a Russian Order that was presented to him by Vladimir Putin in the autumn of 2021.

Last February, he was sanctioned by the US under the Global Magnitsky Act. Malinov’s espionage trial is in its early stages, and no verdict has yet been reached.

(Krassen Nikolov | Euractiv.bg)

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