Bulgarian prosecutors: First Secretary of Russian embassy committed espionage

An investigation had established that the First Secretary of the Russian embassy in Sofia had committed espionage, the Bulgarian Prosecutor’s Office said on April 1.

Prosecutor-General Ivan Geshev had informed Foreign Minister Teodora Genchovska of this, the statement said.

Earlier, the head of the State Agency for Security, Plamen Tonchev, said on April 1 said that more Russian diplomats would be declared persona non grata in Bulgaria and expelled from the country.

On March 18, a few week after the start of Russia’s current invasion of Ukraine, Bulgaria declared 10 Russian diplomats persona non grata, in the latest of a series of expulsions of Russian diplomats after prosecutors said that they had been spying.

In October 2019, a Russian diplomat was expelled for committing espionage, followed by two more in January 2020, and two more in September 2020 – to which Russia responded by expelling two Bulgarian diplomats in October 2020.

Another Russian diplomat was expelled in December 2020, and another in April 2021. In the latter case, the Kremlin again responded by expelling a Bulgarian diplomat.

On March 2 2022, two Russian diplomats were given 48 hours to leave Bulgaria, following investigations into espionage.

Tonchev said that in recent years, the State Agency for National Security had been a target for Russian intelligence.

He was speaking at a briefing following statements by the Specialised Prosecutor’s Office that it was investigating two State Agency for National Security staff and an employee of a government ministry for spying for Russia.

The Specialized Prosecutor’s Office said that as yet, no arrests had been made.

Tonchev said that one of the State Agency for National Security employees was the head of a sector and the other a head of a department. Both had been employed by the agency for more than five years.

Both had been dismissed and barred from the agency’s building, he said.

The prosecutor’s investigation into the two followed an internal investigation at the agency.

Tonchev said that the matter had been referred to the prosecutor’s office, after which a pre-trial procedure had been initiated.

“SANS has an extremely well-functioning internal control mechanism and we do not hesitate to take action against our employees, regardless of their level, in order to clear the agency of elements that should not be present in it,” Tonchev said.

Prime Minister Kiril Petkov had been informed, he said.

Earlier, Hristo Krustev, a spokesperson for the Specialised Prosecutor’s Office, said that the people being investigated had passed information to Russia using “special technical means” rather than directly at meetings.

“But we cannot go into more specifics. We will provide more information next week,” Krustev said.

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