SOFIA, Bulgaria (AP) — Bulgarian authorities have broken a ring of serving and retired military officials who allegedly spied for Russia, arresting and charging six people, prosecutors said Friday.
The Prosecutor General’s spokeswoman, Siika Mileva, told reporters that “several acting and retired members of the Bulgarian armed forces have been detained on suspicion of passing classified information to a foreign state.”
“It’s the first time that an espionage group has been broken in Bulgaria,” she said. “Their criminal activity endangers our national security.”
Last year, Bulgaria expelled five Russian diplomats whom prosecutors had accused of spying, but who could not be charged because of their diplomatic immunity. Among them was Russia’s military attaché, who had allegedly been coordinating the network in Bulgaria.
Mileva said the alleged ringleader was a former senior official in the Military Intelligence Service, who had graduated from the intelligence school in Moscow run by Russia’s GRU foreign military intelligence.
Upon his return to Bulgaria he was allegedly tasked with recruiting a network of agents with access to classified documents linked to NATO and the European Union.
The suspect’s wife, who holds dual Bulgarian-Russian citizenship, allegedly acted as a contact person with the Russian Embassy where she handed over the documents, Mileva said.
Other alleged ring members include: A senior Defense Ministry official involved in Ministry planning and budgeting; a military intelligence officer who compiled information on hybrid threats and risks, including from Russia; a military intelligence officer who had been sent to overseas missions; and a former military intelligence officer, who has served as military attaché abroad. Currently he is in charge of the classified information registry of Parliament.
The six could face sentences from 10 years to life in prison if convicted, Mileva said.
“The investigation is crucial for the security of Bulgaria, but also for the security of our partners from the EU, NATO and the United States. This is the first such case since 1944,” Prosecutor General Ivan Geshev said.
Bulgaria, Moscow’s closest ally during the Cold War, is a member of NATO and the EU but is still struggling to reduce its almost total dependence on Russian energy supplies.